Shooting in Canada. Photo: Mike McKay

A year ago, open-boat expert Jim Coffey—founder of Quebec-based outfitter Esprit Whitewater Worldwide—and Mike McKay from Five2Nine Productions started a series of whitewater rescue lesson videos called R3: Rescue for River Runners, which aired on the Canoe & Kayak website. The series just won the National Association for Search and Rescue’s Higgins & Langley Memorial Award for contribution to search & rescue.

C&K staff got in touch with Coffey and McKay to talk about the series and what winning the award meant to them. Here's what they had to say:

Canoe & Kayak magazine: How did the idea of the R3 Series come about?
Mike McKay: Jim and I have always done work together. The way it worked out for the series was that he was teaching courses and asked me to record it. From there, we thought we should do an episodic series of rescues because no one had put one online before that was really good and free.

Jim Coffey: We came up with it around December/January 2011-2012. I thought there was a need to offer people rescue training that wasn't arduous, where people didn't have to buy a book or take a course. It was a teaser, and I thought we'd use the series to get people interested. It took off so well on social media I realized we filled a gap that I didn't know was so open.

What gap was that?
McKay: If you look at Swiftwater Rescue Training course books and what not, it's designed for situations like being in a city, the waterway is flooded and you're the sheriff. We designed the whole series of having the equipment on hand in say a gorge—so kayaking equipment, not a city fire truck, to make advanced techniques.

Coffey:We also noticed that the Ottawa and rivers like it where most people boat are really safe so most people may not be trained. Bad situations can happen anywhere, including these rivers, and most people aren't prepared. We just wanted to offer a way for people to get prepared.

Really, we hope that people will be inspired to practice with the skills. It can only be done in and at the river. We've created the series as a study guide.

What did it mean to win the award?
Coffey: It was pretty amazing, certainly not something we thought of going into the project. The National Association of Search and Rescue is considered the most prestigious award in swiftwater rescue. Most recipients come from the fire service, but they have a category for special commendation. This could be for other areas of swiftwater rescue, which we were. I think we received the award because the series takes advantage of another form of media, which a lot of people liked and responded well to. This was the first time something like a swift water rescue series was presented in a way that's easily accessible and free. We've had more than 100,000 views and clicks from around the world. The selection committee decided it was worthy and appreciated the quality and that it had taken off in such a viral way. We've scratched the surface and opened the door for people to consider swift water rescue.

McKay: Sometimes you forget there's a whole world out there watching that material, and that people have recognized what you create. Having high end-rescue people from around the world nodding their heads to this and saying, “You did a really good job” is amazing and such a wonderful compliment. This is serious! It's not some little edit to a video; it's a huge deal. To feel like we nailed it and to have people recognize it is awesome.

Thumbs up for river rescue. Photo: Mike McKay

List of Episodes
Next up: Foot entrapment rescue techniques.
Episode One: Getting Started
Episode Two: Group Dynamics

Episode Three: Safe Swimming
Episode Four: Throw-rope skills
Episode Five: Access and Mobility
Episode Six: Rescue PFD basics
Episode Seven: Live-bait rescue
Episode Eight: Rope system basics
Episode Nine: Foot Entrapment Risks
Episode Ten: Foot Entrapment Assessments