Swiftwater Rescue Classroom Outline



Waiver explanations

Request information on health problems


“Challenge by Choice” - Students will decide whether to participate in each exercise.

Each exercise will be EXPLAINED, then DEMONSTRATED. If you are still unsure, then watch other

students PARTICIPATE.  If you're still unsure, then don't get involved with the exercise!


WE DO NOT TEACH first aid or vertical rescue skills.

We can recommend specialized courses for both.


  1. Rescue Principles

a) Group Management: Keeping everyone together

                                Duties of the lead and sweep boater

                                Duties of the individual paddler

                                River etiquette

     b) Deciding if you need to get involved

                                Is someone in trouble?

                                Can I help without unnecessary risk?

                                Am I interfering with another group’s efforts?

c) Keep rescues as simple as possible (KIS)

d) Minimizing your risk: the limits of RETHROG (Reach, Throw, Row, Go)

e) Understand the effects of STRESS and PRESSURE

                                 a) People tend to freeze up when they’re in grave danger;

                                     preplanning, knowledge & training helps them react with confidence.

                                b) Stress tends to narrow a rescuer’s sphere of awareness;

                                    Consciously widen your focus beyond your immediate concerns

                                c) Adrenaline may increase a rescuer's speed to failure point

                                   SLOW DOWN. You’ll still be working faster than usual.

d) Move very deliberately on shore – watch your feet when you’re on the move

e) Strategies for making fast rescues

                                a) Self-Rescues are always the fastest

                                b) Fast assists are routine for whitewater paddlers

                                c) Getting outside help can be very time consuming

                                d) Evacuate by river whenever possible – keep people moving!

                                e) The one big exception to the focus on speed: Spinal Injuries

                                   Is there a MECHANISM? Then check for  SYMPTOMS!

2.  Rescue Organization

    a) Leader Directed vs. Self Directed Rescue Response

                                a) Private boaters vs. outfitters vs. emergency responders

                                b) Training – Gear – Organization - Mobilization

                      c) Always look for the job that needs to be done, then do it

                      d) Work with existing leaders - Don’t argue unless there is a risk of life

b) Site Setup and management

                     a) Most rescues require you to make physical contact with pinned boats or victims

                     b) Provide backup on the nearest shore or rock

                     c) Set upstream lookout and downstream backup

                    d) Someone goes to the opposite shore or side if possible

                    e) Use River Signals

                             f) The Incident Command System

                                       a) Protocols for interactions between units

                                       b) Managing Bystanders

                                       c) The role of helicopters in river rescue

                    g) Liability and the Standard of Care

3. Personal Gear

         a) PFD, Helmet, Cold Water Protection

         b) Knife and saw

         c) Carabiners: Standard, Locking, and Auto-lock

         d) Whistles

         e) Webbing loop and/or Flip line

4. Throw Bags– Types & Specifications

          a)  Rope Materials & Construction

           b) Static vs. dynamic rope

           c) Breaking Strengths

           d) Throw bag design and lengths

           e) Webbing and Prussiks

5. Throw bag use in current

         a) Stance & Throwing: Underhand, overhand, & sidearm

                               Throw bag use in rafts (guide training only)

         b) Positioning to catch & pendulum a swimmer

         c) Catching the line

         d) Individual and Buddy Belays

         e) Vectoring the line

         f) Team throw

         g) Re-stuffing and carrying a throw bag

6) Managing rope:

           a) coils & spaghetti piles

           b) Staying out of the loop in and out of the water

          c) Pulling on the rope: hauling team setup & the fireman's grip

6. Swimming- the basis for self-rescue

           a) Defensive and aggressive

           b) Swiftwater entries

           c) Crossing eddylines

           d) Swimming into strainers

           e) Swimming over pourovers and ledges

7. Wading

           a) Basic Principle – maintaining your balance

           b) Individual – with paddle

           c) Paired, Circle, Line, and Wedge

8. Using Rescue Life Vests

            a) Allows you to belay someone in or around swift water

                                CAUTION: Not for Vertical Rescue!

            b) Makes and Models; Types of tethers

            c) How the swiftwater harness works; what causes the harness to jam

   d) Uses:  Belaying shore-based personnel


                                Belaying Swimmers

                                As a boat towing device

                                Tired Swimmer Rescue

                                Straight and Vee Lowers

9. Getting Lines Across a River

               a)  Ferrying a line

                b) Minimizing water contact

                c) Putting a bend in the rope

                d) Line-supported wading

                e) Zip Lines

10. Knots

      a) Figure 8 family (straight, on a bight, follow-through, directional)

                b) Fisherman’s Knot, Water Knot, bowline

11. Boat Unpinning

               a) Dynamics of pinning

                                Types of pins: Center, end to end, pinch, and vertical pins

                                Unpinning Open Canoes

                                Unpinning Inflatables

                b) Developing an unpinning strategy

                c) Muscle Power Releases

               d)  Mechanical Systems

                                Anchors: Single & Multi-point

                                The Z-Drag & Pig Rig

                                Safety: planning for kick-back

12. Entrapment Rescues

                a) Causes of entrapment

                                Canoe & kayak outfitting

                b) Heads up vs. Heads Down situations

                c) Entrapment Rescue

      d) Get muscle to the scene; support, then extricate

               e) Stabilization and snag lines

               f) Foot entrapment Rescues

13. Loose Boat Rescues

                a) Chase people first, gear second

                b) When manpower permits, split up the load:

                   one person helps the swimmer, another the boat, and the third gets he paddle.

                c) Encourage Self Rescue

                d) Swimmers should abandon gear in difficult rapids

                e) The "Hand of God" rescue to right a flipped kayak with a paddler inside

14. This is a good beginning. New techniques constantly evolve so keep on learning!


Recommended Resources:

Whitewater Rescue Manual by Walbridge & Sundmacher

River Rescue by Bechdel & Ray

Swiftwater Rescue by Slim Ray

Whitewater Self Defense (Video) by Ford, Walbridge, & DeCuir

River Safety Reports by Walbridge


Home | Rescue Class Outline | Instructor Information