BY CHRIS GRAGTMANS
Interdependence is a strong bond in whitewater kayaking. At the top of any rapid, we silently acknowledge that we are there for our paddling partners, and we know that they are there for us. Rivers are dynamic and powerful places, and crisis situations happen to the best of us.
While I have been on both sides of the coin in the past (victim and rescuer), rarely have I ever caught a full rescue on video. I recently had the opportunity to analyze one from start to finish, and found it to be a tremendous learning experience.
This particular incident occurred on the Raquette River in New York in a large, complex rapid by the name of Colton Falls. Here are my key takeaways from this experience:
1) Take a second to think the situation through. Accidents on the river are always unexpected, and can cascade quickly. The surprise and subsequent adrenaline rush by rescuers can cause a certain form of hysteria, with every member of the team scattering with their own individual ideas. Observing the big picture and forming a logical game plan (with established roles) is often half the battle in a rescue. In this particular pin, Brett’s boat was stable, he had a clear airway, and we had the opportunity for contact from two banks. It was a very friendly situation.
2) Communicate efficiently and calmly. It’s easy to get wound up and start barking at each other during a rescue. I realized that I do this, and will certainly work on it in the future. Calm, direct communication allows rescuers to focus on the task at hand, and not get frustrated with each other.
3) Establish safety redundancies. In this case, I was the primary rescuer, Mike McKay was the first point of downstream safety, and Phil LaMarche got back in his boat to become the second point of safety. Brett had a Plan B and C if he did dislodge or miss his jump.
4) Establish verbal and physical contact quickly. Communication with the victim is very helpful and can make a huge difference in their ability to assist in the rescue. Brett was very calm and engaged. I also learned that it’s beneficial to get a rope on the victim fairly quickly in case the boat settles or breaks loose.
5) Knowledge is power — stay current! This one is directed back toward myself. While I have plenty of experience in the school of hard knocks, some of my skills have gathered cobwebs. I am making a personal commitment to getting my Wilderness First Responder and rescue re-certifications over the next six months. I don’t ever want to be in a position of fumbling my execution when a friend is in need.
— Watch another tense pin situation caught on tape with more preventative packing and know-how tips, and dive in further with the R3: Rescue for River Runners series.