Multiple boat rafting - proximity, order, etc. - Mountain Buzz
 

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Old 04-18-2015   #1
 
SpeyCatr's Avatar
 
Coquitlam, BC, Canada
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Multiple boat rafting - proximity, order, etc.

I know some commercial companies that run big whitewater like to have their boats relatively closely spaced because if one flips they can more quickly assist in rescue. There are also other rules or nuances related to boat spacing/proximity that I have heard. I'd like to hear how you and your rafting partner(s) handle boat spacing/proximity and order of participants, factoring in experience level, ability, equipment, etc.. I've heard some guys rotate who leads, and the leader decides when to stop & scout, etc. Also what are some practices you and your rafting partners like to follow in related to the above topic. Thanks!

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Old 04-18-2015   #2
 
cedar city, Utah
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We don't have any hard and fast rules. That said, I was once taught and firmly believe that tighter spacing at the top of the rapid is key to expedient recovery if someone is ejected or a boat flips. A group of rafts act like a compressed accordion at the top and then spread out as they enter the swifter water. If you are too far apart at the entry it becomes exceedingly difficult to recover people and gear in a timely fashion. I have mixed luck getting fellow boaters to use this approach as everyone behaves differently on the rapids in which this is key.

A frustrating variable is taking into account how each boat behaves. Our big 18' Avon standard floor raft barges through rapids and shockingly catches up to anybody mid rapid, especially if they aren't pushing or are backstroking.

Order? Depends on the severity of the rapid, both technicality wise and the consequences. In harder water its great to have someone in the lead who can grease the run to demonstrate the moves and someone competent to sweep and pick up any potential carnage. But thats just a generic approach as its a blast to do both. Nothing like running a rapid the first time and having to problem solve as the lead boat. You only get to do that once, like on sighting a new climb.

Scouting? Generally I believe in falling back on the people who want to scout. I find it best to set people up for success and shore scouting can be a great tool. That said, if time is an issue sometimes you have to lead people who want to scout into rapids with only a boat scout. And there are times when the scout sets you up for worse consequences or harder moves; the scout at Skull is the penultimate example of that for me.

At low water more spacing can help. I know the guidebook author for the middle fork has chiseled the phrase "maintain proper spacing" into the my mind. If the the most likely consequence is getting hung up for a while but not wrapping or getting pinned then extra distance can be helpful in my book. It gives people the chance to alleviate the hangup themselves, allow other boaters to choose a different line or sometimes give the sweep boat a chance to lineup to bump the stuck rig off a rock.

I imagine there are a lot of variations in answers to these questions. One of the things I love about rafting is it allows you to solve issues differently each time based on the river you are experiencing and the group you are with.

Phillip
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Old 04-18-2015   #3
 
Jenks, Oklahoma
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The commercials will usually run rafts within a few seconds apart. This works well because the people rowing all know the skill set of the other rowers, the lead boat normally has a ton of experience and knows the exact line. Usually a line of commercials looks like the well oiled machine it is designed to be.

I think for us private rafters spacing depends on the rapid's line and skill set of the people rowing.

My take is if the line is tight with spots to hang up on, I want to give people rowing plenty of time, some times not entering the rapid till the other boat gets past the danger spots. Again, this depends on the rowers skill set. The less experienced get more spacing distance and the more experienced rafts run closer. I also like to have space behind me so if I do slow down, the next raft does not crash into me. Nothing is more dangerous to me than being in the middle of a critical move and getting hit off line by the raft behind me.

All bets are off if it is a mixed group of kayakers and rafters. I kayak and raft and for me no matter what type of boat I am in it is best for the kayakers to run first and hang out in the slack water below the drop. If there is a raft flip the kayakers can help as needed. Then after the rafts are through the kayaks can surf and play till it is time for them to catch up, pass the rafts in safe water and do the next big drop.

Bottom line tho, spacing depends on the group's makeup and the drop. This is where a really good Trip Leader comes into action doing what is best for the group and the drop.
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Old 04-18-2015   #4
 
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Boise, Idaho
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Interesting thread. Something I've given thought to but never discussed much. I too find it extremely hazardous when inexperienced rowers follow my moves too close. With experience comes confidence and they eventually back off but even once can end badly.

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Old 04-18-2015   #5
 
East MT, WestMT, Both sides of the Yellowstone
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Cat or yak out front then gear boat then the smaller boats out back. I like some spacing between boats but you need to have a safety plan in place if possible. Recently on the lodore trip I ran out front most of the time in my cat, it was easy for me to read and run the lines and give a decent line to follow as well as being able to get to the side of the river without much of an eddy and make sure the rest of the group was in good shape. In my big boat I like to have a nimble boat out front that is aware of me barreling down at high speed and others to stay behind so I don't crush them. My 2cents
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Old 04-18-2015   #6
Casey
 
Laramie, Wyoming
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IT DEPENDS

Good responses from the above posts. More food for thought.

Are all the rafts oar rigs? Paddle rigs take off fast and are moving with the flow. An oar rig in front will be able to pick up paddlers who get bumped out of a paddle raft.

The last raft is a good place for the big first aid kit and big rescue bag. it will catch up with a flipped or wrapped raft but swimmers will be going faster than the boats.

If you watch for the boat behind you and slow or stop until you can see it you are available to help and you know what is happening.
A case in point: we finished the Yampa and kicked back to float down to lunch in Whirlpool. Nothing big to worry about in Whirlpool right? So we spread out. The last raft rower was busy applying sunscreen with oars tucked under her knees while the rest of the hungry group rowed on down to a good beach. 40 minutes later no one has seen the last boat. A water jugs is floating down, than sunscreen, chapstick, a hat etc. the raft had dropped over a good pourover with a sticky hole and started surfing. After a quick couple of spins and chinese fire drill running around the boat an oar catches and flips the rower into the hole. Some under boat thrashing leaves the rower too tuckered to climb back in unassisted while we have all moved on. Maggot boats to the rescue. Luckily two kayakers who had been upstream playing arrived to help the rower reload. No brownie points for me the permit holder/trip leader and husband of the rower. I guess lunch took precedence to my chagrin. Watch out for your buds and especially your main squeeze.
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Old 04-18-2015   #7
 
East MT, WestMT, Both sides of the Yellowstone
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The regs for green/yampa state all boats must be in eyesight within the group. Not saying I always do that but it is good practice. Running in at least pairs is a good idea.
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Old 04-18-2015   #8
 
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Glenwood Springs, Colorado
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Sometimes eyesight of boats can fall apart rapidly (&#128516. All it takes is one boatman who is not concentrating for a minute or two, and the spacing gets screwed up, i.e., fiddling in their boxes for something, etc.

I have lost count of the trips where this has happened, and several time where there were issues. I learned the lesson fairly quickly as lead boat to eddy out and count the boats as much as possible. The trick is to eddy out when necessary, but keep the momentum going without a cluster fuck in large eddies every 10 minutes. That required folks to be responsible for spacing. Either slow down, or speed up bitches...just stay reasonably close to the boat in front of you.

Some rivers (Alaska), the braids are a major factor. There can be several channels, and if you're not paying attention, you easily get committed to a different one than the groups and we may not see you for an hour or more. Or worse. We had our sweep boat do just that and he and his two passengers ended up flipping and losing their boat. Ended up having to call in a helicopter and the Mounties for their rescue. Recovered his boat after hiring a helicopter almost 36 hours later. Fun times, great stories.


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Old 04-18-2015   #9
 
cedar city, Utah
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wildh2onriver View Post
Sometimes eyesight of boats can fall apart rapidly (&#128516. All it takes is one boatman who is not concentrating for a minute or two, and the spacing gets screwed up, i.e., fiddling in their boxes for something, etc.

I have lost count of the trips where this has happened, and several time where there were issues. I learned the lesson fairly quickly as lead boat to eddy out and count the boats as much as possible. The trick is to eddy out when necessary, but keep the momentum going without a cluster fuck in large eddies every 10 minutes. That required folks to be responsible for spacing. Either slow down, or speed up bitches...just stay reasonably close to the boat in front of you.

Some rivers (Alaska), the braids are a major factor. There can be several channels, and if you're not paying attention, you easily get committed to a different one than the groups and we may not see you for an hour or more. Or worse. We had our sweep boat do just that and he and his two passengers ended up flipping and losing their boat. Ended up having to call in a helicopter and the Mounties for their rescue. Recovered his boat after hiring a helicopter almost 36 hours later. Fun times, great stories.


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Holy god, that sounds horrid. I would be curious to hear the story in a different thread if willing to share, or sideband. Mostly curious to see how the event unfolded and how the group problem solved the issue. I hope never to encounter such an situation but would love to know successes/failures. Especially since I have been trying to convince friends to apply for the Tat/Alsek for years.

Yeah, the element of keeping boats close always sounds so easy but can quickly turn south if folks aren't paying attention. I will admit to having a hard time not rowing when at the oars while others definitely just float. Most of the time its not too big of a deal but it can cause issues occasionally.

To the original idea: Keeping boats in sight is a requirement on every river I have done, if I remember proper. I believe its largely a requirement to prevent groups sending a single boat ahead to "reserve" camps but it definitely provides a safety benefit as well.

Phillip
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Old 04-18-2015   #10
 
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Glenwood Springs, Colorado
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No need to sideboard or start a new thread since this is on topic.

My first trip leader experience in Alaska was in 2001. After 40+ trips putting trips together and leading our usual group on trips all over gods green acres, we did our first Tat trip.

Day one our weakest boater tears a 4' rip in one of his cat tubes. Used one of his paco pads to repair this at camp as he didn't have enough materials to make this happen.

At the S turns, right before another huge braided section, our sweep boat somehow got too close to some significant hydraulics on one the the last bends in the river before the river braided big time. Easily missed if you're not asleep at the oars because you have plenty of river to set up prior. He flipped his boat with his passengers (a dad and his 12 year old son) unbeknownst to everyone else (I was lead boat). We entered the braided section which spanned about a mile or so of river width. I remember counting boats a couple of times, but I chalked it up to the braids for not seeing him after several miles.

Got to camp just after the braided section and realized we had a problem soon after.

We tried to hike back upriver but very soon encountered an unfordable side stream--no way to get across. We got back to camp and soon pulled a dry bag out of the river that was theirs.

We then knew there was a huge problem. Then a commercial trip (the only other trip we saw) came down and told us that they had not seen anything wrong. We were very worried. At 9pm we called the Mounties via my sat phone. At about 11pm the helicopter sat down behind our camp, and our victims stepped off. We supplied clothes, food and shelter that night and were filled in with the details of there mishap. They flipped and were only able to make it to shore with the clothes on their back--the boat was gone--and all of their gear, and two days worth of our meals.

The next day we waited, hoping another trip would float by giving us some info on where the boat was. Didn't happen. So I booked the helicopter to pick us up the next morning to find and recover the raft.

The pilot flew in at daybreak and the recovery team (us) loaded up with our rescue gear, including an Able raft. We spotted the upside down raft pinned under a huge sweeper within 10 minutes. The pilot let us out on a fairly steep hillside. Where we hiked/slide down to the embankment that was near the boat. We repelled down and were able to get onto the boat. Attached the harness to several attachment points, and the pilot picked the boat up from underneath the sweeper and set it down on an island. He reattached the lines, re flipped the raft and came and got us. Once we were reunited with the boat we noticed a few things: the cooler and dry box was compromised with sediment from the glacial river load. Cool anecdote (30 +hours under a tree on a glacial river and the watershed bags were completely dry).

Moral of this story: get trip insurance.




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