Nova Scotia

Cape Breton kayak operator offers safety tips after Margaree mishap

A Cape Breton kayaking expert says a whistle likely saved the life of paddler whose boat capsized on the Margaree River on the weekend.

Angelo Spinnazola says paddle with a friend, know the water and be prepared

Angelo Spinnazola of North River Kayak Tours wears a flotation device with a built-in safety whistle. (Scott Munn)

A Cape Breton kayaking expert says a whistle likely saved the life of paddler whose boat capsized on the Margaree River on the weekend.

Don MacDonald of Cole Harbour was rescued by firefighters on Saturday after his kayak overturned and he was swept down river.

He spent close to an hour clinging to a tree stump in the water and blowing a safety whistle to attract attention over the noise of the fast-running river.

Angelo Spinnazola of North River Kayak Tours said MacDonald did several things right.

"He had (a) cell phone and it was inside of a dry bag," he said. "Also, he had a signalling device with him which saved his life."

Spinnazola said accidents happen to the most experienced paddlers.

"Sometimes, people will capsize and it's windy out and you can't hear them if they're hollering for help,"he explained. "But if they blow that whistle, you sure can hear that." 

MacDonald hauled the upper part of his body out of the water while he waited for rescue. Spinnazola said that also contributed to his survival.

"Getting out of the water, his core, where all his vital organs are and getting up onto that stump was a really great idea," he said.

Don't paddle alone

Some of the things MacDonald did, though, may have contributed to his dire situation.

"He was alone, and that kind of concerned me," said Spinnazola. "I've paddled those waters in May with two other people. One of them actually capsized at the exact same time as Mr. MacDonald."

And, he said, the cold is not to be underestimated.

"Waters are frigid, like, two degrees," he said. "I'll tell you, I had my hand in the water just recently, and I couldn't keep it in for more than 30 seconds 'cause it was that painful."

Spinnazola said MacDonald was also paddling a section of the river that was unfamiliar to him and he didn't leave a paddle plan to help anyone look for him when he failed to return.

MacDonald admitted in an interview with CBC earlier this week that he also had a wet suit with him before he put his kayak in the water. He elected not to wear it because the weather was so nice on Saturday. 

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