Towing boats can be very effective but does introduce a higher level of risk.  I highly recommend the use of a proper rescue vest with a quick release tow strap along with the training to safely use a rescue vest.  These skills are taught in the Safety & Rescue Level 4 class, well worth taking.  An old school method that doesn't require a reswcue vest is draping aloop of climbing webbing with aq carabiner connection to the flipped boat's grap loop.  To quickly escape, simply dip your shoulder.  Towing is very fast and works best in mild current and pools. 

You can also tow swimmers while they hold onto their gear (or not).  When being rescued, it's real important to help out by kicking your legs for extra populsion.  Here is a nice video demonstrating this technique: Tow Rescue.

Genrally, the easiest means to rescue boats in moving water is to bulldoze them to shore or a safe eddy.  This can be [performed with one of two boats.  Always remember to set a proper ferry angle, upstream part of the boat points at an angle to shore.  Sometimes you can hook the cockpit over the bow of your boat giving you a tad bit more control.  Bulldozing is generall the first choice as you are not tied to the boat making escape easy and fast.  It does take some practice to master this skill but well worth the effort.  I also like quick bumping and shoving the boat with my hand which may be even faster.  Here is an excellent demonstration of these techniques: Boat Bumping.

A vital lpiece of gear every whitewater boater should carry is a throw rope.  Throw ropes come in a variety of sizes, diameters, and strength ratrings.  They also come in a wide variety of deployment mechanisms.  Here is a great rescue example using a throw rope and why you need to practice this vital skill: waterfall rescue.  Lets look at the two main deployment varieties:


Wearable throw ropes usually fit in a PFD pocket or are waist monuted.  They are almost always 1/4" in diameter in order to fit in such a small form factor and typically around 50' in length.  A key advantage is they are always ready to use and that's a very big deal as it takes time to run back to your boat, pull a rope out and get back to the victim.  1/4" rope can be hard to grab but isn't the safest diameter for unpinning a boat, especially if made out of polypropolene.  On the other hand, they can be quite handy for rescuing swimmers.

Boat Models

You can carry a much larger rope bag inside your boat, typically 70' - 75' and 3/8" thickness.  This size rope is generally recommended for boat extraction, crossing wider streams/rivers, etc.  3/8" is easy to hold giving you lots of pullijng power. 

Main Uses

The common uses for throw ropes are:

  • Rescueing swimmers
  • Boat rescues/extraction
  • Small strainer removal

It's really important to practice throwing your bag (and other varieties as well).  I highly recommend taking a Swiftwater Rescue Class where you will learn these skills and many more.  For a more information, check out the aticles on Throw Ropes in the Level 4: Swiftwater Rescue (Page 3).

Common Uses

All Intermediate boaters should carry a throw rope either in their boat or one of the wearable models.  Ropes are commonly used to set safety on difficult rapids or in an emergency to rescue a swimmer from shore.  Whenever you leave your boat to scout a rapid, briong your throw rope just in case someone isn't paying attention.  Ropes are also used for extration of boats from pin situations.  Other uses are lowering gear, portages, shelter, and entrapment rescues.  If you haven't taken a Swift water Rescue course, I highly recommend doing so.  Rope work is just one of the topics you will learn.

RETHROG: Reach, Throw, Row (Paddle), Go.  A clever acronym adopted by the Boy Scouts to help people order rescue techniques by personal safety risks.  Extension rescues are reaching methods.  We can make fast and simple rescues by reaching the victim (or object) with a wide variety of tools:

  • Paddle
  • Arm/Hand
  • Guide Belt
  • Stick
  • Even a boat from an eddy

With most of these techniques, if we feel we are in danger we can simply let go and try a different method.  If you have access to FaceBook, this video shows an excellent example: Water Rescue.

The "Hands of God" rescue is great for righting a flipped kayak and still keeping the person in their boat.  Here is a video example: Hands of God Rescue.  In calm water, you can often empty their boat over yours, hold the boat upright to keep it steady so they can crawl back into the boat.  This is known as a T Rescue.  Here is a short video example: T Rescue.

Each craft has its set of advantages and challenges.  Decked boats like C-1's and kayaks are typically lighter and easier to perform T Rescues.  They are also quite tippy and hard to reenter in whitewater.  A raft is great for pulling a swimmer into the boat.  They are very stable and you can typically get several people to pull up on the swimmers PFD shoulder straps.  Canoes are a mix between kayaks and rafts.  They are not nearly as stable as a raft and lack the manpower but they are far more stable than a kayak.  You can definitely pull in a swimmer in calmer water into a canoe, it just take some bracing and team work.  T rescues are also easier on a canoe.

Swimmer stern tows are pretty straight forward, especially if you have a larger boat.  If you are being rescued, help out by kicking to provide extra propulsion.  Bow tows can be used when you have a distressed swimmer and you need to keep a very close eye on them.  A worse case scenario is rescuing an unconcious swimmer from a kayak.  Your number one objective is ensure they are face up and can breath.  Get help from shore or a larger craft like a raft ASAP.  Here is a short video on a boat based rescue of an unconcious swimmer.