Help your Buddy

Swimming to shore with gear is not easy, even in mild current, so nearly every kayaker welcomes an assist when they do swim. But it is not always obvious how to help. Understanding your options will help you make the correct choice.

YOUR KAYAKING BUDDY IS SWIMMING

How to help

Swimming to shore with gear is not easy, even in mild current, so nearly every kayaker welcomes an assist when they do swim. But it is not always obvious how to help. Understanding your options will help you make the correct choice.

The first paddler on the scene should approach the swimmer. In the midstof a rapid, the best way to assist is frequently with encouragement or by giving directions for an aggressive self rescue. In the midst of rapids or close to shore clear directions are often the best way to help a swimmer.

whitewater swim encouragement

"Swim this way, keep those feet up. You got it!"

If the swimmer needs an assist with a longer swim, you will probably approach the swimmer stern-first. Once he has hold, head for shore. The swimmer helps out by kicking.

whitewater swim help

TIP: Wait until the swimmer has a good grasp. Many newer boats have loops that are very difficult to hold. If the swimmer doesn’t kick, you won’t make much progress, so they will often need a gentle reminder.

 

If you have a long distance to go, and enough size in the stern, you can get a paddler up on the back deck. Back deck towing works best with a long boat and cooperative swimmer.

Other times you’ll find it works best to get the swimmer on the bow. Most small boats handle better this way, plus you can offer face to face reassurance and directions. Many instructors find this works well in deeper water with a panicked swimmer.

CHASING THE GEAR

When someone swims, don’t all crowd around him! As you get into position, look for the job that isn’t being done, then do it. One person gets the swimmer, and the other gets the gear. An efficient rescue can be amazingly quick if everyone is well practiced at the skill.

Sometimes a rescue simply takes longer than expected. If the swimmer starts to drift into a harder rapid, everyone will be safer if you back off. Follow the swimmer and gear through the drop, then try again. Don’t chase gear through a difficult or dangerous drop.

BULLDOZE OR SHOVE?

kayak swim

You can bulldoze a kayak into the shore with your bow. Align the boat so the upstream end is pointed slightly towards shore, and push it in, being careful to maintain the angle. Don’t get in the way by getting between the shore and the boat!

kayak swim

Sometimes, a big shove can get the boat to shore most efficiently. You’ll usually leave the boat upside down for a shove, bulldoze, or tow. Only flip it upright if you are sure you can without getting much water inside.

 

LASSO THE PADDLE

kayak paddle rescue

If the swimmer has been taken care of… make sure someone has the paddle. If you have big hands, you can use it together with your regular paddle. More likely you will toss it to an eddy or onto shore. Even if it only gets part way to shore, it slows down and will be easier to find.

 

REVIEW

There are a lot of decisions for a swimmer, and a rescuer, to make. These get easier with experience and practice. Practice in a known rapid that is deep and unobstructed.