Spring Whitewater Rescue Tune Up

Whether or not you whitewater kayak seasonally or all year round, having the skills to stay safe will ensure you and your paddling buddies are still smiling at the end of the day. For months we have been looking forward to the spring melt bringing our favorite rivers back to life. For those of us that don’t spend the year traveling the world to paddle, it’s unfortunate that some of the best paddling of the year happens when our skills are rusty after a winter of playing in the snow.

It always takes a few runs for me to shake the cobwebs out, and in the spring some of the more fun and more difficult whitewater I paddle all year is running, so I need to be on top of my rescue game; I’ve used rescue skills more during spring than any other time year. Here are a couple ways to tune up your rescue skills so you’re ready for the start of the season:

Check Your Gear

Take some time to go through your gear to make sure the equipment you had in your PFD last fall is still there and in good shape.

The start of a season is a great time to reassess what you need to carry in order to handle any rescue situation. To keep things simple and avoid overloading my pockets with equipment, I follow the 4-3-2-1 Rule: To perform virtually every rescue that you learn in rescue courses, you only need 4 carabiners, 3 pulleys, 2 prusiks, and 1 five-meter piece of webbing. The webbing can be worn as a flip line to be easily accessible, and the rest will fit into your PFD without making it cumbersome for paddling.

Add to that a throwbag with good quality low stretch rope and you are ready to enjoy your day on the river.

These simple pieces of equipment are compact, relatively inexpensive and have countless uses other than building a mechanical advantage system, which is generally the first thing that comes to mind when we see this list. Other uses for these items include:

  • Anchoring and securing equipment to shore—nothing is worse than watching a boat float through a rapid while you are scouting
  • Making an improvised harness
  • Building a travel or fall restraint when scouting so you don’t get too close to an edge
  • Building an improvised litter in an emergency

Practice Your Skills

At the start of the season, spend some time doing the techniques you have learned before you need to use them: toss your throwbag, size up your flip line, double check that you know where your equipment is and set up a few mechanical advantage systems.  

Although nothing can replace quality hands-on instruction, NRS has a great video series to help you remember your skills and techniques, including how to make a flip line, how to quickly coil a throw rope and how to equip your PFD for rescue.

There are many different rescue techniques, and one thing that’s true of all of them is that they’re easier and more effective with practice. If you need a refresher, sign up for an early season course to learn, refresh and practice rescue skills.


Dan Kirvan is an Instructor with Raven Rescue and has been teaching Swiftwater Rescue for 15 years with Rescue3 International. He has been guiding both expeditions and day trips for longer than his parents care to admit.


For more whitewater rescue tips, see here


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