When an accident does take place, everyone wants to help. There is a sense of
urgency because this is our friend. Stop, think, and plan before taking action.
This process may need to be quick in a heads down situation with experienced rescuers
or more deliberate when unpinning a boat without a paddler in it. You need to set
priorities in any rescue and these priorities may surprise you:
- Me - Ensure you don't add yourself as a rescue victim. Rescuing one person is
always easier than multiple persons.
- My Group - Keep a close eye on your fellow boaters. If you have novice boaters
in your group, direct them to stay in a safe eddy. Alternatively, you can have them get
out on the river bank and warn others from above. Novices may wish to help but many
can't roll and will often swim compounding your problems.
- Bystanders - This may be other parties or hikers on shore. You have no idea
of what their skill levels are. They may be useful in reserve for pulling, getting
help, etc. If you are a trip leader with a bunch of newbie's, think twice about
abandoning your team to get involved in another group's rescue efforts if doing so
jeopardizes your team (like running out of daylight for instance).
- The Victim - Yes, the victim comes last. Once you are fairly confident that
you can rescue the victim safely, proceed with the rescue effort.
We have two other priorities and they sometimes conflict with each other. Most of the
time, we prefer simple solutions over more complex ones. Complexity often goes hand in
hand with danger. A great example is the Armstrong method (pulling on a tag line with
lots of people) versus a Z-Drag (3:1 mechanical advantage system). The Z-Drag is far
more complex and places a great deal of stress on ropes. The second goal is faster
recoveries. This is far more important in a heads down pin than boat extraction.
Rescuing a stranded swimmer in cold water needs to be done quickly as well to avoid
hypothermia. We use the acronym RETHROG to prioritize our efforts in terms of safety.
You may be wondering why I said these priorities may occasionally be in conflict.
Swimming to a victim is often the least complex method and at the same time has the
highest risk factor. This is where experience and judgment play a vital role in
evaluating your options. In a boat pin, time isn't as essential so don't risk a
free swim if you don't have to.
- RE - Reach Perhaps you can extend a paddle to the victim. This is fast and
very safe. If you are in danger of falling in, simply drop the paddle.
- TH - Throw This is where our trusty throw rope comes into play. Practice
this skill often as it is the bread and butter of many rescues.
- RO - Row A slight stretch of the imagination, in our case it means paddle
in your boat to the victim. Set safety below as in many cases the rescuer will have
to get out of their boat and let it float downstream.
- Go This is the most dangerous maneuver but may be necessary when you need
a person to hold up the victim or maneuver them out of an entrapment.