Gadgets to use on the river…

Over the past decade I have spent most of my summers in deep canyons exploring rivers round the Northern States of America and British Colombia. As I have aged, (I have hit the big 30!!!), I have started to think more and more about what if situations. This thought process along with friend’s tales of epics has had me revaluate what is the responsible emergency gear to have with us on the river. This article is not meant to call anybody out, nor is it the perfect grouping of equipment. However, it is in my opinion on some great things to have when paddling in the remote locations we tend to find ourselves in.

With Instagram, Facebook, drones and the elusive selfie, we have seen a large change in the amount of electronics we are carrying around with us. I can only imagine watershed are all about this electronic dependence. I regularly see a POV camera, a drone, an iPhone, GPS watch and Garmin inReach type device. Taking all of these vital pieces of equipment into account, what is actually useful when things go wrong? Most of the above are pretty sweet for making yourself look sick on the interweb, but not amazing for getting you out of a sticky situation. I will talk about your phone and SOS device in particular here….

The iphone is an amazingly powerful device. The plethora of apps available to the outdoor recreationalist is astounding. So what do we as kayakers need. We need to be able to tell someone exactly where we are. To do that we need a decent GPS app that allows us to communicate our position while also giving ourselves an idea of where we are. We might need to get ourselves or one of our party to a better spot for extraction. Gaia GPS offers a free version that includes a couple of 1:20,000 Topo maps of most of North America. It will give you your latitude and longitude while also giving you a detailed map of your surroundings. Other apps that do this are Topo Maps +, and Canada Topo.

Before the last few years’ advancements in satellite dependant technology, we, as a community have been limited to the spot device and delorme. These devices have had issues with alerting you that the people you need to communicate with have got your message. inReach was acquired by Garmin this last year and the benefits of both companies have produced a pretty cool product. Their new device has allowed for two-way communication. You can send updates, text messages and SOS calls from your device allowing full communication between you and your rescuer. This device also syncs with your phone to allow for an easy platform to operate with. The set back with the GPS device is that it has major limitations in canyons and thickly forested areas. It can take a long time to establish satellite contact if it has the ability.

So what do we do if we can’t use the phone or GPS device? Its back to the old “tell your mom where you’re going” scenario. Make sure your friends and/ or family know where you are going paddling. With todays incredible technology we can send them a GPX from sites like Paddling Maps of where to come to find us if things go wrong. Let them know how to get to you too if they are unfamiliar with the area.

Now onto our rescue equipment:
If our phones or GPS devices are not providing the communication we need, we are more than likely in a thickly forested area or in a canyon and it is time for us to get ourselves out of whatever mess we have got ourselves into. Having a friend that has recently gone through a pretty rough night on the river I am glad I carry what I do in my boat, be it a bit heavier than your average.

Most manufacturers sell a spectra rope, which is your best bet when dealing with water. However, and this is important, this rope does not deal with knots and or bends well. Be sure to know your breaking strengths. Mine has an 800 lb breaking strength, we know how powerful water is and so we must keep this in mind. I have started keeping a climbing rope set up in the truck, so if needs be we can kayak down and return with help and the necessary rope system.

In the case where you can not get help until the following day, it is important to keep an overnight kit in mind when deciding what rivers you are doing. I keep a small stuff sack with some down clothing, a fire kit, and a few foil bivy sacs. This is a small, light and much-appreciated kit to have in dire times.

This is relative to your environment. I carry a beefed up wilderness first aid kit from MEC. If you have advanced medical training amongst your group some more complex setups might be appropriate.

Group sharing:
Obviously, this is a lot of stuff, it is important that some people have an individual set up for some items and in other cases, it is appropriate to have one for the whole group. For example, we usually only have one GPS device with us.

This is a lot of information to consider, it took me years to come to this stage and I have a lot more to learn. The take home from this is that the regular creeking rope set up may not be enough to get you home when things go wrong. Take some time to see what you need to get back from the river if something bad happens. These devices are expensive but can save your life. It’s all worth a little research, as I am sure you are exponentially more valuable to a lot of people than the cost of a mobile safety device.

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