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Practicing wet reentry: a Whitewater Rescue Technician student places his paddle across the packraft tubes before boosting himself back into his boat.
To learn more about packrafting at Backpacking Light, visit backpackinglight.com/packrafting, or take a wilderness course in packrafting at backpackinglight.com/school.
Packraft whitewater enough, and you will eventually find yourself taking an unplanned swim. When that happens, the best option is often to quickly climb back into the boat while still floating down the river. You'll have better maneuverability to avoid upcoming drops or strainers and better protection from rocks if you are back in your boat and paddling than if you are swimming. Practicing getting back into your boat - wet reentry - under controlled conditions will help the process go more quickly when you need to do it for real.
Practice in a safe place with the boat rigged for a trip and wearing all your gear. You are likely to discover adjustments you need to make in your gear and technique. As Derek Collins notes, "A really heavy pack [loaded on the front of the packraft] will definitely change the way a boat handles in the water." Practicing in a pool, I found it difficult to pull myself up onto the raft tubes wearing a PFD (Kokatat Orbit Tour) with the floatation thickly concentrated in the abdominal area. As a result, I don't wear that PFD in anything above Class II.
Forrest McCarthy emphasizes the importance of holding onto your paddle. He says, "If you are going to lose one thing, hold onto your paddle. Boats are easier to find than paddles." As you perform wet reentries, you'll figure out the best way to keep track of your paddle while you right your boat. You'll also need to practice not letting go of the paddle when you initially flip and come up for air. I found myself using both hands to open the spray deck and surface after a flip on the Gates of Lodore section of the Green River. My paddle was lost and never recovered, but luckily my group had a spare. Forrest also gained some wisdom the hard way when he lost his paddle during a long swim on the Yellowstone River (as Tom Turiano relates in the podcast, Packrafting Safety Tips from the Experts) and had to paddle the rest of the way with some wood scraps he nailed and tied together.
In this video, Forrest McCarthy and Derek Collins demonstrate and talk through the steps involved in a successful wet reentry. Wet reentry is one of the most common rescues you'll perform while packrafting. Be sure to work the kinks out of your technique ahead of time so this self-rescue tool will be honed when you need it.
For a better viewing experience, please download the Flash Player. Video demonstration of wet reentry on a packraft.