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Old 07-25-2004   #1
Charc in = charc out
ToddG's Avatar
Seattle, Washington
Paddling Since: 1992
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 475
On-shore safety & throwbagging (a brief rant)

Hello --

Twice in 2 weeks I witnessed careless hucking of throwbags to struggling swimmers-in-need at Double Trouble on the Big South. Once, about a week or two ago as a buddy broke his paddle on the first part of the drop & went for the big ride. And the second yesterday (Saturday) as a member of a huge party didn't break a paddle but went for the big ride anyway. On both occasions an on-shore safety bagger in the river-left eddy pitched a throwbag to the swimmer while the swimmer was waaay under water, with no eye contact, & with no warning whatsoever.

Couple problems with this panic-induced technique:
(1) It usually results in a wasted throw as the swimmer pops up somewhere other than where the bag/line is floating. Your bud pops up from the depths thinking "I could use some oxygen" first, & then, "I'm ready for that bag now" but little does he know that the bag was already thrown & it's 10 feet away from him. The bagger must recoil & fire again, wasting precious seconds in an emergency situation. ... and ...
(2) Careless bagging also creates a very real hazard, especially in situations involving swimmers in bad hydraulics. Becoming entangled in a poorly thrown rope as you go for round three at the bottom of Double Trouble could be fatal. ... and ...
(3) Hmm, well I don't really have a "3", but I'm sure there's something else that a fella could come up with.

So please, ALWAYS be sure that your swimmer makes eye contact with you before you fire a bag at him or her. It helps to yell "ROPE!!!" or "HEY, CHAUNCEY!!!", or blast a whistle -- whatever it takes to get his attention before launching your assault/assistance. This is very rudimentary swiftwater rescue technique.

Stepping off of soapbox now ...

Todd G.

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Old 07-25-2004   #2
Join Date: Nov 2003
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Well said.

Another truth. As a swimmer it can be much safer for you and your friends to swim to the bottom of the hole and let the current underneath push you out downstream, putting you in a much more relaxed environment to grab a throw rope.

This makes it easier because:
1)it can be much harder, if not near impossible for the rescuers to be able to pull the swimmer on top of the current, and therefore directly against the force of the water.
2) The force of the water can also be too strong on the top of the hole for the swimmer to hold onto the rope.

I've had to swim to the bottom of the river twice and although scary and dark I'd have to say that I would much rather do it alone than with a rope with me. I even hate it when my boat and paddle are with me.

Besides, swimming to the bottom really does work most of the time. I personally have never talked to anyone who hasn't been able to get out of a hole by swimming to the bottom (unless slightly unconscious). Even if the hole is backed up by rocks there is still the same amount of water going downstream and that water comes from the bottom of the river up behind the hole. In retrospect it can even be kind of fun.


Kyle McCutchen
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Old 07-25-2004   #3
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Laramie, Wyoming
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I would like to add that if you are unable to make eye contact with the swimmer, and they are on the surface, a good way to get their attention is to bean them right in the head with the throw bag. I did two summers as a raft guide and this was my favorite technique.
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Old 07-26-2004   #4
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Having witnessed the same carnage, I would add that said rescuer successfully pulled two swimmers from the hole saving the first from what would have been a much more significant beat down had not a rope hit him when it did. No real objections to your rant just further observation
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Old 07-27-2004   #5
Charc in = charc out
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Seattle, Washington
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You're correct in noting the outcomes this past saturday -- both the swimmers that I saw were rescued. Though, the second guy was lucky he came up where he did & that the rope had stayed relatively static. But you weren't on the trip a week ago where a buddy went for several rounds, out of his boat, due to a similarly poorly-timed throw & the subsequent re-packing & throwing. That sucked -- nothing I could do up on the river-right wall to help, watching as the "safety" guy flailed with his rope.

All things considered, Double Trouble is a relatively safe beatdown. Were you to repeat that same scenario on another rapid or another creek, it could be a different story. All I'm saying is it would be wiser to approach these safety issues with a "what could have been done better" angle than a "well, it was good enough" angle. That, and demand a minimum level of experience out of your class V crew ...

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Old 07-27-2004   #6
Boulder, Colorado
Join Date: Oct 2003
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Hmm.. there are ways of throwing the rope without repacking.

Especially if the "bag" has water in it.

Might be something to try practicing to see if it's doable.
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Old 07-27-2004   #7
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Denver, Colorado
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I agree with what your saying. I was the first swimmer down Double T, thanks again to whoever bagged me, textbook throw. I was also the second bagger, I released when I saw my buddy resurface, but never made eye contact. We did get lucky that the line stayed static in front of his body. I think the only time you should throw without eye contact would be when you think the swimmer is running out of oxygen, drill him in the head or within arms reach if he is still under.
Also, learned it's a goo idea to carry nothing less than a 65ft rope.
It was a good day on the water, lots learned!
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Old 07-27-2004   #8
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I assume the thrower didn't repack the bag after his first throw??? That takes forever. The guy in the hole could smoke a cigarette in that time.

When you said re-pack, I assume you meant just coil, while making sure you don't loose the bitter end. I'm sure we have all practiced this so we know how to do it during a time of urgency!
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Old 07-27-2004   #9
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Hmm.. there are ways of throwing the rope without repacking.
The point was that it is faster to throw once, as opposed to throwing once, then pulling the rope back in (not restuffing) and rethrowing. It had nothing to do with if it was possible.
Kyle McCutchen
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Old 07-27-2004   #10
Join Date: Oct 2003
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I disagree...

Originally Posted by ToddG
All things considered, Double Trouble is a relatively safe beatdown. TG
Todd I disagree with you here. I went rounds in this hole years ago, out of my boat, and was seconds from blacking out when hit by a rope and pulled to safety. This is after I'd been to the rocks on the bottom numerous times, crumpled into a ball, hoping to flush deep, but instead I kept popping up right in front of the curtain with my head never clearing the foam, preventing me from breathing. It was a hopeless situation, and without the assistance I would not have washed.

I know lots of people swim out of this hole every season, but any hole sticky enough to body surf a swimmer for any amount of time should not be taken lightly. In my experience with these types of holes, all it takes is a poorly timed breath, some water down the wrong pipe, and soon you are a piece of flotsam. I would hate for someone to decide to make a run of this sweet rapid, thinking that nothing bad will result of a swim here. In 8 years of class V boating all around the country, swimming into the hole at Double Trouble remains my closest call. I'm normally not one to preach like this, but the experience remains vivid in my mind and I recall it every time I consider running a drop with a sticky hole.


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