The live-bait rescue

Episode 7 in the R3 whitewater rescue series with Jim Coffey

[This story appears in the December 2012 issue of Canoe & Kayak, available on newsstands Nov. 6. Check out the last episode HERE, where Coffey covers the basics of rescue PFD use and introduces rescue methods employing their use, and Click HERE to see the full R3 series.]


To prevent paddlers from being pulled into retentive hydraulics, whitewater rescue expert Jim Coffey recommends the downstream live-bait hole rescue. In this method, the rescuer swims to the aid of the boater while tethered to another member of the team or a secure anchor point on shore. This technique can prevent paddlers from being sucked back into a hole. Live-bait rescues are advanced skills, requiring the proper equipment (Check out the December issue and stay tuned to CanoeKayak.com for our exclusive rescue PFD test review), knowledge and practice to perform them in challenging whitewater. Coffey’s video-based R3: Rescue for River Runners series on CanoeKayak.com covers rescue PFD basics, and explains this and other rescue techniques in detail. The key to the live-bait method, like any river-rescue technique, is using it safely, at the appropriate time, and having the skills to mitigate the inherent dangers. Practice, take the time to do the technique right to avoid injury for both parties involved, and keep these five steps in mind.  — Mike McKay

HARNESS: Make sure your rescue PFD quick-release harness is threaded appropriately. This is important in the event that the rescuer has to break clear from the rope.

ANCHOR: Tie a figure 8 or an alpine butterfly knot and clip it into your harness O-ring with a locking-gate carabiner. The length of rope from the harness to the anchor point should approximate the distance of your planned swim, and should always be long enough that it doesn’t inhibit swimming.

TIMING: It is important to time your jump very carefully. You want to make contact with the paddler as he or she comes through the hole and reaches the farthest downstream point. This is the safest time to jump, as the hydraulic will have brought the boat almost to a standstill. You’ll have a brief window of time to grab the boat before the hole sucks it back in.

SAFETY: Do not follow the boat into the hole. A boat in the grip of a powerful hydraulic can begin to cartwheel, creating a very difficult and hazardous rescue scenario.

FINISH: Once the boater is out of the hole, you can either help the paddler out of the hole’s tow-back area, or pendulum the boat to shore if he or she is unable to paddle.

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