Let's be real with Swift Water Rescue classes - Mountain Buzz
 

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Old 08-01-2014   #1
swimming
 
behind your mom, Colorado
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Let's be real with Swift Water Rescue classes

I'm typing this with the hopes of it being a no bullshit swift water rescue course discussion. I don't want to call anyone or group out or offend anybody here with this discussion. I'd like to see a place where courses are rated for their intended audience- kayakers, rafters, class I-III paddlers, Class IV/V boaters.

I feel there's a big difference between swift water classes. (Caveat I've never taken SWR in Colorado, but have put my wife through one and heard her feedback and read the class syllabus). It seemed the instructors focused solely on someone brand new to whitewater- how to swim properly, basic water reading, but then jumped to live bait rescue with really nothing in-between. Even though the course was comprised of mostly class III/IV paddlers. Obviously I think there are some issues there. They also tried telling her if you drop a carabiner even from waist height it may need to be discarded (which is a wives tale that needs to be put to bed, I don't want to argue this... it's straight from Petzl's mouth in a train the trainer course where we examined aluminum carabiners under microscope after dropping them 50' onto concrete).

I've taken 48 hours worth of SWR training but the focus was coming from a professional rescuer standpoint- not willing to take as many risks as we as kayakers may to ensure a fast rescue vs. recovery (waiting on personnel, setting up downstream high lines, etc), and skills built up over time throughout the course. The course I took was dive rescue internationals SWR I and II. I don't feel it was very adequate from a kayak standpoint. Obviously this is very instructor dependent and the course I took was in a non-whitewater state. I'm not bad mouthing DRI or the instructors in anyway.

What realistic offerings are out there for the class IV/V paddler? I know other guys that have asked to be the live bait rescuer and to jump into medium sized holes just to see what it feels like during their course and they were denied (probably for insurance purposes?). I wouldn't want my first time jumping into a hole to be the one my friend is getting chundered in. We also seem to have a lot of discussions on where to set safety (the dam on lower clear creek for example).

I started this thread for two reasons-

1) It seems there were a lot more deaths than average this year. Maybe there is a false confidence because someone took a SWR course in there 2nd or 3rd year of boating and now it's 5 years later and they're paddling class 4/5. Acknowledging the fact that refreshers are important, a lot of those skills originally learned when they were class II/III paddlers probably aren't adequate anymore or don't apply.

2) For myself. It's been 4 years since my course. I got on big water class IV this year and see myself doing a lot more of that next season (fingers crossed mother nature cooperates!) and probably stepping it up a bit more. Myself and my crew are probably not adequately trained IMO. Watching the OBJ pin video is a perfect example, they seemed to be a very solid crew. I don't believe most people would think to setup what looks similar to a V-lower but from below.

Comments/references? Does anyone want to have an informal get together to go over some of this stuff? Maybe some things that a formal SWR course are afraid to do in a class setting?

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Old 08-01-2014   #2
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Paddle with shittier boaters and you will get plenty of rescue practice, even if it's on easier water. I'd take someone who has seen a lot of scenarios and knows what works and what doesn't vs. someone who has been through a SWR class and always tries to use complicated rope systems they setup once or twice in a class.
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Old 08-01-2014   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by glenn View Post
I'd take someone who has seen a lot of scenarios and knows what works and what doesn't vs. someone who has been through a SWR class and always tries to use complicated rope systems they setup once or twice in a class.
Exactly. Nothing beats experience but I feel like this is a flaw in the courses offered. KISS is a great acronym to be used in any type of rescue.
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Old 08-01-2014   #4
 
Durango, Colorado
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People do talk about SWR class like they are a magic pill that automatically make you safer, which really is not the case.

Taking a SWR class is only one of the things you can do to prepare yourself. Like Glenn said, experience is more important than any formal class. There is no substitute for experience actual rescue situations.

Practice is a great idea. However, nobody actually seems to do it very often. Too bad Baileyfest is cancelled. There is usually plenty of rescue practice there.

If you do want to get the most out of a class, I would suggest getting together a group of similar level people, and then talking to the instructor about your level and goals so he knows that he can move through the basics quickly and get to more advanced techniques.
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Old 08-01-2014   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmack View Post
People do talk about SWR class like they are a magic pill that automatically make you safer, which really is not the case.

Taking a SWR class is only one of the things you can do to prepare yourself. Like Glenn said, experience is more important than any formal class. There is no substitute for experience actual rescue situations.

Practice is a great idea. However, nobody actually seems to do it very often. Too bad Baileyfest is cancelled. There is usually plenty of rescue practice there.

If you do want to get the most out of a class, I would suggest getting together a group of similar level people, and then talking to the instructor about your level and goals so he knows that he can move through the basics quickly and get to more advanced techniques.
I agree. Instructors capable of doing that? The best people to teach that class are probably too busy paddling. (Now might be a good time that water is disappearing but not great regarding next year?) For example I happened to run across the instructor in a pool session that taught my wife's course. He said he had yet to get out in the river and paddle this year (end of May at this time) because he was too busy teaching. I'm not sure I want to/will learn from someone not regularly "out there". Good point with Baileyfest too, I was planning on attending and paddling but maybe that would be a good reason to check out the Gore race.
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Old 08-01-2014   #6
 
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I tend to try and gather up a group to practice at the beginning of every season at confluence. You obviously can't work in real powerful water there, but it's enough force that you can work live bait rescues, rope throws to moving swimmers, z drags, etc. Maybe we should make it a bigger event next year.
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Old 08-01-2014   #7
 
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I thought in might be valuable to give a few of my takeaway points from my SWR course a few years back

1.) Always use the river to your advantage. IE if you want to bag a swimmer, you should be throwing the rope upstream and then pulling the swimmer with the flow down to you. This is also important in unpinning a boat.

2.) Stable vs Unstable situations. If you have a relatively stable situation (pin where a boater has there head above water) then you have time for a well planned rescue and you shouldn't do anything hastily that will change the situation to an unstable situation.

3.) Always be prepared. Don't take off your helmet during a scout and bring your rope. You never know what might happen.
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Old 08-01-2014   #8
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its all in the instructor

As a WRT student and recerting every three years I believe that the instructor makes the class. I also believe that bleeding, swelling, and occasional fear makes the class. If your instructor has not made this happen for you than you don't know your limits, you may be a liability in a true rescue situation. Volunteering at festivals helps others critique your skills and swap stories. practice of skills can not be stressed enough and availability of common sense solutions can not be overlooked in panic. I question my groups rescue skills and my own, but asking the question forces the answer. I believe most are doing the best they can, they just need someone to challenge them to truly make them great. I believe there are many great instructors, you just have to find them.
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Old 08-01-2014   #9
 
Denver, Colorado
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Downstream Edge has good rescue classes tailored for class IV/V kayakers. I'd recommend them. Basic SWR classes for newbie class III boaters are probably the right content for the right experience level.

I got most of my rescue knowledge through experience. Things like throwing a swimmers paddle like a javelin accurately to shore, knowing when you can rope someone vs. when you will get yanked off your feet, knowing when you can swim something and when you cant... a lot of those things come from time in the boat (or out of the boat). Another example... self rescue... I've developed some pretty good self rescue skills... due to a large swim count over the last decade. Knowing how to save your own shit is probably the most important skill out there.

Boating with learning boaters who are stepping up in safe places will give you lots of rescue practice. Paddling with more experienced paddlers will help you learn things.

Finally, being able to problem solve and improvise in the heat of the rescue and having the balls make things happen are key factors in rescues.

Last comment... always take positive action to try and do something. Sitting and waiting is typically a recipe for disaster, start paddling, running, grabbing, positioning etc. Don't be a passive participant ever!
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Old 08-01-2014   #10
 
Hood River, Oregon
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+1 more vote for Downstream Edge. Wigston and the rest of his instructors are the real deal. They base their classes in real world experience and run through tons of realistic scenarios. Definitely recommend.

While I agree that you will learn a lot through spending time on the water in the "learning by doing" strategy, that is no substitute for a really good class. You will learn all the little details and the "tips and tricks" that will make all the difference afterwards. For instance, what is the best way to recoil a rope quickly and efficiently for a second throw? Where is the best place to stand to throw your rope? When is it OK or not OK even to throw a rope? These are all things that I see plenty of experienced "class V" kayakers messing up on a regular basis.

Take Wigston's class! I've had multiple occasions where I've been glad that I did.
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