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Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters

Highlights from the April 2008 Rescue 3 International Whitewater Rescue Technician course for packrafters held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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by Carol Crooker | 2009-02-10 00:03:00-07


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Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters - 1
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, or take a wilderness course in packrafting at


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,

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).


"Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters," by Carol Crooker. (ISSN 1537-0364)., 2009-02-10 00:03:00-07.


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Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters
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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters on 02/10/2009 14:39:02 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters

Larry Tullis
(Larrytullis) - F - M

Locale: Wasatch Mountains
Re: Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters on 02/12/2009 07:00:07 MST Print View

Nice instructional, I'd like to see more of that sort of thing...."video articles".

Brett Tucker
(blister-free) - F

Locale: Puertecito ruins
Re: Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters on 02/12/2009 14:23:39 MST Print View

Nicely done.

Now, if I hadn't actually seen that instructor demonstrate the *sideways* flip, torquing himself *against* the spraydeck's velcro opening, and *still* managing to wind up inverted rather than just falling out... (mind-boggling!)

There must be an occupant weight threshold, above which the velcro just releases during a flip, as it does for me. For lighter occupants, obviously the velcro has enough resistance to potentially keep them pinned inside the boat after a flip.

Which raises the question, could a less aggressive velcro be incorporated into the spraydeck that would reduce the chances of the occupant flipping with the boat? As we know, the spraydeck isn't intended to support the raft's structural integrity in any way. And it's not intended to be water-tight. Would it matter if it occasionally came part-way loose during aggressive boating, if the net result were enhanced safety against drowning?

Edited by blister-free on 02/12/2009 18:33:29 MST.

Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Re: Re: Video: Have Fun and Avoid Drowning - A How-To for Packrafters on 02/13/2009 21:37:32 MST Print View


A less aggressive velcro might not negate the need to grab the spraydeck and open it up underwater.

This is a pretty unique thing for whitewater boaters. Kayakers can eskimo roll. Packrafters don't have that option and they must get out of the boat.

The first response is to forget you have to open the spraydeck and try to get your head above water.

That invariably results in panic and distress. It's best just to calm down, go back under, grab the deck loop, pull, and get out.

I've done this enough so as not to be fearful of it anymore.

I got my foot tangled in my pack. I've done that once - it was pretty scary - in Class III whitewater, I never did get my foot out, and ended up swimming to shore with my boat in the calm water below the rapids. My foot got tangled in a shoulder strap on an open-decked boat when I flipped.

But these are rare things. My real fear comes from getting a foot caught in boulders, getting pinned to a strainer, and getting stuck in a Maytag.