ODNR Officer’s Warning Credited with Saving Kayaker’s Life

By Taylor Matsko posted 04-21-2021 10:50 AM

ODNR Officer’s Warning Credited with Saving Kayaker’s Life
ODNR urges people to wear a life jacket and
exercise caution around lakes and streams

[COLUMBUS, OH] – A morning safety inspection may have saved a woman’s life on the Maumee River. Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) officer Sergeant Sarah Genzman would not allow a kayak on the water when she discovered there was no life jacket on board. That kayak capsized a few hours later, but the woman inside was wearing a life jacket and was able to float into safe hands because of the inspection.

“It is our duty to make sure anyone heading out onto the water is safe and prepared,” ODNR Officer Sergeant Sarah Genzman said. “If that one inspection made someone grab a life-saving tool like a life jacket, then I’m doing my job. No one should go out on the water without the proper gear to keep them safe.”

Sgt. Genzman was patrolling the river when she saw the kayak capsize. A fisherman wading in the river was able to save the woman and bring her to shore. Sgt. Genzman was there to provide blankets for warmth. The woman who went back to get a life jacket after the inspection said she believes it saved her life.

ODNR is reminding Ohioans that a properly fitted life jacket will keep a person’s airway out of the water, avoiding the large possibility of triggering an uncontrollable gasping reflex. Heart rate and blood pressure will surge dramatically, increasing the risk for cardiac arrest. The victim may hyperventilate and find it difficult to get air into the lungs.

“Dangerous situations can be avoided by wearing a life jacket and understanding the dangers associated with cold water,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “With a little planning and knowledge, you can safely paddle, fish, and hunt along Ohio’s waterways in spring.”

ODNR also wants Ohioans to keep in mind that warmer spring weather does not mean warmer water. Paddlers, anglers, hunters, and swimmers should take precautions along waterways at this time of year.

Cold water will cool down a body 25 times faster than cold air of the same temperature. Total immersion in cold water is very painful, with extremities rapidly becoming numb. Disoriented victims can quickly panic as they lose coordination of their limbs. These combined reactions may cause a quick drowning.

You can learn more about the hazards of cold water here. ODNR also provides more information on staying safe in the water in this section of our website.


The ODNR Division of Parks and Watercraft provides exceptional outdoor recreation and boating opportunities by balancing outstanding customer service, education, and conservation of Ohio’s 75 state parks and waterways. The ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at

For more information contact:
Stephanie O'Grady, ODNR Communications
(614) 265-6860