My wife, Jane, and I had little concern when our guide pulled our boat up to a small rocky island on the N.W.T.’s Great Bear Lake—it gave us a chance to stretch our legs, snap some photos and take a short break after several hours of trolling through the pounding swells. I headed in one direction, while Jane strolled off in another.
Several minutes later, I heard Jane frantically shouting. “Ken! Ken! Come here! Quick!”
I sprinted back and quickly saw the reason for her panic—100 metres offshore was our boat, floating away on the waves. Worse yet, our young guide was swimming after it.
Even during summer, Great Bear’s water temperature hovers around 4°C, and if you go in the water you have only 10 to 20 minutes before deadly hypothermia sets in. In no uncertain terms, I ordered the guide to immediately turn around. He didn’t need much convincing, but as he swung back, I recognized he was already faltering in the frigid water. Jane and I began shouting encouragement, urging him to keep swimming, and I began to strip down to go rescue him if necessary.
Fortunately, he persevered and crawled up onto the cobble shore, shivering and exhausted. We did our best to warm him up, but with no extra clothes and nothing to make a fire, our options were limited. Thankfully, the sun’s warming rays broke through the cloud cover.
The risk then was that we’d be stuck on the island for at least overnight without food or shelter. Great Bear is a vast lake, so it’s unusual to see another boat all day long. Luckily, we had made plans to meet another group for shorelunch, and on their way to the rendezvous point, they came across our drifting boat and began looking for us. After just two hours on our subarctic version of Gilligan’s Island, we were rescued.
Clearly we got lucky, and the incident served as a reminder of how we *should* have been prepared that day.
Secure your boat
When going ashore, always make sure the boat is properly tethered or beached before leaving it unattended.
Have a plan
A trip itinerary is vital. Make sure someone always knows where you plan to be and when. And don’t change plans without informing that person.
Stay in touch
Have a way to call for help. Where cellphones don’t work, walkie-talkies can give you several kilometres coverage. In extremely remote situations, bring a satellite phone or emergency locator.
In remote locations, it’s important to be self-reliant—don’t depend on your guide to have everything you’d need should something go wrong. Bring a daypack with extra clothes, food, matches, a first-aid kit and so on.
Be more prepared
Even if you’re away from your boat for just a few minutes, ensure you at least have the bare essentials should the situation go awry. A belt pack with emergency supplies just may save your life one day.