I launched my kayak from the Cabrillo Beach boat ramp on a recent sunny morning. The weather predictions were favorable. My friends and I headed to the lighthouse on the inner harbor. While it wasn’t very windy, I immediately noticed the water was choppy. I have gone this way many times before, but for some reason, I felt uncomfortable.
As we got closer to the lighthouse, I told my friend I would go towards the breakwall instead. I was hoping the water might be calmer there, but it wasn’t. I decided to go back in and end my day early. My kayak sits low on the ocean, and the choppy water was splashing into my kayak. I keep my cell phone in a waterproof case around my neck. I had a long way to go and called my husband and said I was on my way in and he could pick me up in 45 minutes.
As I continued paddling, my kayak was filling with water from the choppy sea, and it was becoming challenging to navigate. I thought I was fine, and suddenly I was not. I was tired from rowing in the rougher waters and concerned about the pool of water where I sat. I felt like I needed help, so I called 911. They answered immediately. Once I heard the operator’s voice, I started to cry in relief. I told her my location and that I was heading towards the Cabrillo Beach pier. She asked if I was wearing a life jacket. Since I kayak so much and know how to swim, I had my life vest strapped on the back of my kayak. I always thought I could put it on fast if I needed it, but with the rocking kayak, I couldn’t turn around to grab it.
The operator asked me to stay on the phone with her. I began to count out loud with every row to focus. I was scared but kept pushing myself to get to the pier. The operator told me she had to call Marina Del Rey. She knew I was at inner Cabrillo but said that was where she was instructed to dispatch. I told her to call Port Police. She put me on hold a few times as I kept my focus on paddling. It took a long time, and I was frustrated knowing the lifeguards had a boat a few minutes away. Port Police and the Coast Guard were also close.
I made it to the pier and told the operator I was okay. I was concerned with the response time, not for myself, but for other people who might have more severe emergencies on the water. Baywatch Cabrillo finally made it to me and asked if I wanted a ride on their boat, but I said I was okay. Port Police pulled up behind them. They communicated with Port Police, who left. The water was calmer, and I was close to shore now and thanked them. They followed me to the beach. Once I was close to the shore, they left.
It wasn’t until later when I looked at my phone and realized I had been talking to 911 for 19 minutes. That is how long it took to get a boat to me. Our community has responsive lifeguards at Cabrillo from both the City and County. According to the lifeguard logs at Cabrillo, they did not get my dispatch call until 9:30 a.m. and got to me in five minutes. But I called 911 at 9:08 a.m. The issue was with 911, who are trained to call Marina Del Rey for maritime emergencies at Cabrillo Beach, even though those boats are an hour away.
After this experience, I learned I should trust my instincts immediately. I plan to wear a life jacket versus having it on my kayak. A VHF radio is much more reliable than a cell phone on the water. Channel 16 is a distress frequency that is continuously monitored. I have programmed the Cabrillo Beach Lifeguard Station phone number into my phone. They would be more responsive than 911.
Lastly, kayaks should not retain water; my scupper holes may have been blocked and need to be fixed. I can also bring a turkey baster on my kayak to get the water out in emergencies.
I am grateful to our local lifeguards and hopeful that 911 operators will be trained to dispatch local outlets in water emergencies. spt