This topic is also covered in more detail under the Equipment section. As an instructor, I will provide guidance on how to inspect gear and demonstrate common issues I have seen leading trips. Students will inspect each other with instructor guidance. Start from the top down. The helmet comes first. I like to use the two finger test - gently lift the helmet brow with two fingers, if rollback is evident - the helmet needs further adjustment. Rollback is a lading cause of nasty headshots resulting in concusions. Next, check to see if the helmet is reasonably solid on the head - fit is crucial. Inspect the foam on the inside of the helmet. Many helmets these days use bicyle foam and essentially no paddling. This tends to transfer all the energy directly to the neck causing injury. In general, thick multi-density foam is best. The helmets goal is to dissipate energy over a distance so it doesn't feel like you head-butted a brick wall. Foam should also bounce back. This is really crucial in whitewater helmets since we often take more than one good hit.
The next check is the PFD. Grab the shoulder straps and try to lift them. If a jacket is loose, it will probably slip off the body or obstruct vision. A loose helmet and PFD form what I call the "Clam Shell" effect making paddling all but impossible. If they are wearing carabineers, check to see if they are locked - they should be. Since we are working with ropes, students should have a rescue knife of some sort.
When getting ready to launch, verify that the spray skirt release loop is on the outside where it can be readily grabbed. Also check to see if their drain plug is secured. Repeat after each break or rescue.
Optionally, ask if they have water and food on board. In our class, everyone must bring their own throw rope.
Everyone must wear some sort of foot protection - this is crucial for rescue work. Make certain everyone has adequate clothing to stay immersed for 30 minutes at a stretch.