Thoughts on Rescues
In all of the canoe courses I run there is a section (or sections) on rescues, but the most important skill is on how to avoid needing a rescue. Although rescues are a necessary skill, the need for a rescue should always start with prevention - use of flotation (PFD/Life-jacket), understanding the conditions, skills, and equipment before there is any outing. Look at high->low risk, slow->fast response considerations. Is a low risk, quick response, possible - consider he ladder approach Talk, Reach, Throw, Row, Go. Considerations may be direct, but also think about increased risk from indirect factors. Examples include checking the weather or scouting rapids, but less direct considerations could include what was eaten for breakfast and how well did everyone sleep. I don't want to imply accidents never happen, and sometimes they are an important learning opportunity.
Prior to heading out the following are some things to consider.
- Risk assessment – how likely is a capsize likely to happen (environmental/water conditions, skill level).?
- Equipment - is equipment appropriate for the skill that is being attempted? Is safety equipment being used and available (e.g. PFD/Life-jacket, throw line, whistle)?
- Distance from shore, depth of water, temperature - within swimming distance, not deeper than 1.5m (5 feet), 15 °C or warmer.
- Additional Flotation - float bags, or Sponsons (either internal or external) displace more water and may minimize the need for rescue, and make towing and swimming easier/safer.
- Participant skill and strength - are participants physically capable of completing a rescue, deep water re-entry, or swimming a canoe? Have they had canoe rescue training?
- Comfort in Water - are participants able to swim or are they comfortable in the water. Have they ever intentionally or accidentally capsized in a canoe or kayak.
- All individuals must be wearing appropriate flotation (PFD/Life-jacket) and have required safety equipment at hand.
- Always consider self rescue options – swimming, towing, un-supported re-entry, un-supported canoe recovery/re-entry
- Tow rather than entry/re-entry
- Will re-entry aids (e.g. step loop, flotation) be required
- What are the dangers to the rescuer and can a rescue be attempted safely.
- During a rescue attempt keep the person in sight, or secured (e.g. hanging onto end of boat)
- If in moving water - is everyone comfortable paddling in moving water (minimize risk first). If there is a capsize always remain upstream of the canoe.
- Time to complete rescue (recovery and re-entry) - can your group actually complete a rescue (or rescues)?
This section provides some commentary on different techniques related to canoe rescues. A few of these items are not really rescue techniques but suggestions for people to practice before going on any trip. Included are a few short clips to video clips that may assist in interpretation/understanding. Remember when going into a rescue situation communication is critical with both your paddling partner, and the victims in the water. Look at options from high to low risk, slow to fast response times. Consider the risk ladder - Talk-Reach-Trow-Row-Go
- Comfort with launching and landing - Most capsizes happen at the shore or near the shore. Everyone should be comfortable with launching (and landing) and canoe from shore or dock. This includes ability to quickly step in or out of the canoe if conditions are unfavourable (e.g. waves). Communication between paddlers is key with regard to holding the canoe, braces, and when seated.
- Sculling Brace (https://youtu.be/FxgqXSwGzCQ) or Low Brace (https://youtu.be/zgUQ7YXBRBY)-
- Deep water exit - This is useful skill to have, although not directly related to rescues is shows a comfort level with the canoe and ability to move around.
- Capsize canoe - This is also not really part of rescues but like deep water exists it provides an opportunity to get familiar with the boat and tipping. This should be done by sitting up on a seat and sliding feet/legs over the gunwale and tilting canoe until it tips or swamps, 'overhead' hand should be on gunwale so it does not hit your head (see: https://youtu.be/qTyWP3hT9IM).
- Swim to shore - the capsized boat may be recovered by another canoe and towed back to shore. When swimming in moving water always stay upstream of the boat.
- Swim and tow canoe, or swim and push - Holding on to the canoe at or near the bow and/or opposite side stern (flatwater), use side-stroke two swim the canoe to the shore (see: Swimming with upright canoe: https://youtu.be/x8_vLQT0mFA or Swim with capsized canoe, shallow water empty: https://youtu.be/x8_vLQT0mFA). In moving water stay upstream of the boat (always), if possible pull by closest end lines (painter) or throw bag. When tandem work in sync - pushing or moving boat at same time. Using ropes in a capsize situation can be a double edged sword because of entanglement possibilities.
- Swim or paddle swamped canoe to shore - Canoes with sufficient flotation may be re-entered in deep water and paddled with paddle or arms/hands toward the shore. Lean back and let your PFD/Life-jacket support most of your weight.
- Tow victim - a victim may hold onto the gunwale of the canoe (see: https://youtu.be/WD0RKTsIpJA). The victim may side-stroke to help the paddlers. This technique is used if the victim is unable to re-enter the canoe, and/or when recovery of a swamped canoe is impractical. The swamped canoe may be dealt with by another rescue canoe. If the victim is nervous, or has limited swimming the recommendation is to have them hold onto the gunwale where they can be seen. In moving water stay upstream of the boat.
- Self recovery and tow - The canoe can be flipped right side up emptying most or all of the water. Roll the capsized canoe over your head so it is upside down, and you are inside). Grabbing both gunwales, 'throw' the canoe up and over (Capistrano Flip see: https://youtu.be/Ne5DJ-NKjjM). Additional flotation under the bow/stern, or having flotation bags, makes this process easier (see: https://youtu.be/rbswMC_j7GM).The flotation may be a drybag or barrel put under one part of the canoe to make the flip easier (I tend to put the drybag/barrel under the stern (or bow) and flip from the opposite end. Not all of the water needs to be emptied from the canoe, only sufficient water for use of a bailer. If re-entry is not feasible (see re-entry below), hold the gunwale at or near the bow (or bow and stern when tandem) and swim to shore. In moving water always stay upstream of the boat.
- Rescue capsized boat only (no in-water victim) - The boat is capsized and the victims are able to swim to shore unassisted. Classic T or Parallel rescue - having additional flotation makes both of these rescues easier. If a tandem boat is used to recover a capsized boat then the individual not doing the recovery will be doing a sculling brace on the opposite side of the boat. When in moving water time is of the essence - parallel recovery is a more appropriate choice, before any moving water rescue is attempted practice should be completed in still water. Example of both Parallel and T (Canoe-over-Canoe) resuce: https://youtu.be/4RDhULRrc1I
- Re-entry from shallow water - support or balance may be provided from ends (or middle-opposite) of canoe, not where re-entry is attempted. Re-entry will always be into the recovered canoe (not rescue canoe). Support may be provided from standing or a stable location (e.g. dock/shore). See: https://youtu.be/dK3tVzMLvTU. This would be similar to someone climbing out of chest deep water onto a dock or outcrop of some kind. This is used to confirm that an individual is capable of deep-water re-entry. This document is recommending re-entry over the side of the canoe, midship rather than 'cowboy', or bow/stern entry. Most individuals find re-entry over the side gunwale easier. Re-entry is best done by holding the gunwal with both hands and letting your legs float to the surface behind you, then with a strong whip or scissor kick-pull your body over the gunwale and roll your head/torso into the bottom of the canoe . You may want to try a heel-hook re-entry at this point as an alternative. The optional use of a dry bag full of water over the 'far' gunwale makes unsupported reentry much easier because it balances the weight (see: https://youtu.be/ppcFv0aNT_4) .
- Un-assisted re-entry from Deep Water (no rescue boat or support) - A victim will re-enter the boat without balance or assistance from another boat (see: https://youtu.be/ATxHf9vV4cI). This may not be possible for all individuals or boats. If the individual is capable of re-entry from shallow-water (previous step) then a supported rescue (with re-entry) may be allowed (next step). The process for re-entry from deep water, without assistance, is similar to the re-entry from shallow water. Many people can not re-enter the canoe without some water spilling over the gunwale - this is why we have bailers. If you have a dry bag/barrel you can clip it to the opposite gunwale from where you will try to re-enter - the additional weight will help counterbalance the canoe during re-entry (see: https://youtu.be/ppcFv0aNT_4). When tandem both individuals may enter the canoe at the same time from opposite sides/ends of the canoe, or re-enter one at a time with the first person balancing the canoe from within.
- Rescue with boat and one victim (e.g. one individual in-water) - Similar to the re-entry methods above but the recovered boat is supported from the opposite side (and end) by another canoe. The supporting rescuer should be off-set from the victim attempting to re-enter. This is more difficult than the way a rescue is usually supported but it allows for better physically distance. When tandem the non-supporting person is doing a sculling brace on the far side from the recovered canoe. When in moving water and time is of the essence, a parallel rescue is more appropriate. Practice in still water prior to any moving water attempts. The recommendation is for a single in-water victim because of timing and difficulty in physical distancing when re-entering a canoe with more than one person - this should be discussed as part of the course as additional person (just like re-entry into rescue canoe) is still an important skill to understand. Example of a full Parallel rescue: https://youtu.be/v3gcsEsAyvs, or a full traditional T (Canoe-over-Canoe) rescued: https://youtu.be/0BUAVVQx6po
- Re-entry supports - step loop or rescue sling, elevator (need extra flotation for this to be effective), drybag filled with water (counter balance).
- Rescue with boat and victims - this is the same technique used for a T or Parallel recovery, and deep-water reentry, except the processes are all combined. Similar to the re-entry methods above but the recovered boat is supported from the opposite side (and end) by another canoe. When tandem the non-supporting person is doing a sculling brace on the far side from the recovered canoe. When in moving water and time is of the essence, a parallel rescue is more efficient.
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June 20, 2020