Changes in place at kayak rental company after July incident

FISH CREEK – The waters of Green Bay near Peninsula State Park can be very inviting, offering adventurers a unique way of exploring the area’s natural beauty.

But on a cool and overcast August afternoon at Nicolet Beach Rentals, it’s Mother Nature’s wind that’s keeping the boats and kayaks on shore, away from nearby Horseshoe Island.

“Because it’s an on-shore breeze, it is stronger farther out,” said employee Douglas Smrz. “But we just want to keep people close and safe.”

The decision is just one of the changes the Peninsula State Park boat and kayak rental company has made to its rental policy and rules for customers after an incident last month. A family vacationing in the area rented kayaks from the little beach front hut. The kayak company contacted authorities when the woman, her son and nephew didn’t return.

The three were found the next morning – cold, but safe – more than 10 miles away in the bay, after they were pushed off course by high winds.

“As the day goes on, (the winds) may increase here, or it may switch on you, so you have to leery and careful,” said Smrz.

Smrz says customers are now limited to where they can go, based on the number of adults and children renting kayaks, canoes, stand-up-paddle boards or sailboats.

That’s to ensure the customers are strong enough to make it back under their own power if something were to happen.

If something does happen, a new jet ski can help the company find customers and tow them in.

“It’s a new chase vehicle to help us cover more ground, in a quicker amount of time.”

A problem faced by the family plucked from the water by the U.S. Coast Guard was the lack of a way to contact anyone for help.

The company now provides customers water-tight cellphone containers at no cost.

Smrz says customers have been receptive and understanding to the changes.

And there could be more to follow. State park officials say they also are working on a short list of rule changes for the rental company. The park superintendent says those will be presented and made public later this week.

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