Last weekend’s inaugural ACA Swiftwater Rescue conference offered a lot of useful information and skills, presented by many of the top names in the biz including Charlie Walbridge, Les Bechdel, Slim Ray, Jim Coffey, Mike Mather, Walter Felton, Justin Padgett and more. It was easy to keep building one’s rescue “toolbox” of practical skills and techniques. Much of the information would have been familiar to those who’ve had a swiftwater rescue skills course and maybe even more to those Level 4 plus SWR, Kayak and Canoe instructors teaching in these venues.
Along with the field exercises, there were a couple of group discussions on the history of swiftwater rescue and a session titled “Lessons learned from expert witness work in swiftwater rescue”. One of the panelists in the latter session was Will Leverette, a well-known and respected North Carolina expert in outdoor activity risk management (in addition to being the grandson of the famous Frank Bell). Will proposed a series of six factors that, in his experience, comprise the majority of “allegations” brought against defendants in cases involving accidents/injuries in swiftwater/swiftwater rescue. Though I’m not going to discuss more here about the legal ramifications of harm/duty to act, etc. that go into the complexities of liability (I’m not, after all, a lawyer), I did want to highlight what he presented. Sam Fowlkes, ACA River Safety and Rescue Committee co-chair has, some time ago, put into writing Will’s key points. I think this is a great reference for all instructors.
A couple of online resources that cover some of these topics are always worth watching and even reviewing when you have some downtime. One of the resources that ACA helped sponsor is Jim Coffee’s Rescue for River Runners series which provides a great overview of much of the material the conference covered.
Another groundbreaker is the Cold Water Bootcamp USA series that will probably be a real eye-opener for people who may think that hypothermia is the first and most risky component of cold water immersion. I’d particularly point to the lecture series of videos on this site. This is all information you should be aware of if you’re paddling in cold water or weather.
Practicing my own “due diligence”, I tried to identify any safety and rescue points I could add to my practice and repertoire. Though I feel I take pretty good care to prepare for emergencies and take precautions to maintain safety in classes and in everyday paddling, I committed to improve. A couple of good ideas I bought into the philosophy/practicality of include:
- addition of a Tyvek® ground sheet to my kayak kit. This very light sheet could easily be added to any boat, providing a dry groundcover, a windproof vapor barrier for warming (coupled with a mylar safety blanket already on board) or even an emergency shelter. During the winter or an unexpected night stranded by the river, it could be a comfort saver. I may toss in a plastic trash bag or two as emergency insulation as well.
- completing a suggested pin kit. I already carry a pretty good kit on the steeps or in more difficult venues (people always complain about how heavy my boat is). I added one more rescue pulley to my kit to round out the suggested 4/3/2/1 of locking carabiners/rescue pulleys/prusik loops/webbing anchor.
- messenger line. I bought 100′ of paracord to add to my kit that could be used to extend reach of sending a line across river or helping to join two ropes as a messenger. I haven’t had a chance yet to try this in practice but it seems like a workable idea and could prove to be a lightweight multi-tasker in the kit. Small cord has lots of uses in wilderness emergencies.
What are the safety/convenience items I already carry on the river? Here’s a quick list; some being task/activity/season dependent:
- Breakdown paddle (or hand paddles in play boat and neoprene gloves for the hand paddles if paddling in cold water).
- LED light (great little multi-tasker for night use/signaling and just to be legal if out on the water after sunset).
- zipper compass (inside the PFD pocket for emergency navigation-on land or water).
- Clif Bar and Gu energy gel. The Gu comes in handy for the hard play days and is really helpful at the sudden onset of a chill in the winter. This fuel source for the body to heat itself is extremely important and it’s great to have an emergency source for yourself, friends or students.
- Fluids/Water are almost a “duh” to be carrying but I continually find it difficult to carry enough. A liter is a bare minimum for any day on the water and many require two. I’ve found the little squirt-top bicycle bottles do not lend themselves to me drinking enough and I’ve moved to wide-mouth Nalgenes. I can gulp it fast from those. More often than not, I’ll mix Gatorade and water 1:1 to add a little more quick sugar to the mix without overwhelming myself with the latter. The extra little bit of energy seems to help a lot. Particularly in the winter, when you don’t sense yourself losing so much water, you need to make a conscious effort to keep up the hydration all day. Slugging down the remainder of your bottle at the takeout is a poor substitute for steady intake during the day.
- Sunscreen, lip balm, Ibuprofen: Stuff you wish you had when the time comes that you need it.
- First aid kit- one size for me and small groups or a more thorough one when I’m teaching and with students. Kits contain water purification supplies for emergency water.
- A winter survival pack (in the winter). Emergency shelter, fire-making supplies including an Esbit pocket stove, hot chocolate mix and a stainless cup for boiling water, extra dry clothes, polypropylene balaclava.
- A winter convenience pack (carried in a readily accessible drybag). Fleece beanie and polypropylene glove liners, extra packet of Gu/candy bar. This is stuff I’m likely to pull out when getting out of the boat for lunch or waiting for shuttle. The gloves are a must if you’re paddling with pogies for those times your not “wearing” your paddle.
- Cell phone. Sometimes you have signal and sometimes you don’t but the chance that you might be able to hike off a river to somewhere you can get signal is worth the effort to take it. Even without consistent signal, sometimes an emergency text might make its way through eventually. If the phone has GPS you can mark/send your location and with some apps, may even be able to locate your position if it has on-board maps.
- If with a class: Emergency contact information for evac and emergency contacts for the participants in the class. Included in the first aid kit is a SOAP note form as well.
- (Edit 11/2/13) Charlie Duffy reminded me by comment about a folding saw. Great tool on the river. Here’s the one I currently like/carry.
Be safe out there!