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Man rescued after four days stranded on Howe Sound

A canoer in Squamish lost his vessel and was rescued by marine search and rescue.

When Steven Best was kayaking in Howe Sound on Tuesday, just a kilometre south of the mouth of the Squamish River, he saw an unusual sight.

"This guy was on the shore," said Best.

"Apparently, his canoe had overturned and gotten away from him. And he was stuck on the shore."

At first, Best tried to retrieve the canoe, which was down the coastline and stuck on a fallen tree.

However, the canoe was beaten up, and the man was unable to get across the seaweed on the rocks.

At that point, Best radioed for help.

Squamish's Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station 4 was dispatched to the scene.

According to a post from RCM-SAR, the person had been stranded for almost 96 hours — four days — after he slipped trying to pull the canoe onshore.

He had lost his boat, along with most of the gear.

"One simple slip turned into four days of survival through torrential rains and thunderstorms... that's how quickly things can go wrong," reads the RCM-SAR post.

"Having a VHF radio, a daily check-in plan for a multi-day trip, or even a whistle might have brought help much sooner. Thankfully this person saw a positive outcome to this scenario.

The lone kayaker that finally spotted the individual [who] had all the right tools (VHF and GPS) to call in for help with exact coordinates gets to go home an everyday hero on the water tonight."

RCM-SAR deputy manager Scott Shaw-McLaren told The Chief that the canoer was just around the corner of the cliffs from the Spit, in deep, inaccessible terrain with little boat traffic.

The boater, a local resident, was planning a multi-day trip before things went awry.

“He waited and waited and nobody came by till yesterday there happened to be someone out paddling,” Shaw-McLaren said.

He said the boater was in good health despite the multi-day ordeal. He didn’t need any medical care.

“You can never take it for granted that things can’t go sideways fast,” Shaw-McLaren said.

Even packing something as simple as a signalling mirror would’ve helped in this case, he added.

“It’s a really good example of needing to be prepared and how quick bad things can happen,” said Shaw-McLaren. 

“Howe Sound is not a cushy paddle and a lake kind of thing. Especially, it can seem really calm in the morning and by afternoon, it’s a really windy, cold place.”

Best said that it's a good reminder to make sure adventurers carry a proper communication device in case they need help.

He said the man had a cellphone in a bag, and that didn't work out.

Sanda Riches, executive director of BC AdventureSmart, said that it's important to have an emergency contact who's aware of your trip plans.

Ensure that person has a deadline for your return.

If you fail to check-in at that time, they'll know to call you. If they still can't reach you, they can assume something has gone wrong and call 911.

That will start the process that will ultimately lead to a search and rescue callout if need be.

Riches added that it's easy to have a false sense of security because challenging terrain and waters are so easy to access in the Squamish area.

Nevertheless, people should still be prepared for emergencies, she said.

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