This afternoon I was passing the time reading articles on Paddling Magazine. I came across Terrifying Footage of a Kayaker Caught in a Sieve. To the non-whitewater paddler, you might think this was click bait; “A sieve? Isn’t that a thing to strain pasta?” But for whitewater paddlers, a sieve may be the most terrifying obstacle in a river.
Imagine the kayak is a piece of penne trapped in a sieve. Now imagine hundreds of gallons of water running through the sieve, covering the penne and trapping it. In whitewater, a sieve is just that; an object like a rock or a fallen tree that allows water to pass, but not a boat or person.
So as I watched the video, my heart stopped when the kayaker got stuck. I held my breath while I waited for him to resurface. I signed in relief as he was pulled from the water.
Mind you, they were paddling big water, far bigger than anything I have or likely will ever paddle in my life. But the video struck a cord with me. Even expert kayakers, those with considerable experience and extensive training, are at the mercy of the river.
This is why my heart sinks when I hear of inexperienced, untrained paddlers going on river trips unsupported. They underestimate how powerful the river is; the underestimate the severity of mistakes.
The value in whitewater rescue courses
What adds insult to injury is how easy it is to get whitewater training. It only takes two days to learn the basics of whitewater rescue. In just four days you can become a Whitewater Rescue Technician with enough skills to handle the majority of situations you could face on an intermediate river.
The courses are expensive, but it’s a small price to pay if it will save someone’s life.
I don’t want to drone on and on about the importance of taking a whitewater rescue course. Instead, I want to demonstrate few lessons you will take away from the course. Hopefully this will encourage all whitewater paddlers to take a rescue course.
Note: The photos in this post are by Boreal River Rescue. This is the guiding company I did my Wilderness First Responder, Whitewater Rescue Technician, and Moving Water courses with. I am not sponsored or endorsed by Boreal River Rescue; I simply think they are amazing.
Learn How to Establish Downstream Safety
Downstream safety refers to establishing safety measures downstream of the paddlers. It is often rescuers on the shoreline with throw bags ready to help anyone going down the rapid. It could also be a pair of paddlers in a boat at the bottom of the set.
Note: A throw bag is simply a bag containing rope that a rescue can throw. In the photo below, the women in the purple dry suit is holding onto a throw bag, ready to throw it in the water. On the left, there is a man stuffing the rope back into the bag after it was used.
In the photo below, one of the rescuers is tossing a throw bag to the swimmer. The swimmer grabs on to the rope and is pulled safely to shore.
Develop Your Confidence Swimming in Rapids
For downstream safety to be effective, you need paddlers who are confident swimming in rapids. If someone tips out of their boat and starts panicking (which is often the case with inexperienced whitewater paddlers), it becomes challenging to direct them out of the water.
And, if you’re wondering, there is proper technique for swimming in a rapid. Lie with your face up and feet up and forward, arms by your side to navigate through the water. This is a common mistake with new paddlers; they don’t keep their feet up, and risk catching their feet on a rock.
Learn How To (Safely) Retrieve Someone from the Water
While swimming in rapids can be a lot of fun, there are times you want to get your friend out. Quickly. In a Whitewater Rescue course, you will learn how to safely jump into the water after your friend. In the photo below, the rescuer is attached to a rope; this is known as “live bait”. The person being live bait jumps in the water and grabs hold of the swimmer. During the rescue, there is someone on the other end of the rope holding onto the rescuer, so neither the rescuer nor the swimmer continue down the river. This may seem simple enough, but it takes some practice to get good at this. Practice you could get in a Whitewater Rescue course.
Develop a Mechanical Advantage System to Save a Stuck Canoe
If you’ve ever pinned or wrapped a canoe on a rock, you’ll know what a pain it is to remove them. And if the boat is too stuck or if the water is too powerful, human strength alone may be unable to remove the boat at all. This is where a mechanical advantage system comes into play.
A mechanical advantage system uses a combination of ropes, webbing, carabiners and pulleys to multiply the force applied to the boat. As you can see in the photo below, the rescuer pulls on one yellow rope, and there are three ropes at a 90 degree angle pulling on the boat. This is called a 3-to-1 mechanical advantage system; the force applied to the canoe is three times the force applied by the rescue. All this additional force may be enough to get the canoe free.
How does the mechanical advantage system achieve this? Take a whitewater course and learn!
Have an Insanely Fun Few Days
I have taken a lot of certification courses. Some were enjoyable; others were mind-numbingly dull. However, only one course has left me wanting to immediately do it all over again. That course was the Whitewater Rescue course I did with Boreal River Rescue. What made it so fun was the excitement of jumping into huge rapids and the thrill of unwrapping a canoe with pulleys and rope. I loved never stepping into a classroom or writing anything down. A Whitewater Rescue course is as fun as it is useful.
So you want to take a Whitewater Course, what now?
The next thing you need to do is search for a Whitewater Rescue course near you. Unfortunately, there isn’t one source with all available courses. However, a quick Google of “Whitewater Rescue Course [your province/state]” should find a course near you.
Interested in reading more about safety on the river?