What to Practice Besides Just Kayaking

We all focus a lot on our boating skills, but there’s so much more to being an asset on the river and with your crew than being the sickest kayaker. 99% of the time we’re on the water we’re in our boats and everything is all good. But what about that other 1% of the time? That other 1% of the time is potentially rescue situations where we either need to help ourselves or one of our friends, so I think it makes sense to practice some of these other skills.

The first skill is swimming around in the river. By developing a better understanding of how to swim aggressively and effectively, we can make ourselves better rescuers. One of the biggest things I want to change in the industry is the notion that you have to swim on your back with your feet up. Yes, your body should absolutely be on the surface on the water and your feet should be up, but being on your back is an incredibly inefficient and ineffective way to actually swim anywhere in the river with purpose. After teaching swift water rescue classes for the last two years, I will only ever now swim head first down stream on my stomach in the river. I’m still able to mitigate the risks of foot entrapments by keeping my feet up, I’m able to not hit my butt on rocks because my back is arched and my PFD is the lowest point in the water, and I’m able to swim much more aggressively to get where I want. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with swimming on your back, but I think of it as more of a passive method.

The next is walking around in the river. Most foot entrapments happen less than 15 feet from shore and in water that’s less than waist deep. This means that often, the best way to get our hands on someone is to actually walk out to them. Yes, walking in the river could potentially be hazardous to us, but if we can mitigate the risks and properly assess the rapid, it’s one of the most useful and quick access tools we can use.
Last is obviously our throw bags. What’s the best way to get better at throwing your throw bag? Practice. It’s one of those things that people don’t practice until they actually need to. Failing to throw your throw bag in an actual rescue situation is obviously the worst case scenario, so how about we practice throwing in a safe environment first!

So we have a few things that we know we should practice, now the question is how and when? The obvious answer is to take a swift water rescue class in your area. What I like to do is pretend that any paddle I see in the river is a person, so I make it in to a little scenario to figure out how to safely get the paddle back to shore. This can potentially utilize all of these skills! I typically like to throw my throw bag at the end of a trip in order to set up a line to dry my clothes and the rope.

– Carson Lindsay

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