If you paddle regularly, you regularly find yourself helping other people to safety and wrangling their boat and gear after a swim.  Or maybe you catch an eddy and watch, wishing you knew how to help or fearing an incident in which you might have to help but don’t know what to do.

You may think swiftwater rescue training isn’t for you because you’re a relative beginner.  Or you’ve already had some training in the past. Regardless of your skill level and past training, you’ll learn a lot in the Common Sense Swiftwater course offered by H2O Dreams. The course will be offered to GCA members again this fall.

Whitewater paddling is a safe sport when you approach it responsibly – wear a PFD and helmet and other recommended safety gear, paddle with a group of people who know and follow safe practices on the water, and work up to more difficult runs by practicing boat control and reading water on lower-level runs.  Regardless of the precautions you take, rescues of varying degrees of difficulty will sometimes be necessary and learning to respond to them quickly and effectively is an essential part of your river running skills.

Georgia Canoeing Association recently partnered with H2O Dreams out of Saluda, NC, for their Common Sense Rescue (CSR) class held on May 19-21, 2023.  This CSR class is directed towards recreational whitewater paddlers who travel in smaller groups and carry less equipment than professionals.  H2O Dreams’ approach is to take the simplest and quickest route to rescuing the victim while keeping yourself and others safe.

There were twelve participants and two instructors and the course took place at the put-in of the Lower Green River.  This location offers the ideal setting with calm eddies, a couple of rapids and plenty of opportunities to practice swimming rapids, wading out to rescue swimmers and boats, throwing ropes, and wrangling boats and gear to shore.

The course began Friday evening at H2O Dreams for a land-based discussion of rescue situations:

  1. How did the situation happen and could we have prevented it?
  2. What’s the simplest and fastest way to deal with the situation?
  3. How do we prevent it from getting worse?
  4. What did we learn in order to be better prepared for next time?

Among the skills we learned and practiced in the class are the ones that pop up on almost every trip on moving water as well as those we hope we’ll never need:

  1. Know before you go – safety training, pre-paddle safety talks and communication, group organization, equipment review, river knowledge and water reading.
  2. Assessing a situation for everyone’s safety and choosing the most appropriate action to take.
  3. Wrangling an over-turned boat and getting it dumped and ready to go as quickly as possible.
  4. Unconscious swimmer rescue (aka Hand of God).
  5. Transporting a swimmer on the front or back of your boat.
  6. Towing an unconscious swimmer.
  7. Avoiding being grabbed by someone that’s panicking while still guiding and encouraging them to swim to safety.
  8. Throwing a rope, including quickly recoiling it without tangling to make a second throw.
  9. Hands on rescue techniques including wading and/or swimming out, with or without a tether.
  10. Knot tying and mechanical advantage techniques using ropes, prussics, carabiners, pulleys, webbing and features of the landscape.

Here are some of the personal takeaways from the participants of the class:

Carol Reiser Proctor – Practice Releasing Your Tow Tether
I had never practiced releasing the tow tether on my rescue vest. It shocked me that I couldn’t even find it at first because my skirt had floated up over it.  When I did find it, I pulled it back towards myself and it wouldn’t release.  My instructor showed me I needed to pull it out away from me. 

Karen Heath – Emptying a Boat Full of Water
Mine is how to empty someone else’s boat full of water while I am still in my boat.  I had to do that a couple weeks ago on the Upper Hooch. It’s way easier than I thought it would be! I never would have tried it if it hadn’t been for the SWR class.

Lotem Kol – Keep Practicing Skills & Stay Calm
My takeaway is to keep practicing the skills we learned in hopes to never need them but in case we do need them, we can be prepared.  Another one would be to stay calm during the rescue situation because stress and anxiety will only induce panic and make the rescue that much harder to complete successfully.

Mary Ann Pruitt – Figure 8 Throw Rope Coil
The Figure 8 method of collecting the throw rope was neat! Figure 8 is one of the ways to gather a throw rope after the first toss.  Other methods include dividing the rope into two sections using your fingers or making a loop in the rope.

Tammy Lea – Everyone Can Contribute to a Rescue
Even injured paddlers can assist with rescue. Tammy had an injury that prevented her from assisting in a boat-based rescue.  She was able to get a big picture view of what was needed and help direct those on the scene.

The consensus among the participants is that this was one of the best SWR classes we’ve taken and we would highly recommend it.  The course is designed to benefit paddlers from trained beginner to advanced.  The material was clearly presented and followed by hands on training where everyone got to practice the skills we’d just discussed.  Brian and Ben, our two instructors, clearly knew their stuff and how to convey it to others.

Their Student Manual is free to share – please follow the link below:

H2o Dreams Common Sense Rescue Student Manual (PDF)

GCA plans to partner with H2O Dreams in offering Common Sense Rescue again in the spring 2024 as well as other courses such as a beginning creeking class.  Be on the lookout for details!

Photos courtesy of Angi Hansen