ATLANTIC CITY — Taylor Smith knows how much fun it is to be out on the water. During the summer, he likes to climb into his kayak with his dog and his fiancee and go for a paddle to grab a bite to eat, he said.

But, as the commanding officer of the Atlantic City U.S. Coast Guard Station, he also knows how dangerous kayaking can be.

“I love it,” said Smith, of Brigantine. “But you just have to be aware of what you’re doing.”

While kayaking is popular across Absecon Island, it can also be dangerous. Tides, currents and wakes from motorized boats can knock a paddler off course or cause them to go overboard. When the Coast Guard spots an adrift kayak in the water, they treat it like a missing-person case, investigating to figure out whether a paddler is in the water or the boat came untied from a dock. With the summer boating season starting in a couple short weeks, officials are trying to get the word out to recreational boaters about how to stay safe.

“Our first and foremost concern is personal safety and the safety of those on the water,” Smith said. “So when we come upon an adrift kayak that is unmanned or unoccupied, we’re first going to think, ‘Is there a person that was with this kayak?’”

As she steered a boat Tuesday morning around Absecon Inlet, which is filled with recreational boaters, professional mariners, tours and vacationers during the summer, Petty Officer Brisaed Mejia said that, while on patrol, you can see stranded kayaks and inner tubes from time to time.

“After a while, you get more comfortable with going out there and doing search patterns and responding to cases,” she said. “But I would say that my first couple times, I was very, very nervous. You feel the adrenaline really get to you.”

Smith, who has been kayaking on and off for 15 years, said that typically, kayakers who have gone overboard are found quickly.

Just last week, a kayaker was rescued 1½ miles away from the resort after his boat capsized after being in the water for less than a half hour.

A relative was watching from the shore, and the Coast Guard responded to his call for help. The man suffered a laceration on his head, but he was wearing his life jacket.

When a relative or friend can call in with the location of a kayaker, responders can affect a quick rescue, Smith said. However, if they don’t see a paddler with an adrift boat, they start a search.

Smith said they generally start a drifting search pattern, which moves with the tides and currents. They’re usually able to find the person quickly that way, he said.

During a search, they use their 29-foot response boat, as well as helicopters from the air station in Egg Harbor Township, he said.

Labeling the kayak and registering can save time and resources during a search, Smith said. Kayakers can fill out a label, which can be found at any Coast Guard Auxiliary, with their name and phone number as well as a secondary contact so the Coast Guard can try to get in touch with the owner.

“When we do call you, hopefully we’re able to reach you and possibly return your equipment if it simply just went adrift and got away from you, but you’re safe,” he said. “Otherwise, if we can’t get a hold of you, we’re going to use that as another piece of information to start a search.”

Knowing the environment is key for kayakers, he said, taking into consideration the currents, tides and weather.

“Absecon Inlet is a particularly challenging area for kayakers, but also a very popular area for kayakers and other boating traffic,” Smith said. “Being in such close proximity to the ocean, we have extremely strong currents that come through, which can easily take a kayaker by surprise and may not be as visible to them when they’re on calm waters.”

Kayaking is a popular summer sport on Absecon Island. In Margate, Robin Scott, owner of Ray Scott’s Dock, said she rents out her kayaks dozens of times each season.

The back door of her shop leads to a dock on the Intracoastal Waterway, where kayakers and boaters fill the water on hot, sunny days.

Kayaking can be dangerous, she said, when boaters don’t yield to each other or cause wakes that knock riders off their kayak.

“It’s just like the road, but there are no lines and no lights out there,” she said.

Last year, she said, she heard about a kayaker who got sick while he was out on a paddle. He made it back to a dock but didn’t tie up the boat properly and it floated away, triggering a missing-person search.

“Everybody takes it seriously because you don’t know if they’re stuck out there or got run over,” she said, looking out at the water.

However, when kayakers can navigate the water safely, it’s an experience unlike any other, she said.

“You’ll forget about everything,” Scott said. “You will be inundated with nature, and it’s just amazing.”

Contact: 609-272-7241 Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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