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Real-Time Wave Information Available for Kayakers in the Apostle Islands

The 2012 kayaking season is in full swing and recreational enthusiasts are reminded about a new and possibly lifesaving service installed last year at Wisconsin’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior. A real-time information system, called SeaCavesWatch.org, is operational and provides photos and data about conditions at the sea caves.

Kayakers can find out the wave height at the mainland sea caves before they go. Using a smart phone or the Web, they can check SeaCavesWatch.org to get the wave height for the previous six hours, in 30-minute increments. The site also displays water temperature and photos of the waves at the sea caves, and it relays wind speed and direction recorded at Devil’s Island.

The site was developed by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Wisconsin Sea Grant with advice from local kayaking groups.

“We use the website on trickier weather days along with other information like the marine forecast to help us decide whether to go to the sea caves,” said Joe Kochevar, general manager of Living Adventure Inc., a sea kayaking and outdoor adventure trip organization near Red Cliff, Wis. “The wave height information is what we find most useful and the wave rating system for novices versus experienced kayakers is spot-on.”

“We hope kayakers will use this system to make good decisions before venturing out onto the lake,” said Bob Krumenaker, superintendent of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. “It’s designed to save lives.”

Waves at the mainland sea caves can be particularly dangerous because of the bowl-like rock cliffs that reflect and amplify waves. Wave height is additive, and two large waves can combine to form an extremely large wave. Another complicating factor is that wave conditions can’t be seen from the sea cave launch site at Meyers Beach. Since 2004, four people have drowned or died of hypothermia in kayaking accidents in the Apostle Islands area, two at the sea caves.  Wave conditions and cold water were a factor in each of these tragedies.

An informational postcard about the website is being distributed by Wisconsin Sea Grant to the park, local businesses and to kayak shops throughout the state.

The SeaCavesWatch.org project was funded by the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and Friends of the Apostle Islands. Other project partners include the National Park Service, Wisconsin Sea Grant and the city of Bayfield.