Choose appropriate swimming venues, with lower risk to students
What do we look for in choosing a place for our swimming drills? First off, it really helps to have some water depth - at least several feet deep. The extra depth really helps avoid scrapes and potential injuries (not to mention potential snagging of clothing or extremities). I also like decent eddy lines, moderate waves, and a good recovery pool below. The river side should be reasonably easy to perform shallow water entry dives and at least 2' deep. Beginning students sometimes fail to arch their backs or adequately protect their face so you want to minimize the chances of bottoming out. Look over the entry area, are there any shallow rocks to avoid? I also like to avoid busy areas since we may be using ropes which may put others in danger.
Swimming with gear
Where possible, hang on to your gear. That boat can be a great flotation device in big water. Paddles are often dark in color and blend easily with water making then difficult to find when let go. You can guide your boat around boulders and rocks to avoid any damage. When close to shore, toss the paddle like a javelin onto the shore. You can also push the boat into an eddy or up on shore when you are close and then swim quickly into shore yourself. Always keep the boat below you so you don't become trapped between the boat and a rock. if the boat is heading towards something dangerous like a sieve or strainer, push off the boat and swim aggressively away to avoid the same fate. If you keep the boat and paddle with one hand, the other is available for a strong side stroke.
Managing holes and drops
If your are approaching a large ledge of water fall, the passive back stroke can be dangerous. When you cross the ledge, your feet will drop first leaving them very exposed to underwater obstructions. It is better to curl up into a cannon ball and leave nothing exposed. Recirculating holes can be a bit tricky and nerve racking. Each cycle is going to push you underwater. You need to time your breathing to catch air each time you surface. If the hole is deep, you may be able to use the momentum when you drop to swim out the bottom of the hole - simple stroke a bit on the way down. Avoid the temptation of taking off your PFD. Many PFD's like Astral's have lots of adjustment straps and don't have a zipper either. They are difficult enough to take off on shore, forget about it in moving water. Once freed from the hole, you will need the flotation downstream to stay on the surface of the water. More shallow holes may have breaks in the middle or on the ends. Work your way to a break and the hole will usually kick you out. Sometimes simply changing your shape a bit either balling up or stretching out will cause the hole to kick you out.
Whitewater entry technique depends on how deep it is. Shallow entries (the most common) use a modified belly flop. Protect your face with crossed hands, arch your to expose your mid-drift where the PFD is located, and bend your knees to keep the feet in the air. Jump out horizontally. Here is a good video on the technique: Shallow water entry. Wherever possible use the shallow water entry technique as it is the safest. If you need to enter water you are certain is deep and have to leap off a high bank, use the same technique used when dropping off a water fall - the tucked cannon ball. This will limit how far you drop below the surface and protect your head and back.
An even safer method that is often available is wading until it is swimming depth and then simply push off the bottom into your swim stroke. As with all entries, scout carefully and set your ferry angle on entry.
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