Swiftwater Rescue

A few years ago, I wrote a post about my earning my Whitewater Rescue Technician level I certification.  I truly felt that it was worth every penny, and that everyone who paddles should at least have this qualification.  You never know when you might be in a position where you must rescue or assist in rescuing someone on the river.

Six years later I still feel that way, and as a volunteer for Team River Runner, I think it’s even more important to refresh my skills.  I heard that the rescue skills you learn have a 6 month lifespan if you are not given the chance to put them to use (although that’s a good thing) or practice them.

Last weekend, six volunteers from the Colorado Springs Chapter ventured into the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area with a couple of instructors from Fort Carson to certify (or in my case, recertify).


Instructor Tara shows us a quick and dirty “no-knot” around a tree.

The first day was spent going over basic river safety, reading whitewater, knots, throwing rope, and different systems for lowering rescuers into the water, or using a mechanical advantage to haul things out of the river.


Me practicing the quick-release on my rescue PFD.


Sharlene tossing her throwrope

Although I remember some of what I learned on the course I took in 2008, some things came back as they were taught and of course, as I’m getting up there in age, some things I didn’t remember at all!

I’ll be the first to admit that the second day was rather painful! Despite it being the middle of May, the wind roared through the canyon, and the weather progressively got worse as the day went on. We all had dry suits of some type on (mine were semi-dry pants with neoprene gaskets, but I had latex gaskets on my drytop), but as our instructors reminded us, they are called “dry suits” not “warm suits”!  I had fleece on under my top, and neoprene on under my bottoms, and I was still cold!  It was actually warmer *in* the water as opposed to out of it, and the cold wind and rain did not help one bit!

Yet, we stuck with it! We spent the day on the river, practicing swimming across the rapids and catching eddies, throwing rescue rope and pulling victims in to shore, working together to walk across a river in a pyramid formation, releasing pinned boats and dragging them in to shore, and rescuing stranded boaters sitting on a rock in the middle of the river!

Pulling a swimmer in to safety.

Pulling a swimmer in to safety.

We were given scenarios, and as a team required to come up with solutions and work together to conduct each rescue. All-in-all, we all learned a lot.  Regardless of your paddling ability, swift water rescue skills are essential, especially when you’re leading a river trip that may have paddlers with disabilities, like Team River Runner might.

We were done just in time for some thunder, snow and sleet, but if we can conduct river rescues in that type of weather, then we can do them pretty much anywhere!


Our newly qualified swift water rescuers!

I am NOT smiling in this picture. It's more of a grimace. Brrr!

I am NOT smiling in this picture. It’s more of a grimace. Brrr!