Category Archives: White Water Kayaking

White Water Safety & Rescue Course

I recently attended a White Water Safety and Rescue course at the Tryweryn White Water Centre in North Wales with some friends over at Martlet Kayak Club, Brighton.

The last time I attended a white water safety and rescue course was about 8 years ago and I thought it was high time to refresh my skills and spend the weekend swimming down a cold Welsh river! It turned out I was the only one who had been on a course like this before with the majority of the group being fairly new to white water, what a treat they were in for!

So after an utterly crap drive up the M40 on the bank holiday weekend with accidents everywhere and plenty of traffic, we made it up to the Tyddynbychan bunk house where some of the guys had left us diner (Sheppard’s pie, followed by apple crumble and custard) – ace!

Members of Martlet Kayak Club and Hatt Adventures on a white water safety and rescue course
White water safety and rescue course members

With an early start we drove the short distance to the Afon Tryweryn to sign in and get kitted up in warm gear and dry suits. Some of the team opted for more warm stuff than others and this ranged from 3-4 layers to a measly 1 thin set of thermals (some were obviously colder than others!)  I found that a set of thermal top and bottoms plus a thin fleece bear suit and neoprene skull cap was just about right (not to cold for standing around in, but suitably warm and giving enough movement for swimming down the river!)

After a short introduction to the course and a briefing on the hierarchy of danger:

Shout – Shout to swimmer and guide them to the nearest eddie
Reach – Using a releasable object
Throw – Throw line
Row – Paddle out to swimmer
Go – Live bait
Other services (ambulance etc.)

Defensive swimming - feet out in front and slightly bent to absorb any impact from rocks.
Defensive swimming – feet out in front and slightly bent to absorb any impact from the rocks.

We took to the water. First we learnt how to swim through the rapids defensively on our backs with our feet out in front while doing back stroke. Then it was learning how to swim offensively  using a corkscrew roll technique to get out of the main flow and to the safety of an eddie.

Learning to swim in stoppers was an eye opening experience.
Learning to swim in stoppers was an eye opening experience.

After this it was time to swim down small drops tucking into a ball and then learning how to swim/glide across stoppers adopting a parachute free-fall position. This was probably one of the most eye opening parts of the course and filled everyone with confidence.

Throwline practice.
Throw-line practice.

Next it was throw line practice – perfecting overarm and underarm throws and looking at the different options for reeling in the swimmer and getting them into the eddie. We worked on our own, in pairs, and then in groups in a variety of situations.

Tree Hazards also known as strainers can be killers.
Tree Hazards also known as strainers can be killers.

Just before lunch we got to experience what it would be like to get stuck on tree (strainer) and how to deal with it. We were first asked to swim down in a defensive position and get stuck on the tree (a large brown tube) held in place with a releasable rope system. After trying for nearly a minute to push myself against the water and climb on top of it I had to admit defeat and if this was a real situation I probably would have drowned.

Our next attempt was to swim at the tree head-first doing an aggressive front crawl, just as we were about to hit the tree with had to push down on it and get our chest up and over it. This is easier said than done, but works extremely well and is your only defence again a tree hazard.

Live baiting - when you absolutely have to get that victim!
Live baiting – when you absolutely have to get that victim!

After lunch it was time to get back in the water and set up live-bait scenarios. Live-baiting is where you have no choice but to get in the water attached to the end of the line and grab an injured or unconscious swimmer before they disappear off down stream and come to more harm. This is a great way to cause chaos and there were a few interesting techniques being developed by the other team – who it turned out had on occasion accidentally taken to punching the casualty in the face whilst attempting to rescue them!

Tensioned diagonal lines can be used to get people and equipment across the river.
Tensioned diagonal lines can be used to get people and equipment across the river.

The last action of the day was to set up a tensioned diagonal line across the river to transfer equipment and people back across the side they needed to be. This was set up as mini scenario and we were able to watch the other team having fun trying to throw ropes across the river and tie knots before trusting their set up and jumping in. For a first attempt and with no prior knowledge they did extremely well.

Day Two

Paddling a swimmer to safety.
Paddling a swimmer to safety.

The morning consisted of effective group padding, management and planning, learning how and when to run rapids as small groups, individuals and in pairs. Once the basics were mastered we looked at rescuing swimmers from the boats and towing them to safety.

Foot entrapments and chest lines.
Foot entrapments and chest lines.

After this we practiced setting up various chest lines for swimmers with foot entrapments and how to free pinned boats using pulleys systems and vector pulls.

White water rescue scenarios.
White water rescue scenarios.

After lunch it was time to put all the skills together in various scenarios with only split seconds to react to an incident, decide on a plan of action and carry it out.

On the whole our casualty was rescued fairly quickly with only minimal fuss and confusion. Sometimes this was achieved by carrying out two different rescues simultaneously with one being the back up if the first failed. This was the luxury of the training environment and having enough people with the right set of new skills and throw bags on standby.

When paddling rivers events can often happen in a instant and when you least expect it. This kind of training really helps you to plan and prepare for such incidents and gives you the confidence to deal with situations when they arise. An absolute must for anyone into their white water kayaking!

Big thanks to Tryweryn white water centre in North Wales and the Martlet Kayak Club, Brighton.

– by Tom Hatt

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Celebrating New Years with a Spot of White Water Kayaking

Between Christmas and over New Years, a couple of the team from Hatt Adventures and assorted friends took a kayaking trip up to Scotland for a much needed break (well if you can call whitewater in near freezing conditions a break?)

Day 1 – For some members of the team (no names here) it had been a little while since they’d been on some proper whitewater and everyone was keen with a little warm up river to settle in. This was helped by the tiredness in the group as we were still waiting for the sun to come up since we had driven from Brighton through the night!  So the River Braan (G2-3 with a section of 4) was selected and team got on to subzero temperatures and frozen fingers.

The Braan was fairly dull in the early stages despite the high volume and it wasn’t until we rounded the corner that the fun started! Chris was leading and all of a sudden disappeared into a big hole and managed to fight his way through, before Matt was eaten! Tom managed to avoid the hole only to look back and see Doug go straight in on top of Matt. The rapids from here on in were continuous high volume (for the UK) grade 4+ and the section was about 200m long with a sharp left-hand bend. It was then that another member of the group was flipped upside-down and it was time to get the ropes out! With 3 out of 6 out of their kayaks and swimming; rescuing people, kit and boats, took a while!

The Braan proved to be one on the most eventful ‘warm up’ rivers any of us had paddled and set the tone for the rest of the week!

Day 2 – We paddled The Roy (G2-3) and The Loy (G3-4), both were very enjoyable with some small drops and a few bits to scrape down (strange considering the amount of rain at the time!)

Day 3 – Was a drive to look at the infamous River Etive (G4-5) with its final 20ft waterfall as the last challenge, but sadly the rain had been relentless all night and the levels were huge! We therefore decided to head further East the River Orchy (G3-4) which was great fun! A couple of us decided on the way home to quickly jump in our boats and run some on the bottom rapids on the Allt Kinglass (G4).

Day 4 – The River Pattack! (G4) and one of the most adventurous rivers of the trip given the 2km up hill carry with your boat (all sorts of rucksack designs were invented to carry the boats), then there was the steep scramble down to the river and the lowering of boats, before finally getting on the river and an immediate ferry glide across the river to portage over 3 fallen trees and certain death! Once on the river it was fantastic and one of my favorites to date, with a big pourover to finish. It was so good a few of us walked up and ran the last 500m of rapids again.

Day 5 – On this day we linked 2 sections of the River Spean to make a good day out. First was the Upper Spean (G3+). The dam was releasing on 3 pipes and the feeling at the get on was very belittling with that amount of water roaring overhead! The river was big, fast, and bouncy with a few decent size holes to keep you on your toes! For some the experience was a little unnerving (with this being the UK’s largest volume river) and they decided the 1km walk dragging boats through dense trees was the preferred option. For a couple of us that continued on, the final gorge section finishing 50m from the lethal of Inverlair Falls was well worth it!

After that we paddled the very enjoyable Middle Spean (G2-3) down to Spean Bridge with only one drop of note a few hundred meters before the get out.

Day 6 – A fairly big day taking in the River Loy (G2-3), The Gloy (4) and a few drops on the Allt Mhuic (G4-5) before it got dark! The Loy was a little lower than the last time and we scraped our way down again. The Gloy is an awesome section of classic British technical grade 4 rapids with a few fallen tree strainers thrown in for good measure! Lastly the Allt Mhuic was a daft idea thrown in at the end of the day as we were nearby. By the time we got there, found the river (its more of a mountain run off that only runs in high water) and carried our boats 500m up the steep sides, it was getting dark! So, for this reason and because some the drops looked mental (requiring full-face helmets and elbow pads) we ran 3 of the drops near the top, with a crack team of safety swimmers and throw ropes in place, incase one of us took a swim and headed for a hiding!

Day 7 – The final day was spent on the Upper Roy (G4) and the Lower Roy (G2-3). The former was fast, high and great fun with one of the rapids eating low volume boats (Matt & Jenny’s) and spitting them out a few meters down stream! After that we paddle the Lower Roy (again) not because we had a desire to do so, but simply because we didn’t fancy the steep muddy walk, (hauling the kayaks back out,) that it would have required!

All in all it was a great trip with some old favorites paddled, some new rivers explored and some new lines taken (intentionally or not!)

Find out more about our kayaking courses in the UK by clicking here.

Article by Tom Hatt.