of the phrases often used in river rescue books, articles, and
classes, is “basic rescue equipment”. Some GCA clinics
require it; some trip leaders will snarl if you don’t have it; some
self proclaimed “hair” boaters won’t carry it at all unless
they are paid (this group will do anything for money). “Okay,
okay,” you answer, “but what is ‘basic rescue equipment’?”
I’m glad you asked.

there will be some minor differences in everyone’s list, most river
rescue instructors will include the following items. (Note: This
list is used in GCA rescue and safety classes as “basic rescue


is the most important piece of rescue gear carried. All paddlers
should carry a throw rope with them on the river and KNOW HOW TO USE

come in a variety of lengths, materials, and styles. For deck boats
and open canoes, the rope should be at least 70 feet long, at least
3/8 inch in diameter, made of polypropylene, and be carried in a wide
mouth throw bag. Most people find a rope longer than 70 feet
difficult to use, and thicker ropes too bulky to carry in anything
but rafts. Note: Few things are more frustrating than trying to
stuff 70 feet of wet rope back into a bag that is too short. Be sure
that the throw bag the rope comes in has extra room in the bag. If
the rope completely fills the bag when you look at it in the store,
odds are good that the rope will be a problem to stuff after you take
it out and use it.

manufacturers also sell a so called “kayakers rope” that is
50 feet of 1/4 inch polypropylene line. Many rescue professionals and
instructors consider this to be worse than worthless. 1/4 inch
polypropylene has a breaking strength of around 800 pounds (3/8 inch
polypropylene has a breaking strength of 1500 to 2000 pounds). A
submerged raft can easily exert a force of greater than 800 pounds,
and a rope that breaks under tension can be extremely dangerous.
Further, 50 feet is often not enough in swimmer rescues or boat


or ‘biners, are D or pear shaped metal ovals with a spring loaded
gate in one side. They are used in a wide variety of river
situations ranging from unpinning a raft to extracting an injured
paddler. For river use, the aluminum alloy construction appears to
work best. They are light, strong, and won’t rust. On some
carabiners, the gates can be locked shut so that they don’t
accidentally spring open. There are pros and cons to both gate
types. Informed personal preference should be the guide.

least of two carabiners should be carried by each paddler.


loops are used in almost all mechanical extraction rigs, such as Z
drags, Piggy Back systems (Pig Rigs), etc. They are usually made by
tying a loop using 6-8 feet of 5.5, 6, or 7mm, kernmantle line. At
least two prussic loops should be carried by each paddler.


webbing is strong, versatile, and easy to carry. It is often used to
tie off anchors in unpinning and extraction situations. Each paddler
should carry at least one 8-10 foot length of webbing.

(Not used for sinking rafts)

debate continues over whether the danger of accidental injury out
weighs the value of being able to cut a tangled line in an emergency.
Most swift water rescue instructors carry, and recommend, a good
knife. The key is to either carry a folding knife, or a fixed blade
knife in a sheath that is both secure and easy to release when the
knife is needed.


can be used for communications when the noise of the river makes
shouting futile. However, some whistles are no louder than your
voice. Shop and compare.

case can be made for including other items such as seat belt cutters,
pulleys, etc., but the above items are generally considered to be the
minimum rescue gear each paddler trained in river rescue should

is, of course, one other detail. It was mentioned under Throw Ropes.
The other “thing” is the “Know how to use it”

Bo Wise
From The Eddy Line, February 1997