In my opinion, the single most important and life-saving rescue skills in whitewater kayaking is also one that you won’t learn from an SRT class, or from most other safety-related courses. The “Hand of God” rescue is one of the most under-taught, but important rescue skills in whitewater kayaking. It will enable you to flip upright an unconscious kayaker from your boat, and it’s also extremely useful for teaching beginner kayakers with weak rolls. You don’t need much strength to do it, only a few practiced skills: Dane can even roll Clay up with no problems! I’ve been unfortunate enough to have to use the Hand of God on a few unconscious paddlers, and I can’t think of any other way to deal with an inverted kayaker who’s just floating downstream unresponsive.
You’ll need a buddy to practice with, but you can both learn at the same time. I’d try it a few times in flatwater first, but definitely practice in current somewhere safe and deep. This skill will only be useable if you’ve practiced in the kind of water where you’ll actually need to use it!
Here’s how to do it:
1. Have the victim flip over close to you and paddle over to them so you are PARALLEL to their boat and right next to them. It’s important that you stay parallel to them for the entire thing.
1. Reach your near hand over their hull to the far side of their sidewall and grab the cockpit rim (seat-bolt recess or the knee bump can also work) on the deck. As you’re reaching over, put your far hand on the hull right next to you and push down a bit–allowing you to reach the cockpit rim more easily. You might want to put your paddle on your spray skirt to make it easy to keep track of.
1. Pull up and towards you with the hand on the cockpit rim, and push down on the near part of the hull simultaneously. IE, if the paddler is to your right, you’ll be reaching and pulling with your right hand, and pushing down on the hull with your left. Once the victim is about 1/2 way up, you might want to switch both hands to the cockpit rim to finish the Hand of God.
1. You should be able to get them 1/2 way up regardless of what your buddy does, but if your victim tries to lift their head and breath, you might not beable to finish. In that case, hold them 1/2 way and tell them to put their head down and back (into the water), and you’ll finish effortlessly. An unconscious person won’t try to lift their head and breath, so they will be easy to roll all the way.
That’s all there is to it. Enjoy the photos of Clay rescuing Pikey, which should help demonstrate what I’m describing. There are sequences of 2 angles to help see what both hands are doing. It should go without saying that you don’t want to go after any victim if it might endanger you (so right above Instant Death Falls is a bad idea). There’s also a chance that you could hit a hard eddyline, or something else that could flip you over, so definitely keep your paddle within reach or be ready to hand-roll. I actually play games with lots of my students where we do Hand of God races, or I make them practice in big, pushy water (only where it’s safe).
Play safe, and enjoy the confidence of knowing that you can save me when I need it!
Live from Deep Creek Lake, MD,