Swiftwater Rescue Class

We just got into this whole paddling thing this summer and here we are deciding to sign up Mandy and I for a swiftwater rescue class. The class is taught by some very experienced locals who have received training and certifications over the years from a national paddling organization. They are trained not only in how to conduct a swiftwater rescue, but also how to teach the swiftwater rescue skills and how to train other teachers.

What is “swiftwater rescue?” And why would we noobs be signing up? And why isn’t mom getting trained too? Here’s the course overview for the 20 hour class we took:

The Swiftwater Rescue workshop teaches recognition and avoidance of common river hazards, execution of self-rescue techniques, and rescue techniques for paddlers in distress. Emphasis is placed both on personal safety and on simple, commonly used skills. Techniques for dealing with hazards that carry greater risks for both victim and rescuer, such as strainers, rescue vest applications, entrapments, and pins, also are practiced. Scenarios will provide an opportunity for participants to practice their skills both individually and within a team/group context.

So you can see that the class starts with the idea of recognizing hazards so you can avoid them before they become a problem. The class then teaches you how to self-rescue in order to get yourself out of a situation if you failed to avoid it in the first place. And finally, the class teaches you how to help others who have gotten themselves into a hazardous situation.

I think the biggest lesson that the class taught was that “it sucks to be you”. What that means is, you got yourself into this dangerous situation and my first obligation is to keep myself, my buddies and any bystanders safe. I am not a rescue professional and neither are most of the other paddlers. We aren’t obligated to risk our lives to save yours. Did you notice that list two sentences back? The order of priorities goes like this: 1) me, 2) other paddlers, 3) bystanders… then 4) you. Basically it’s a list to remind Mandy and I to not make a bad situation worse.

[vimeo 48052517 w=590]

We spent Friday night going over concepts such as these and getting several hours of lecture out of the way. The schedule for Saturday and Sunday saw us spending the morning in camp listening to lectures, watching demonstrations and participating in some skills exercises.

Each afternoon we regrouped at the river, donned our paddling gear, and practiced the skills we had been learning about. We learned how to safely swim in fast moving water, how to walk across moving water as a group by supporting one another and making an eddy for each other to stand in. We practiced throwing the ropes we carry so we can hit a swimmer in the water and then safely hauling them to shore. There is a lot of material presented in the class and you can see the syllabus here.

These skills drills worked their way up to “real life scenarios” where groups of us were presented with a situation (pinned boats, unconscious/injured paddlers, belligerent drunk yahoos, etc. Our group was timed so we could see how long it took us to get people out of the water. With more practice, our time got faster but it was clear that we needed more practice if we wanted to affect a rescue and not a recovery.

The class was rather intense so Mandy and I didn’t have the time or ability to take many photos though we did try to put together the little video you see above. The class was valuable to beginners like us and I know we’ll be back to take it again in a year or so. Working in the water is tiring and you can see Miss Mandy crashed hard after returning home.


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