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Practicing rescue techniques: paddling to save a swimmer who has lost his boat.
For a better viewing experience, please download the Flash Player. Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters
To learn more about packrafting at Backpacking Light, visit backpackinglight.com/packrafting, or take a wilderness course in packrafting at backpackinglight.com/school.
Imagine you are floating down a swiftly flowing wilderness stream in your packraft. You go over a small drop and the stern of your packraft is sucked into a hole - what Roman Dial refers to as being "bandersnatched" - and you flip over backwards. Underwater, you stay calm, pull your spray deck open, and swim to the surface to get some air (letting go of your paddle in the process). You and your boat are being swept downstream, and you can't quite get a hold of its slippery surface. It's time to cut your losses, forget about rescuing your gear, and get yourself to the bank. The water is swift, but only a little over waist deep so you stand up in order to walk to the bank. Oops, you've jammed your foot between two rocks. Before you have time to think, the current pushes you off balance, and your foot becomes wedged in even deeper. The force of the current bends you forward and holds you under the water. You can't free your foot or push yourself into a standing position. Soon you run out of air and drown.
Foot entrapment is the number one cause of death for whitewater boaters. The first step to avoiding this and other hazards on the water is education. Take the time to understand the powerful forces created by moving water as it flows over and around obstacles, learn about and use proper safety gear, and seek training in rescue techniques and practice so your skills are sharp.
If you packraft in whitewater enough, you will eventually take an unplanned swim. Make sure your swim has a different ending than the above scenario:
- Be aware of the danger of foot entrapment and don't put your feet down in swift water until you can touch the bottom with your hand.
- Paddle with skilled boaters.
- Practice holding onto your paddle when you flip.
- Rig your packraft with a stern loop and grab lines.
- Practice wet reentry - getting back into your boat from the water.
- Wear a PFD.
- Get training in whitewater rescue.
In short, be someone others want to boat with - safely equipped, capable of rescuing yourself, and prepared to rescue your companions. Taking a whitewater rescue course is a great way to learn about rescue equipment and gain skills and practice them in real whitewater conditions safely. This video shows highlights from the Rescue 3 International Whitewater Technician Course held in Jackson, Wyoming in April 2008.
Wilderness Trekking School. Backpacking Light's Wilderness Trekking II - Packrafting.
Dial, Roman. Packrafting! An Introduction and How-To Guide (Backpacking Light, 2008).
Scott Solle, Rescue 3 International instructor, http://www.solgear.com.
Segerstrom, Jim, Barry Edwards, Mark Hogan, Phil Turnbull, and J. Michael Turnbull. Whitewater Rescue Technician Manual (Rescue 3 International, 2005).
Walbridge, Charles and Wayne A. Sundmacher, Sr. Whitewater Rescue Manual (Ragged Mountain Press, 1995).