The whitewater rescue skill you’re not practising enough

This Article is courtesy of Ross Montandon of New Wave Kayaking, a top class coaching company based in the UK. Check out the end of the article for more about Ross and New Wave, or check out their Facebook, Instagram and Website.


Just like all our rescue skills some we use more than others. In this blog we’re going to take a look at one of the most under practised yet most valuable skill on the river.

Things getting rowdy in fast whitewater as both paddlers come into assist. The second assistant can support the paddler who is rescuing the upturned paddler. This works well in boily water or when you need to get that paddler up for another rapid. A staple move for Alpine or Himalayan whitewater.

Put that line down

There is a lot of focus in Whitewater Safety and Rescue training in regards to throwline use. They are indeed super handy however for the most part. Setting up safety on a rapid with a paddler with a throwline can be very limiting. And here’s why.

-Your kit still needs rescuing 

When I throw a line it only rescues 1 out of 3 items that need rescuing. Granted I can get the most valuable item (the swimmer) however I still rely on a boat chaser to pick up the boat and paddle.

-I can only move up and down 

When safety is set up with a throwline even in key position. The thrower can only move up and down the bank. And only if the bank access allows him or her to do so.

-Throwline Safety is pre-planned

Setting up throwline is a set piece rescue. What we mean by this is that generally we are stuck in a small zone. We are sat there waiting for the action to happen.

Boat up! 

Here Nathan lines up into position to see if Kevin hits his roll. Notice Nathan is slowing himself down for Kevin to drop on top of him. In the back ground Ramesh is moving in on top. Showing great group dynamics that not one paddler is leader.

Boat based rescues are by far the most useful. When we’re in the boat we can offer support from all over the river. I can boat on top of paddlers from the back, offer a cheeky T-rescue. Or if the paddler is having a bad day offer the hand of god. And if I need to hop out on the bank or I can still nip out and use my line. It is easier to get on the bank and pop my throwline out than to frantically pack excess rope into my bag and fumble with my spraydeck whilst sliding into the river. Something I am sure we have all done.

When we’re in the boat we have loads of options. We can ferry across the other side of the river or we can move around the group sheep dog style. We can communicate with the other paddlers, talk to our swimmer, and comfort them. It’s pretty easy for even experienced whitewater kayakers to be a little disorientated. I had an incident with a swimmer where he popped up looking a little green. As I held him by the scruff of the neck while he got his bearings. He made an almighty heave and wretched over the side of my boat. Being there hands on eye to eye offers so much, even if only a few words are exchanged.

What should I be practising? 

T- rescue 

Get comfortable on flatwater with T-rescues build them into your regular session

This is a classic, perhaps you remember learning to roll and this being a regular drill on hip flicking. Or on a Foundation Safety and Rescue Course. We sometimes associate this method with flatwater use. However with a few adaptations this can work well. The beauty of this is that the paddler upside down if trying to roll can locate your bow as they try their rolls. The amount of times I have bumped a paddlers head on my bow.  As I rush in. Nothing wrong with it as the paddler knows where you are.

The great use of this rescue is that you can access from upstream or downstream. It also allows you to get close to the paddler. Offering words of support as they wipe the mucus off their face.

Hand of God 

The paddler sets ups for a roll while the assistant comes in to offer support, if the roll fails. Notice the hand to push down for the hand of god.

Not only do you get extra street-cred from your boating buddies it’s super handy. This move is obviously a lot more hands on and requires a fair amount of commitment. I have used this as paddlers have come through the rapid thinking that they are done. To then get caught by a last minute wobble. Or during a read and run. You will soon find that each technique is different, you will end up grabbing their cags, or buoyancy aid strap in order to get them up. It doesn’t matter if it looks a bit scrappy they will appreciate the assistance.

If you have a paddler who you know will go in a fair amount. It is worth briefing them that it may be the case. Get them hug their spraydeck so it’s easier for you to bring them up when they capsize.

Chase boating

Practise, practise and more practise. Each one will be different. Generally most rescues will go like this.

  • Make contact  ( Shouting, visual )with paddler and get them swimming to the side.
  • Lob the paddle to eddy or better the bank
  • Flip the boat up right in one  swift go and get pushing and shunting
  • Don’t be afraid to the get the swimmer to help

Key Points

Briefing your paddlers to tuck up when upside down will help you out

Paddlers always chase the boat or swimmer. Only go to the swimmer if they need assistance. Generally this is when they are fatigued and they cant swim to the bank. But if they are alive and kicking and making active progress then you can presume they are safe.

Lob the Paddle

Paddles go missing so often. Many paddles are black and sit just on the surface of the water.

Boats are easy to spot, and paddlers when they swim are pretty visible but it’s that sneaky paddle that loves to wonder off downstream.

About the Ross and New Wave Kayaking

Ross during his 5 month whitewater tour of America

Ross Montandon is creator of New Wave Kayaking. A whitewater Kayaking specialist who offers skills coaching courses all over the UK and Europe. Ross has been British Freestyle Champion. Coached the British Freestyle team. Along with paddling all over the World. Ross is also a Level 5 coach. And provides British Canoeing Moderate and Advanced Whitewater Leader courses. As well as Whitewater Safety courses.

When not on the water you will find Ross on his Sup in the Peak District on his bike or cooking up a storm in the kitchen after spending the day doing all of the above.


DBP Executive editor and Web Head Honcho! Paddling and taking photos in the UK.

One reply on “The whitewater rescue skill you’re not practising enough”

Great article, thank you for sharing it. I’d like to add something I find important to mention to students about the T rescue… it’s not safe to go down a rapid with your head upside down!! Use the T rescue in the pool at the end of the rapid or in flat water but not in the middle of the rapid (unless you’re certain it’s deep enough and you won’t hit rocks with your head). Better rely on your roll.

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