Saturday outing goes awry when watercraft breaks down
The sun was setting on Saturday evening as Dylan Rumsey clung to a green buoy at the mouth of the Niagara River.
The water was getting cold and boats passed without a second glance, oblivious to his emergency.
He’d already been in the water for hours and wasn’t sure what would happen next.
Around 2 o’clock the afternoon of July 23, Rumsey and his friend Dan Langtang had launched into the Niagara River in a “supercharged Sea-Doo. The thing went pretty fast,” said Rumsey.
The young men, Rumsey in his 20s and Langtang in his 30s, then rode the borrowed watercraft over to Municipal Beach in St. Catharines with gas still in the tank.
After spending a couple of hours at Municipal beach, they decided to head back to the NOTL boat launch around 5 p.m., Rumsey said.
But when they reached the mouth of the Niagara River, trouble struck.
“I suspect that the propeller bearing seized because when we were driving, we still had like three bars of gas and the whole engine just shut right off.”
After failed attempts to restart the Sea-Doo, they began to wave a bright orange paddle and rummage through their safety equipment to find anything that might help them flag down another boat, said Rumsey.
Time passed quickly and with the sun starting to set, they couldn’t get anyone’s attention. “We passed multiple sailboats, multiple fishing boats, not a single person offered to help us.”
“We were drifting so fast into the lake,” said Rumsey, noting both men were wearing life jackets.
One bar of battery life was left on a phone the men had, so Rumsey quickly called his mom and got out as much information as he could before the phone died, he said.
Hours had passed since they had set out and the evening chill was starting to set in. The Sea-Doo was becoming impossible to hang onto because it was rolling over in the high waves crashing against them, said Rumsey.
He felt there was no way he could keep hanging on to it.
Rumsey is a strong swimmer and has been training for a planned swim in August to raise money for Niagara’s Pathstone Mental Health Foundation.
Hoping to be able to signal for help, he decided to jump in and swim to the nearest buoy, which he said was “like two kilometres from the green buoy that’s in front of the mouth of the river.”
After reaching it, “I flipped the buoy upside-down and I was able to get on the top of it. There was this metal bar on the top and I just wedged it in between my groin area and I was waiting for my buddy in a fishing boat to come around the corner.”
Langtang stayed with the Sea-Doo but not knowing if they were in Canadian or U.S. waters.
Little did Rumsey know that help was not coming yet, even with the precautions he took before heading out, notifying people to come looking for him if he wasn’t back by 8:30 p.m., said Rumsey.
Around 9 p.m. he started to get nervous because no coast guard boats were in view and the water was getting cold, said Rumsey.
After waiting in the dark for over an hour, he finally saw the Canadian Coast Guard heading out from the direction of Port Dalhousie.
“I think I counted four coast guard boats, a helicopter and I heard there were two Niagara regionals on Jet Skis, and there was also a couple of police boats out as well.”
After finding his buddy Langtang with the drifting Sea-Doo in the dark around 10 p.m., the coast guard had problems locating Rumsey, he said.
“I spent pretty much the whole six hours pretending like I was riding an elliptical, trying not to get hypothermia because my eyes went all blurry and I started getting dizzy,” said Rumsey.
Then finally, luck was on his side. A helicopter spotted the buoy that Rumsey was clinging to.
“They got close enough to me, that I was just screaming my head off. I blew the (safety) whistle so hard it popped out of my mouth and it sank to the bottom of the river.”
About 12:30 a.m., Rumsey was finally located by the American coast guard, he said.
But it wasn’t over yet.
“A Niagara Regional Police boat had to come over and pick me up and bring me back to Canada.”
The rescuers weren’t able to tow the Sea-Doo and had to leave it behind, afloat in the lake.
On Tuesday, three days after the incident, it was recovered and was safe in Rochester, N.Y. Plans are afoot to bring it back to Canada and return it to the friend from whom they borrowed it.
Even with safety precautions and life jackets, Rumsey notes things on the Great Lakes can take a turn for the worse.
“I just want to get that across straight because I had all my safety equipment and I had all these safety precautions in place.”