Selecting a Rescue Strategy
Many factors come into play; size of paddler, size of boat, experience and fitness of paddler, knowledge or past rescuing experience, and conditions.
First and foremost, safety comes with judgment. Training, skill, and good equipment are all important, but they are useless without good judgment. On any outing, safety begins on shore. That's where you'll consider the weather, the tides and currents, your equipment, and your companions. You'll weigh all those factors in deciding your destination and your itinerary, all with the notion of enjoying the trip without compromising safety. Click here to read more about judgment and leadership issues.
With the notion of judgment in mind, let's consider a generic rescue situation. X and Y are paddling together in challenging conditions. Y capsizes. X considers all the options, but the one element that is NOT an option is for X to come out of the boat! Remember your boat is your ticket home. Keep in mind that every rescue should be accomplished with little or no risk to the safety and stability of the rescuer. In the descriptions of rescues that follow, you'll surely encounter a number of methods for providing stability for the victim, but be sure to look for those elements that provide stability and safety for the rescuer as well. Successful rescues depend on them.
Approaching a Swimmer
When approaching a swimmer for a rescue, make sure the individual is not panicky. We've found this to be rare, but it can happen. A panicky swimmer may reach for you, your boat or your paddle, and make you a swimmer too. As you approach and are still out of reach, ask if the swimmer is all right, and give instruction to hold onto boat and paddle.
Communication is the key to an effective rescue. It will reassure the swimmer, and will ensure coordination of the efforts of both swimmer and rescuer. Take charge! Assess the situation. Observe the position of your boat with respect to the swimmer, his boat, his paddle, the conditions of wind, water, proximity to shore or potentially dangerous objects. Decide what you will do and tell the swimmer exactly what to do. At each step, be specific in your instructions. When the swimmer is back in the boat, ask how he feels and whether he is ready to paddle. Stabilize him and let him rest until he says he's ready to go. Communicate with your other companions as well. Let them know what's going to happen. If you think you may need additional help, communicate that possibility along with the instructions that will ensure that the help is in place if needed. Practice and skill are core elements of successful rescues; communication makes them seem choreographed!