When is the last time you threw a throw bag? Intentionally swam a rapid? Or practiced a one or two shore based foot entrapment extraction? How about the people you normally boat with – when was their last refresher?
I just returned from a Swiftwater Rescue training and refresher with the organization for which I work where we spent 3 days of swimming, wading, throwing ropes, practicing extractions, mechanical advantage and live bait more just outside of Stanley Idaho on the Salmon River.
Many of the participants of this seminar had previous swiftwater rescue training experience but were taking advantage of this professional development opportunity to refresh our skills and training. These few days of active training reminded me that these skills are not only for river professionals, but skills with which every river runner should be competent and practicing on a regular basis.
In the skiing community it is the standard that anyone skiing in the backcountry should have at a minimum some basic level of avalanche training. In the river community the standard should be the same equivalent. Whether you spend a few days a year on the river, are a weekend warrior or a professional boater, you should have some fluency with river rescue skills. You may never use that training – hopefully you never have to. But should the day come that you or your paddling buddies do need these skills, their value will be beyond measurable.
We should all be comfortable swimming in whitewater, know that our throw bag toss is dialed – both from the bag and recoiled, what it feels like to pull the quick release on our rescue PFDs and be comfortable with a variety of wading techniques. In the dynamic environment in which we love to play and most often things are fun and run smoothly things can change quickly. In a rescue scenario where you may need to quickly access someone stuck in an unstable position in the middle of the river, you should be able to rapidly pull 5 different rescue techniques out of your back pocket so you can make your quickest, safest and most well practiced effort to help them.
I write this not to scare you, but to empower you and remind you to ensure that you are best equipped and trained to be safe on the river and to hold your paddling buddies to the same standard so that you can be confident that they have your back should things go awry.
So if you are not quite sure when was the last time you repacked the throw bag in your boat’s cockpit, what you would do first if your friend was foot entrapped in the middle of the river, or which wading technique you would use to bring an injured buddy from his pinned boat back to shore, then maybe its time to take a pause from paddling down the river and spend a day or a few training.
We had a great time playing in the water on the Salmon and I left the seminar more confident and comfortable with many rescue techniques and inspired to make routinely practicing rescue techniques a bigger part of my every day paddling routine. I hope you will too!