A chilly time to be jumping in midstream!

Rachael shares a couple of quick memories from the recent White Water Safety & Rescue training that a few of our members got involved in…

We work together as a group well

We picked the coldest weekend of the winter so far to head to Wales for a weekend of swimming down the rivers. We arrived in Llangollen to snow and a very chilly wind. Looking at the roaring Town Falls we realised we had some mental preparation to do. We spent the weekend with coaches Chris and Pete from Getafix, who were full of cheers and enough banter to keep us going. We spent the weekend on Bala Mill Falls and at Mill End Mill both running on medium/high.

Throughout the weekend the coaches were determined to remind us how our main aim is to prevent swimming. With adequate skills and good river reading we can try to reduce the amount of rescue we need to do. All I could hear was Sean in my head ‘you should be learning to stay upright on the water’. [Editor’s note: Rachael: this is why I like coaching you – you remember the important bits!! 🙂  ]

We were split into groups and asked to head down river, in Regents’ style we got straight on it with river signals, we went off eddy hopping our way down and signalling to each other on the way. I think Chris was very impressed with our ability to signal and it was very clear we all paddle together regularly. He did remind us how important it is to discuss signals before getting on the river, just in case someone in the group has a different interpretation of signals. An interesting thing I learnt here was thinking about eddies in front of you, making sure you have at least 2 eddies in line of site. One to aim for and a backup eddy, it was great to actually start thinking about reading the river myself instead of relying on someone to lead me down.

Steffi & Jan practising for their roles in the upcoming film: 50 Shades of Regents Paddling

Learning the acronyms

One of the many acronyms of the weekend is LAST. What we should all be thinking when we are leading down river:

Location – Where are you placed on the river, can we see what is ahead?
Access – What is your line down, have you got out and had a look?
Support – Is there support on the side to rescue should you need it?
Transport – What is your plan out if you are in trouble?

Pete spent the weekend telling examples of situations where recuse techniques have been needed (horror stories). I liked this approach it made me listen very carefully. First of all he went through equipment, the importance of understanding everything you are carrying or wearing. If you don’t understand what it does, don’t wear it. Some of the most basic equipment we went over was helmets, BA’s and shoes. All revolving around hazards and fitting.

He also talked us through where to keep equipment on person or in the boat. The sling brought up a discussion, where should this be kept? In the BA pocket vs up your cag / BA. A recent accident occurred due to a sling being carried up the cag; the person swam and got their sling tangled around their feet. The outcome was anything you carry on person should be inside the BA pocket and not a snag hazard.

There was also a discussion about BAs with a chest harness and how we should set up the quick release buckle:

  1. For general paddling and performing swimming rescues: thread the webbing through the plastic quick-release buckle only
  2. For bank-based rescues and belaying: thread the webbing through both the plastic buckle and metal back-bar to prevent the harness slipping under load
  3. Close the buckle firmly and store any excess webbing away. Check that the webbing is not twisted during threading

[Editor’s note: Further details on chest harnesses can be found on the individual producer’s websites e.g. the Palm equipment website here.]

We then got on to the swimming, something I am getting too familiar with. This is where the fun started and we all started to get a sore throat. Who knew you could ferry glide without a boat? Something I took a few swims and rock collisions to learn.

Christine & Andrew played tug of war with all the throw lines everyone left lying around

Shout
Get the swimmers attention; remember the swimmer may not initially hear your shouts so get their attention visually. Combine this with shouting their name before instructing them what to do. I am pretty certain Steffi had the best shout on the whole of the Tryweryn.

Reach
Do you have anything at hand that you can reach out to the swimmer with? A paddle, sling, boat etc. Sometime just making the swimmer look and swim towards you can be enough to get them out of danger.

Throw
We covered how to hold a throwline, where to aim and how to pull someone to safety without putting yourself in danger. I learnt the hard way to let go if you feel you may end up in the water too.

Go
Live baiting, in some situations (should you have a chest harness on your BA) you may be attached to a throwline and sent in to get a person or equipment. This was an experience!

The Conga Line looked a little chilly so was lacking in uptake

My key learnings?

  • Equipment: What I should be buying and what is important when buying.
  • River reading and signals: How I should be thinking for myself and not relying on others. Starting to think about what is ahead and how we can work together to make it down safely.
  • Swimming: How I can think about getting myself to safety when swimming. Spot an eddy, roll over and swim like your life depends on it. Like a boat don’t stop until you are firmly in the eddy.
  • Throwlines / reach equipment: How to use equipment properly, how to hold, move along and move your catch into an eddy.
  • Keep Warm: Buy more thermals and invest in some very good socks. Cold feet are the worst.
  • Practice: I will be aiming to practice boat chasing / emptying and throwing straight as often as possible on the canal.

I definitely recommend this for people of my level, it was really good to start thinking about my own safety and learning how I can help myself and others get out of situations. Plus now I can help out on trips. I just have to buy a throwline….. Good job I know the benefits of different throwlines. Where is the nearest kayak shop?

Images by Rachael