Angler Sean Danielson paddling his kayak

Kayak Angler Shares Chilling Story of Survival on Chesapeake Bay

By DAN Boater

On a chilly, off-season afternoon in April 2018, angler Sean Danielson paddled out alone onto the choppy Chesapeake Bay in his kayak. Excited about the information he'd learned while preparing for the upcoming striped bass season, he was a man on a mission: to find the best spot on the Chesapeake for catching trophy stripers. Sean grew up fishing with his dad, and they'd fished from kayaks many times. And his dad had always insisted that he wear a lifejacket. Little did he know that his dad's advice would actually help save his life that day.

At 3pm that day, Sean launched his open hull sit-inside kayak into the Bay. The water was 47 degrees. He was not carrying a radio.

The following is a transcript of what happened that day, as told by Sean and the Good Samaritans who rescued him.

[Begin Video Transcript 00:00:00]


I try not to think about it a lot, how serious it really was. You know, if that boat hadn't come along when it did. The doctors told me, they said, I was lucky enough to be alive, in the state that they found me. So, they said, you know, never mind another half an hour in that water. It was just, you know…yeah.

I'd made it a focus of mine to start targeting stripers. And I spoke to the owner of the shop and talked about strategy. He told me where to go and told me, he said, 'I recommend getting a depth finder. You want to find where things drop off.’ Things like that. ‘I have a chart that an old gentleman gave me.' He opened the charts up and he said, 'You got to keep on going.' He said, 'You're not far enough...just keep going, just keep going.'

So, we thought nothing of it. Didn't think anything of the dangers of keeping on going [sic]. It was just... the focus was just to keep going to find that 40 feet of water where that drop-off was because that's where the stripers were at the time.

I went directly to the boat launch and I set off. And I just put my head down and I was just paddling, paddling, paddling. Somewhere, again, I broke the 20-foot barrier of depth and I'm just plugging along and out of nowhere, I didn't see it -- there was no warning, no nothing -- a big wave came from the side and rolled me over.

"...and out of nowhere, I didn't see it -- there was no warning, no nothing -- a big wave came from the side and rolled me over."

- Kayaker Sean Danielson

And the next thing I know I was in the water. Something was floating nearby, and I tried bailing it out, you know? Frantically. For every four scoops I would take of the coffee container-sized item I had, a wave would come and it [sic] would fill back up. I flipped it over again and again and again and it just kept flipping and nothing was happening. It just kept…it would turn over and it would be full of water and be sitting below the surface.

I don't know how much time had passed but I knew that it was starting to get very serious. ‘I'm not making any stride here. I'm cold. I'm burning energy. You know, I need to make a decision here.’ I just kept telling myself 'Be calm. It's okay.' I'm used to the bay where it's just a lot of activity. This was early in the season where there was [sic] no boats out there.

And then, you know, there was [sic] fleeting moments of, I guess, adrenalin rushes in just general frustration when I would just start to scream. And I'd be screaming, like, 'I can't believe there's [sic] no boats out here anywhere…where are all the boats?' and I would tell myself ‘Calm down, calm down.’ Told myself, I said ‘I'm not dying in the bay within miles of my own house.’ It was that and then the other half of me saying ‘Don't give up,’ I said, ‘I'm not just gonna [sic] sit here.’ So, I just kept flipping it over and flipping it over and I kept blowing my whistle.

I vaguely remember a sailboat coming around, and I remember them throwing the lifebuoy to me and whatever, and then I don't remember anything after that.

Lana Lohe:

It just caught my eye. I saw the green of his kayak upside down. ‘Oh my gosh, there's somebody in the water. Turn! Let's go!’ You know? We were, like, screaming. So, we turned the boat really hard.

Robert Lohe:

The thing that struck me was he's in the water waving his arms. And just that motion and seeing that through the binoculars -- holy moly, this guy's waving his arms just like they say you're supposed to.

"Mayday-Mayday-Mayday. This is sailing vessel Our Diamond."

- Sailor Robert Lohe (via VHF)

And about that time, I'd, you know, set the radio aside, turned around, and Sean’s still in the water holding onto the ladder. Essentially, I grabbed him under the armpits and just lifted him up. Had him kneeling on the back of the boat. It's quite small back here. 

Capt. Bill Walls:

We heard that distress call coming from a sailboat and they were asking for assistance from the Coast Guard to get a kayaker in the shore quickly because they just pulled him from the water, and he was hypothermic. I looked up and there was [sic] only two other boats out there.

There was only one sailboat in the mouth of the South River, so I said ‘Mark, we're not fishing tonight’.

It took all of us to get him on the boat. He was very lethargic. Couldn't move. Mark and I knew we needed to get him dry. Still had his life jacket on. Blue jeans, t-shirt. Got his wet clothes off. Put a dry sweatshirt on him. He kept saying ‘I'm cold.’ 

Captain Walls and First Mate Marra kept Danielson conscious as they rushed him to the Rhode River Marina, where EMS took over.

Danielson’s body temperature was 80 degrees.

First Mate Mark Marra:

So, it's kind of just weird being on top of somebody that you never met and you're, like, trying to keep him alive and he's just…then all of a sudden it was...nothing. And you're, like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I mean you know how cold, he's purple. Like a color you've never seen on a human before, you know? It's like he's all crunched up and stiff. It was pretty intense to [sic] me.

Capt. Bill Walls:

"Coast Guard, Rise and Shine. I've got the marina in sight. I see the emergency --- is there. Individual is conscious. He's in and out. He's in bad shape. He's going to need some attention."

- Captain Walls (via VHF)

If they didn't find him when they did, once that sun, you know, gets behind the trees…I don't think they would have ever seen him. He would have hit shore eventually but in 47-degree water, I don't think he had another 15 minutes in him.


I know I made a mistake by underestimating that kayak. That it wasn't the correct vessel to be taking out on this day. That it was more a recreational kayak. It should have been an inshore kayak. It was an open hull style that, when rolled over, it filled with water. I did not make any preparations to think of what could have happened if doing so. I just always assumed if the thing flipped over, I could flip it back over. I never thought about it filling up with water. That's the mistake that I feel I made on my behalf, you know? I underestimated the vessel itself.

I feel very lucky.

Without the lifejacket, there was no way I could have even hung on to that kayak. Just wearing it absolutely kept me alive that long.

"Without the lifejacket, there was no way I could have even hung on to that kayak. Just wearing it absolutely kept me alive that long."

- Kayaker Sean Danielson

[End Video Transcript 00:06:43]

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