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During one of my latest runs down a local favorite (class III), I ran into 5 very inexperienced paddlers. When I came across them, they were finishing up emptying their boats and wringing out their hair. It seems a deceiving little pillow rapid got the best of them. I asked them if they had ever been down the next set of rapids and they responded with an emphatic, “NO” proceeded with, “we’ll follow you”. After giving them a couple pointers on what to avoid downstream, we paddled on. I went first.

I got through the run and looked back to see three heads, and three empty boats, floating towards me. This is where it got interesting. This set of rapids dumps into a large, deep pool lined with rock walls. There is no getting out on the bank because… there is no bank. Their boats filled with water, none of them knew self-rescue techniques designed for these set of circumstances and none of them had a bilge pump.

Fast-forward to the end of the story—I had a bilge pump. Also, they all floated far enough downstream that they were able to get a footing along the bank and dump their boats. Things could’ve turned out much differently however and hopefully these people learned a valuable lesson:  Know how to rescue yourself. Know how to re-enter your boat. Carry a bilge pump. WEAR SHOES 🙂 Seriously.

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Strainer: The deadliest trap on the river! When water pours through the branches of a fallen tree, or through a pile of rocks or ice, it produces a strainer. Even with a gentle current, strainers are bad. They can pin you below the surface of the water and you can’t get out. If you realize you can’t avoid a strainer, climb on to it, climb over it! If you are swimming in the water, and about to wash into a strainer, swim headfirst as aggressively as possible toward it and climb onto, up and over it.

Wet Exit: Going into the water directly from your boat. It is imperative that both decked and open boaters be able to wet exit their boats quickly, smoothly and without tangling in gear, especially when in disoriented and violent whitewater (the usual conditions that mandate a wet exit.)

On Saturday, May 17th, about 10 paddlers showed up at the downtown Sioux Falls YWCA to practice rolls, wet exits and entries, and self-rescue techniques.

Kayak Self-Rescue Techniques

Personally, it was time well spent as I have never even attempted to roll one of my 12ft. Dagger Deltas (I’m the one in the top right). Surprisingly, when I rolled my Delta, my spray skirt kept out all the water. However, with no thigh braces (and no experience rolling), it’s impossible to roll one of my Delta kayaks upright. Every time I tried to hip flick, I fell right out. The upside to the event was I now know how to renter my boat if it ever capsizes, and I know the limitations of my boat when it comes to tipping and rolling.

I had my oldest daughter tag along to take pictures and video. She got some great shots of me flipping and attempting to roll, but somehow all of her pics were lost before I had a chance to upload them to my Flickr page. So, I’ve been forced to steal Jarett’s instead—thanks Jarett.

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