Accidents happen. And they can happen unexpectedly to even the most seasoned paddlers, and on any type of water. Sometimes it’s better to not look away, but rather, to take a second, closer look at what exactly went wrong. By examining the full situation, and determining the critical decisions involved (and their consequences), we can learn to make the choices that matter most. With that hope of helping paddlers make that next safe choice, we’ve been working in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard to present our new four-part Paddling Accidents video series. In each episode, we cast the spotlight on real paddlers recounting an everyday experience on the water gone awry that resulted in rescue. Survivors and witnesses alike relive difficult stories in order to share an important lesson.

In this fourth installment of the series, we head east to the Chesapeake Bay, where Maryland resident Sean Danielson recounts his harrowing survival experience last spring. Danielson, who grew up fishing and doing more casual protected lake kayaking in Connecticut, relocated to Maryland and outfitted one of his family’s recreational sit-inside kayaks for an excursion on the Bay. He equipped the 10-foot Old Town Vapor with rod holders and a depth finder, and relied on local info from a fishing shop on the need to find deep water to target striped bass. On the afternoon of April 18, 2018, Danielson launched from Columbia Beach in Shady Side, Md., and began paddling straight out for deep water. He was paddling alone, dressed in plain clothes (T-shirt and jeans), without a communication device or marine radio.

Danielson was, however, wearing a life jacket, with a whistle he attached on his way out the door. As Danielson explains, he paddled well beyond sight of shore to the Bay’s deeper water, where a large wave capsized his kayak. Though he was able to flip the kayak and re-board, without bulkheads or floatation, nothing could prevent the kayak from filling with water; Danielson could not drain the boat or bail it without it flipping and submerging. With cool early-spring temperatures and 47-degree water, few other recreational boats were using the otherwise busy waters. As the the sun began to set, Danielson drifted around four miles north with the ebbing tide as his situation grew more dire by the minute. Just as Danielson contemplated abandoning the kayak to swim for shore, a sailboat on its final day heading back to port from the Bahamas spotted him, kicking off an intense chain of emergency response to save Danielson’s life.

Six months after the accident, we connected with Danielson, re-launching once again onto the Chesapeake Bay, this time properly dressed and equipped with a capable sit-on-top fishing kayak — and more than armed with open-water awareness, earned the hard way.

View Paddling Accidents Episode 1: Laguna Beach, CA, Episode 2: Dungeness Spit, WA, plus Episode 3: Maui, plus check out more tips and knowledge to help you paddle safer.

Check out our Safer Paddling Series.