safety kayak technique? - Mountain Buzz

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Old 06-21-2005   #1
Golden, Colorado
Join Date: Apr 2004
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safety kayak technique?

I thought about this while reading the Animas posts regarding safety kayakers and having swimmers grab a loop. There was no mention of what really happens after that, and I don't have the experience to know for sure. Saying the swimmer grabs the safety kayaker's loop in a rapid seems like an over simplification to me. What happens after they do that? I imagine that things go to shit very quickly for the kayaker.

Are there any paddlers out there who have done this or seen it enough times to tell me whether or not a skilled safety kayaker really rides it out while someone is hanging onto their boat? How? The swimmer is cranking on the boat at some distance from the roll axis. It seems impossibly unstable to me.

I would think that if a swimmer is in danger of flush drowning you are going to need to have them grab a loop and then bail out and hold onto the other loop and ride with them. Is that how it really happens?

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Old 06-21-2005   #2
Join Date: Oct 2003
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Damn good question. I've helped swimmers in Class III and -IV but have never had somebody holding on to my garbloop in Class VI+ or V. I would imagine that a swimmer may have a hard time hanging on in that type water and the kayaker ain't gonna have alot of ability to control the situation. I think it would be a combination of the swimmer letting go in a few places and the kayaker trying to stay nearby for the chance to offer assistance when the swimmer is able to grab the loop again....both trying to keep cool and working there way to safety. I have had a couple of cases where the swimmer got onto the stern deck and kicked while I paddled and that work OK if both are working together but it was still a big effort to get to the bank. All I can say is that going into a big nasty hole with a swimmer holding onto the grabloop....prolly neither is coming out too soon.

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Old 06-21-2005   #3
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I’m a new kayaker, and before I got on a river, Confluence Kayaks (where I took lessons) showed us the video on how to be the swimmer in an assisted rescue via kayak. I'm going to try to explain what I learned and practiced - but I'm NOT saying this is what should have been done on the Animas. This is what I know, very limited, on assisted rescue via kayak.

I put the kayak rescue into practice three times last Friday on Clearcreek. I spent some time on Clearcreek last week being towed by my instructor. We used a lot of river (drifting downstream) getting out of the current, but I was a lot more stable hanging onto his boat (and I was also hanging onto mine, which was upside down and had at least 20 pounds of water in it). For your info: I’m 6’3, 230 pounds, my instructor was about 5’8 and 160.

My instructor took a ferry angle, and just ferried me out – when we hit the eddies, he reminded me to kick with him, and I’m a strong swimmer (and I wasn’t panicked, which I can’t say would be the same in Class V) and we got out.

Two things work for your advantage (or maybe more):

1) The guy in the river isn’t pulling with his full weight because he has water displacing a lot of his.
2) The boat is displacing water,

So the tow swimmer doesn’t have a whole lot of leverage to tank the boat (and the boat stays parallel to the downstream current, so the swimmer is down at the back of the boat, not pulling the boat to the side). The kayaker then is only really in danger of flipping from the usual sources on the river, he’s just lost some amount of maneuverability (probably a lot) and has a harder paddling job to do.

If the swimmer isn’t trying to actually climb the boat, but just keeps a grip and keeps his head out of water, the maneuverability of a kayak is a definite increase over swimming alone. It’s also the job of the swimmer to kick with his legs to help the kayaker. Grabbing the tow loop is the first step to avoiding panic, which is the most important step in not drowning.

Granted, there are stretches of river where this is probably more difficult, to downright unworkable, for the kayaker to reach a swimmer. But the kayak can, I would think, get out of the way of danger better than a swimmer alone, and add in a Class V, great kayaker, and I think you can imagine what kinds of trouble he can get himself OUT of.

I want to reinforce that even with a kayaker, the results could have been the same, as someone else did in the other post. If you end up in a hole pinned, the kayaker is no better equipped to extract you (and probably worse) than a raft. We don't know what exactly happened in this instance. I'm just trying to explain how assisted rescue was taught to me via kayak.

My condolences go out to the rafting community and to the families of the victims. I'm so very sorry.
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Old 06-21-2005   #4
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every situation is different

I think it could be risky as heck for both the boater and the swimmer if you had a swimmer hanging on to a grab loop IV/V water, here's why;

The swimmer's best chance for survival is to get clear of any obstructions, feet up and downstream, arms out for paddling and control.

For the boater, especially in continuous IV/V water, even having the swimmer hanging on the back loop and kicking is still an enormous amount of drag on the boat.

The paddler should be able to get ahead of the swimmer and find some kind of eddy, no matter how small it is.

A good thing to carry is something like a Salamander belt-worn throwbag. They're easy access and work well under all circumstances. I carry one at all times, even when I am just doing the park'n'play thing.

A big factor is making sure the swimmer and boater are communicating. The boater is up a little higher and has better lines of sight than the swimmer.

We had some swimmers last year on the Gunny Gorge trip, the big thing was getting them herded to the shore with the boat. The swimmer has to stop caring about the boat and paddle and worry more about self-preservation.

It's actually a good scenario to practice in some Class III water. You can try it with a handful of your buddies. Suit up for the water temp and conditions, get your throwbags and the rest of your gear and plan out some rescues. Each one of you should take a turn being the swimmer and actually flip your boat in the drop and bail out.
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Old 06-21-2005   #5
Join Date: Jun 2005
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Answers to safetyboating class v

First off I want to say my heart goes out to the famlies and friends who lost their loved ones. My experience safety boating on the lower and upper yough, cheat, gauley, pine creek/numbers, and the American is that paddling with a swimmer through class v is some scary stuff. Your best bet is to be a floating swimm coach for the swimmer in situations where if attached would be hazardous to either the kayaker or swimmer. For example, I would have a swimmer let go before the hole on pine creek because the last thing you want is the beat down with the swimmer. Far too often, swimmers tend to panic and try to climb onto of your boat in heavy rapids, I have plenty of stories of beating people off with my paddle. Imagine paddling down a burly run and running the bad lines while at the same time assessing the mental state of the swimmer. I only offer the bow or stern when it is clear to me that they will follow my commands to hold on or not while running the rapid. Quite often, the best way to get the swimmer out of danger is motivate them to swim for an eddie or for the shore line. By having your presence there, the swimmer doesn't feel alone and is less likely to panic.

I was reading in the other thread about the so called ineffectiveness of a safety raft. I've been involved in numerous situations where a safety raft was quite superior to a kayak, especially if you have more than 1 gide in the boat. One guide controls the boat while the other throws ropes and hauls swimmers in. The big disadvantage is that once people blow by its hard to catch them. However, safety kayakers can only deal with 1 or maybe 2 people at a time and can quickly have their asses handed to them by a paniced swimmer. Finally, the major weakness of safety kayakers is the choice of boat. If you have a boater in a short boat then you might as well forget about any help. It seems a 9 foot length or longer creekboat of old school playboat works best for paddling with swimmers.

Later WPH
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Old 06-21-2005   #6
Join Date: Mar 2004
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Let go

Some good discussion here. A couple additional comments.

I saw a poor girl get her teeth knocked out because she didn't let go when told to in a rapid. wph - it was between dimple and swimmers on the lower yough - I love that river. Any way, this is II+ water. Most swimmers will want to pull close to the grab loop, it's easier to hang on and feels safer. Now add a drop into even a small hole, you are kissing a boat in no time.

Second point, even more important, you can't control your boat when someone or something is attached to the bow or stern of your boat. Bigger the water, the less control you have. Think about your ferry angle in class III water. How much bow or stern force will it take to mess up that angle. You and your paddle have no chance of hold that angle with a 150lb+ drag on the end of your boat. This is why cow tails are connected to your rescue vest. It is the center of your boat and still leaves you free to pivot a ferry angle without the boat you're towing messing with boat your boat control.

Now, would you be better off letting a swimmer hang on to a cow tail (PLEASE DON"T CLIP IN)? That's an interesting question. I'll need to try that out or someone here can let me know.

Maintain your control to get through the big drop. The swimmer should swim like hell to safety. Give them instructions on where the best eddy is. You'll be around to help at the bottom instead of being a second victim.

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