Late kayaker’s family leads safety initiative

May 26th, 2016

News Coverage:

May 26, 2016

Late kayaker's family leads safety initiative

Dave Gong | The Journal Gazette

As summer begins, residents enjoying Fort Wayne’s rivers may notice more than 30 new signs and buoys warning of the dangers of low-head dams.

The signs were installed nearly one year after kayaker Sean Hiebel drowned after going over the Hosey Dam. Hiebel pulled one of his friends to safety but was unable to save himself. Hiebel’s friends and family formed The Pelorus Project to promote initiatives to make rivers safer.

The Pelorus Project collaborated on the initiative with the city of Fort Wayne, the Northeast Indiana Regional Coordinating Council, Northeast Water Trails, Tri-State Watershed Alliance, A Better Fort and the Indiana Silverjackets.

“Our mission is to educate and provide awareness to our community about the dangers of low-head dams, …” said Katie Hiebel, Sean Hiebel’s twin sister.

The Pelorus Project has also created maps, which are available at river access points, about the hazards people may face while using the rivers.

Low-head dams present a particular danger to people on the river, said Kyle Quandt, a principal planner with the Northeast Indiana Regional Coordinating Council.

“These danger signs are integral to safe water trail recreation as low-head dams are very unassuming and often cannot be seen on approach due to their only being a short drop to the downstream side,” Quandt said. “However, the hydraulic force created behind the dam is so strong it can pin a boat against the dam until it capsizes, at which point the victim often gets stuck in the underwater current and drowns.”

Signs are not required by state law. Fort Wayne is the first Indiana community to install them.

For more information on The Pelorus Project, go to