Ailing kayaker pulled from water off Oak Bay

A whale-watching crew came to the rescue in a marine emergency for the second time in two weeks.

A Five Star Whale Watching vessel happened by after a man fell from his kayak south of Trial Island, off Oak Bay, on Monday morning.

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The man had been in the water for about 15 minutes and was showing signs of hypothermia when crew members pulled him to safety.

The crew’s quick work averted a possible fatality, said Michael Harris, executive director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

“He really was in a very serious situation,” Harris said.

“A few more minutes and that person could have been gone, no question about it.”

Andrew Lees of Five Star said the man was immediately covered in a thick jacket and given a hot drink when he was brought aboard. The vessel headed to Oak Bay Marina, where it was met by members of the Oak Bay Fire Department.

The man is reportedly doing well.

On June 12, a Prince of Whales tour boat picked up two people and a dog from a dinghy after a yacht caught fire off Galiano Island. No injuries were reported in that incident.

B.C. Ferries’ Spirit of British Columbia diverted from its course and was on standby, but did not have to assist.

“We’re not just watching whales out there, we’re watching out for everyone,” said Harris, whose association is made up of 33 companies in B.C. and Washington. Other types of vessels help out in emergencies on the water, he said, but whale-watching personnel are among the best-equipped for that sort of task.

“It is definitely a culture within the Pacific Whale Watch Association that all of our crews understand emergency response,” Harris said. “They know how to behave and to be of help.”

Harris said it is important for people on the water to stay focused and not get too caught up in the beauty of the surroundings. He said conditions can be tough in local waters. “You just lose track of things. People are not orcas.”

Whale-watching vessels also took part in two rescues in June 2013. Two kayakers were rescued from Haro Strait by a crew from the Friday Harbor-based Maya’s Westside Whale Charters. A Prince of Whales crew helped a family on board a burning boat in the Strait of Georgia.

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