The Vermont Paddlers Club

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Swift Water Rescue Course

Saturday-Sunday Jun 26-27, 2004
Kayak: Instructors: - Mark Moore, Dave Su and Ben Burke Participants:- Johnny Alder, Alden Bird, John Bungard, Carrissa Capuana, Jamie Cover, Nick Jewitt, Paul Kenyon, Bob Marshall, Cheryl Robinson, Randel Sands, Simon Wiles.
Open Canoe: Ray Ingram,
Organizer: Umiak / VPC
Difficulty: int-adv WW
Level: medium
Gauge (ft): N/A
Gauge (cfs): N/A

Day 1 - Saturday 26th

12 varied and rather sleepy participants showed up at the doors of Umiak at 9.00 am. After a bit of herding and pen pushing we headed out back to meet the instructors and each other. I am not sure exactly what I expected on the course, but I knew myself and everyone else had all brought their kayaks along so at first was quite disappointed that the first day would involve no kayaking whatsoever!! No kayaking, but it is a whitewater rescue course ...I need my boat don't I!!!

The first hour we were shown how to throw ropes on dry land. Mark insulted a few of the pitiful throw ropes that turned up and insisted all ropes should be Long and Strong. Oopps I will just hide that rope I found at the bottom of the cupboard from years ago. Emphasis was put on the second throw and we practiced the butterfly and coil technique.

We moved down to a local rapid aptly named junkyard, which it became when 12 people practiced swimming in current and into the eddys. Each person took turns in practicing with their throw line and rescuing the swimmer.

We were amazed when they set up a 'safe strainer' in the middle of the river. Each of us had to swim towards it and aggressively push ourselves over it. At one point we had to let ourselves be sucked under so we knew what it felt like to sucked under a strainer. Mark was quick to explain what hazards a real strainer could have.

After a short rest and bake in the sun we jumped right back in to rescue mode. We worked on Zip lines, wading across a river aided by a paddle and a buddy and the pyramid effect which really brought team working into play. We learnt how to do V-drags with use of a rescue vest. The activity proved the need for a rescue vests, it also highlighted a fault in the manufacture of one vest and in another the need to have them correctly fastened.

The first day ended with knots, not just learning them but in our stomachs after learning what day 2 had install for us.

Day 2 - Sunday 27th

We met at the dam just above the train trestle on Winooski. The sun was shinning and the whole team was eager and ready to go.

For the days events we were split in to three teams of four. Each scenario we would go through would be headed by one team, then helped by the second team and timed by the third.

Before any scenarios started Mark showed us all how to use stabilization lines, drag lines, 2:1 and z drag.

The first two scenarios were done on dry land and involved foot entrapment and retrieving a boat. The scenarios highlighted the issues you can have while conducting rescues, but both teams did well.

We were then ready for our first water rescue...I have to be honest here I didn't know what to expect.

Mark drove down with Ben to set up the scenario, while we paddled down. I couldn't believe how real it felt to see Mark head in water and his foot trapped.

It didn't stop there, we went on to do two boat pinnings. It really showed how communication works and fails, how the adrenaline pumps when stress increases.

The scenarios really helped put the things we had learnt in to actual use in a safe environment.

The next exercise was to practice ferry gliding with ropes across current, the river is pretty wide so at least two ropes were required. It was great to watch each teams different techniques in trying the same thing. Mark raised the stakes slightly by putting a scenario right in the middle of the exercise. Everyone's focus changed straight away and the whole group worked together in retrieving Mark. It was really good as we hadn't expected it and it made us think on our feet.

He didn't just do it once, during our ferry gliding exercise he did it twice...mmm he really was testing our skills. The second attempt we set up a zip line and sent John bungard down to him, We couldn't understand when half way down John came to a sudden halt...Doh who forgot that when you use two ropes together there has to be a knot somewhere!!! Oops. To continue he did hand over hand, till he reached Mark at which point he was able to help release Mark. A rescue well done!!

While we continued to practice ferry gliding with ropes, Mark and Ben set up the final scenario...the most scary and probably the one people see most on the rivers. A log was tied across the river to provide a strainer, Mark then pinned himself and the boat. I know when I saw this I thought oh my god!! This has the potential to go wrong for real we really do need to make sure we rescue him correctly. The first rescue was done in less then a minute a quick ferry glide out to him and Randell clipped the rope to the back of the boat. We did the scenario two more times. Each time something would change either no boats allowed or no wading allowed. These were definitely the hardest rescues of the day. It was also the most real, it felt real and looked real. Everyone managed to work well together. I think the instructors decided to give us a break after that and taught us how to tow and recover someone who is unconscious and upside down using the Hand of God...we all have the power now!!

We all packed up greatly appreciating the knowledge we had learnt and the new friends we had made. I would gladly be rescued by anyone who was at the course.

Throughout the course Mark, Dave and Ben provided excellent instruction and always associated real incidents with each scenario or skill we were learning. It helped keep the focus of why we were there.

Thank You's:

On behalf of all the participants I would like to thank Umiak, Steve Brownlee and VPC, James Rabion for co-ordinating the course. Umiak for sponsoring the course and bringing in such excellent instructors. I would like to thank Mark, Dave and Ben for being great instructors and providing such an excellent and enjoyable course, and for donating their earnings for the two days to VPC for future Rescue training.


The course was in memory of Linda Weiss and I would encourage all participants to donate whatever they can to AW via Umiak.

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