Just like strainers, ropes in the wrong place can be just as deadly. When using ropes in a rescue, it is a good idea to send someone upstream to warn other boaters so they can stay out of harm's way. Never leave a snagged line in a rapid. Cut the rope out if you can't retrieve the rope. When working with ropes, having a river knife in an easily accessible spot on your PFD may save your life. Never attach a rope to yourself, always use a rescue vest as they have a quick release system. Avoid the temptation of placing your hand inside a rope loop - a rope under sudden stress may break your wrist. Prepare ahead of time by retying the end loops to make them too small to slip a hand through. Take great care when rigging a Z-Drag system. Mechanical advantage and the water force can lead to great stress, make certain you are out of the line of fire.


Let's face it, ropes can break. Add hardware like carabineers and results can be lethal. The danger increases significantly under heavy loads like those encountered in mechanical advantage systems and boats full of water. Let's go over a few precautions to keep you out of harm's way:

  • Avoid standing over lines: This is easy to understand. If the rope snaps, you will most likely be in the line of fire.
  • Avoid tensioning lines perpendicularly to current: The famous vector pull. Imagine a really taught line between two poles. Now hang a 20 pound dumbbell in the middle. The force necessary on each end to hold that line straight is nearly infinity.
  • Keep your body out of loops in the line: This is very similar to don't attach yourself to a rope without a quick release system. Picture manning a tag line to a broached canoe. Once the boat is freed from the pin, it is very heavy and carries significant force downstream. You will be taken for the same ride.
  • Consider clean line techniques: Avoid tight bends, knots, use pulleys to avoid friction, consider using a pulley for change of direction, always think - where is the weakest point and stay out of the line of fire. Here is a nice winch techniques article: Winch Techniques.
  • Keep entire rope in bag to avoid accidental deployments: When not in use, store completely in the throw bag and close securely. Store behind in the boat and clipped securely in place. Picture the danger of rope coming loose and getting tangled in that rope during a wet release.
  • Safety gear for rope work: Knife or trauma shears so you can cut yourself free. Gloves for land-based rescue work help prevent rope burns. Wear your helmet & PFD at all times when working with rope.