Thursday 5 August 2021
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Throw Rope Rescues

A throw rope is an essential piece of rescue equipment carried by paddlers when out on whitewater. The throw rope is a bag of floating rope specially designed to be thrown to a swimmer, by a rescuer on the river bank, and used to pull them to safety.

It is one of the most useful pieces of rescue equipment as it is easy to carry and use and it allows a rescue to be performed from the safety of the river bank. That said if it is used incorrectly a throw tope can be very dangerous. Here are a few general good practices rules to be aware of when using a throw rope.

  • Always carry a knife when out on whitewater especially when using a throw rope
  • Never throw a rope into a hydraulic unless absolutely necessary. There is nothing scarier or more dangerous than a rope swirling around in a hydraulic where it can potentially wrap around a swimmers body.
  • Always make an attempt to get the attention of the swimmer first before throwing the rope
  • Never attach the rope to the swimmer or the rescuer unless attached to a quick release harness on a rescue vest.

Making use of a rescue vest and a quick release towing system assumes you have taken a swift-water rescue class and have full knowledge of the practical uses of your rescue vest and its quick release system

How to perform a throw rope rescue : The role of the rescuer

1. Stage yourself in an area where you can safely be secure enough on the bank to throw the rope and where you can then pendulum the swimmer into a safe place and not towards a hazard

2. Flake (pull out) a length of rope onto the ground and step on the end. So if you were accidentally to let go, you still have an end of the rope.

3. Take another length of rope out of the bag so you have enough slack to wind up for your throw.

4. Get the attention of the swimmer

5. Throw the rope either over arm, side swing, or under hand to the swimmer aiming just over there head. So the rope will land in their outstretched arms or on their head.

I know this sounds like insult to injury but I once had a friend run a waterfall upside down, break their nose, and swim up completely disoriented. I hit him in his broken nose, but he knew the rope was there and later thanked me for preventing him swimming the next class V.

6. Brace yourself firmly on the ground, feet against a rock or with a buddy holding on so you do not get pulled in. If you need to you can also belay the rope around your waist.

7. Either pendulum the swimmer into an eddy or begin pulling the swimmer into a safe area.

8. When the swimmer is safely in an eddy, out of the flow, ask them to stand up and climb onto the shore.


How to perform a throw rope rescue : The role of the swimmer

1. After wet exiting from the boat, orient yourself by looking around 360 degrees. Assess the situation and spot your rescuer.

2. When you see the rescuer throw the rope. Place you arms wide apart up in the air ready to receive the rope.

3. Catch the rope and not the bag. If the rescuer missed you with the shot and it is safe to do so, actively swim towards and grab the floating throw rope in the water.

3. Lay on your back, and place the rope over your downstream shoulder

4. Begin kicking to help the rescuer

5. When safely in an eddy or at the shore stand up and climb out of the river.

If your paddle and boat are nearby it may be possible to hold them with one hand whilst holding the rope with the other and pull them to shore with you. If you are holding your gear and the rescuer is struggling to perform the rescue  and get you to shore, let go of the gear. You can always rescue equipment later.


Top Tips

Always carry a knife when out on whitewater especially if using a throw rope.

Do not put yourself into danger! One swimmer is a challenge enough. Don’t make it two!

Choose a safe place to stand to make the throw.

Throw just beyond the swimmer and talk to them during the rescue. Let them help you. Instruct them on what to do to make the rescue as smooth and easy as possible.

Remember you are the most important person in a rescue situation. Keep yourself safe and then if you can safely do so, help the other paddlers in your group and the swimmer.

See the river safety section for more information on throw rope rescues and how to stay safe out on whitewater.