Swiftwater Rescue Training on the Cabarton

Alzar School | 07.09.12

What is the best method to tow a swimmer in a kayak? Could you get a rope to a river swimmer in need? How do you empty a water-filled kayak while on the river? These are all skills that Alzar students practiced this past weekend during their Swiftwater Rescue Course.

Last Saturday we set out for the Cabarton Run down the North Fork of the Payette River. At the first river rapid we pulled our boats to shore and practiced proper swimming techniques led by instructors Dan and Nate. “Nose and toes,” was the mantra we heard and demonstrated keeping both our heads and feet safely above water. Under the guidance of Dan and Nate we raised this passive safety strategy to a higher level of active swimming and worked to kick our legs and angle our bodies to avoid potential risks.

From the shoreline rocks, student rescuers were armed with throwbags and ready for a game of fishing for swimmers: some successes, like Katherine tossing SJ a rescue line and pulling her in and other failures, like Crosby floating by 4 different tossed lines that all fell short, slightly out of reach. Wesley learned firsthand how difficult it is to orient yourself in a rapid, after Grady’s rope landed directly on him but it still took a second for her to find it. Karley cast a perfect line to Lexi, but almost got pulled in herself if Ellie had not been around for secondary support.

Day 2 of Swiftwater Rescue was spent at Kelly’s Whitewater Park practicing our previous skills of river swimming and bag throwing while also learning new strategies like live bait, wading and kayak rescues. My personal favorite was the “Koala Method” where I, as a swimmer, would cling to the front of my rescuer Charlotte’s kayak. With my feet resting on the bow and my hands clutching the grab-loops Charlotte paddled me to safety.

As our final test we all worked together as responders to a multi-victim scenario. Dan was staged unresponsive on a rock in the middle of the river. Sam was sitting cradling his left wrist on the opposite riverbank. And Nate was mysteriously absent at the simulation start. The Alzar School students sprang into action. Wesley led a group in a wading strategy to reach Dan. Crosby, Patrick and Alec paddled a rope across the rapid to help Sam. Then, Aaron and Liam worked together to pull in their live bait Crosby and injured Sam. Other students staged themselves up and downstream for additional support. Although there were definitely some blunders along the way, Dan and Sam were successfully transported and treated, and students even reacted quickly when Nate appeared mid-scenario floating downriver in need of help.

Before graduating the Swiftwater Course we all shared personal goals for ensuring safe boating in the future. Alec plans to practice tossing his throwbag as a routine everytime he gets on the river. Ines plans to share what she learned in the course with her family and friends back in Chile. And Ellie hopes to find an old tire to set up on the Alzar School campus as a designated throwbag tossing practice zone. All in all the weekend was a success, and Alzar students are now doing their part to make the boating community a safer community.

SJ Byce
Teaching Fellow