All posts by Whitewater NZ

A Quick Guide to River Safety

A Quick Guide to River Safety 

Our collective efforts during Alert Level 3 and 4 has enabled New Zealand to do what many other countries have failed to do and flatten the curve. With a move to Alert Level 2 and an easing of restrictions all of us now have the ability to return to the water!! We figured this is an opportune time to refresh some basic concepts of river safety.

Unlike many other sports, white water kayaking does not conform to a rigid structure. Like the environment we are in, the risk assessment and analysis procedures we use must be dynamic and we must always be aware of the risks and react accordingly. The following information outlines some basic principles that can be applied to help minimise the risks.

Principle 1

This first principle is is incredibly useful in helping rescuers to remember that the first priority is to themselves then to their team, then the victim and lastly to equipment. People are always incredibly proud of their equipment they may have just bought the latest or shiniest boat/ paddle but it can always be replaced.

Principle 2

This principle is about encouraging rescuers to consider the risk to themselves when deciding on which strategy to use when undertaking a rescue. We have all seen Baywatch or Bondi Rescue and want to jump in the water and be the hero but there are a number of different options. Think about simple things first, like encouraging victims to swim to the shore or using a paddle or throw bag to reach them without getting anywhere near the water. The last resort should always be to enter the water and should only be done with sufficient knowledge.

Rescuer in a good position with a rope and paddle at the ready.
Photo credit: Kev England. Paddler Greg Nicks and safety by Dave Kwant. 

Principle 3

This principle works really well in the dynamic environment of a river, it is great resource for using on your local club river trip or out with a group of friends.

Communication – Before any trip down the river all group members should agree signals in advance and should use the KISS Principle (Keep it Short and Simple)

Line of Sight – On an ideal trip everyone within the group should be able to see each other and endeavour to keep it this way. Ideally every paddler should have two attainable eddies between themselves and the river going out of sight.

Avoidance – This is always better than finding a solution to the problem, create an atmosphere within the group of mutual support. If you want to walk, walk!

Position of Maximum Usefulness – When protecting a rapid, paddlers should position themselves so as to cover the highest risk. This usually means covering the problems that are most likely to occur, rather than the most dangerous hazard.

When whitewater kayaking there will always be the potential for something to go wrong, we recommend that you always paddle with a strong team and that you keep your rescue skills sharp by practicing them regularly.

These safety and rescue articles are put together by Matt McKnight.
Matt is professional canoe slalom coach and a keen whitewater paddler. 
Keep an eye out for the final article in this series – looking at gear and mechanical advantage systems.