Preventative Measures: Whitewater Safety Series – The Throwbag: APaddlers Multi-tool. By Priscilla Macy

So you finally feel like you have the skills necessary to get down the river safely.  Your friends aren’t constantly watching you to make sure you’re still in your boat at the bottom of drops and it takes you a moment or two to remember your last swim.  How do you now transition from being a safety liability to a safety asset?
Any boater worth his salt carries a throw bag on the river, but how effective are they with them?  We have all seen frustrating YouTube videos of people armed with a bag unsuccessfully attempting rescues.  
Are these people incompetent nincompoops?  Unlikely, it is more feasible that river situations are dynamic and difficult to handle.  They often require a part of the brain not often exercised, which leads to reactionary decision making.  These articles will attempt to get you thinking down the right path about using the boaters’ strongest weapon of defense, the throw bag.

Learning the Ropes of the River.
From costly guide schools to free online resources, there are lots of ways to learn appropriate rescue technique.  NRS has an excellent blog with high quality video lessons on a multitude of topics.  Check out their episode on throwropes.
Here is what I like to call my standard “Rules of the Rope”:
. Always carry a knife. Any time you bring a rope out; make sure you have a knife, and a plan to use it if shit hits the fan.  There are several stories of rescues gone wrong because a rescuer or victim was entangled in a rope.  This being said, don’t get knife happy if you don’t need to-learning to assess the situation effectively is an invaluable tool, and only comes from practice and experience.
. Have 100% accuracy. If you are throwing a rope, the last thing you should be thinking about is if your bag is going to make it where you intended.  PERFECT practice makes perfect.  Go outside and use targets to practice accuracy at different distances.  Practice hitting a moving target by taking time on an easy run to practice in a moving current.  Have a buddy jump in the river upstream (in a predictable and low consequence spot), and take turns practicing bagging each other at different distances and speeds.

. Know your environment.  From safe footing to the hydrology of the rapid, make sure you understand these components to be an effective rescuer.  You don’t want to be on the end of a rope, and lose footing and end up in the river with your swimmer.  You also don’t want to miss a throw because you threw downstream when a boater was stuck in a hole.  The more time you spend on rivers thinking about these things and potential rescue plans at hazard spot, the easier this type of assessment will become for you and your group.
. If you have the opportunity to get out and hold a bag, DO.  Whether is scouting a class V drop, or getting out to look at a class III line, if you can hold a rope for your paddling partners, do it. It is a great habit to get into as you develop your paddling skills, and at some point will ultimately pay off.  On the other end of this, don’t be timid about asking your paddling partner(s) to hold a rope for you in a hazardous spot.  Taking small additional time to set safety can be very rewarding and instill confidence in your group.
Check out this rescue video and tell us what you think:
Photo of Priscilla by Nick Hymel
About Priscilla: Priscilla is an Oregon raised paddler.  She learned to row, paddle, guide and teach in southern Oregon on the Rogue River.  She currently guides for Orange Torpedo Trips and as program coordinator and lead guide for LEAP Therapeutic Wilderness Adventures – a non-profit that takes various groups (veteran, burn survivor, at-risk youth and more) on river trips in Idaho and Oregon.

While obtaining a degree in Recreation Resource Management at Oregon State University, she led and taught various rescue courses and outdoor trips at the Adventure Leadership Institute, as well as helped to instruct several guiding and white-water rescue courses for private companies.  She is currently working in Corvallis, Oregon and paddling every opportunity she gets.  Her past few years of paddling have highlighted several first descents with paddling crews; Into The Outside and the CCC.  She currently receives team support from Immersion Research.
{EDITOR’S NOTE: Priscilla is aLso a DBP Admin who is often invited to set safety for various events in the PNW. Watch for more in her Preventative Measures series here in DBP MAGAZINE ONLINE!} 
 2015 Farmlands and Wind River races, Priscilla and friends going boating and setting safety.

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