Rather than trying to carry equipment on your person which can be dangerous, stow safely in the boat and shuttle to the accident site. Large boats like canoes and rafts can carry people across the river safely. Kayaks can tow a person across as long as they are not injured. Boats can be used to ferry a line across a wide river which is too difficult to toss across.

Boats are like a Swiss Army knife in rescues. Decked boats is skilled hands are much faster in getting to a victim. Open canoes and rafts are far more stable and may be essential for safe evacuation of a victim. Take a look at the many uses of boats in rescues and think about how your boat can be used.

  • Transportation - A boat is typically the fastest way to reach a victim.
  • Ambulance - A raft or canoe can safely carry an injured boater downstream.
  • Barge - A boat can carry a fair amount of rescue gear, even kayaks. Check out Ron Ray's kayak some time - LOL. Besides the mandatory throw rope, some carry folding saws, pin kits, first aid kits, food & water, extra clothing, spare paddles, etc. Try not to go overboard.
  • Tow Truck - Along with a rescue vest and tether, you can tow pretty much any boat, swimmer, or paddle - sometimes all three at once.
  • Messenger - The boat is the fastest way down stream to request assistance. On easier water, a kayak can go back upstream pretty quick as well.
  • Crane or pier - You can assist someone in trying to right their boat via a hands of god maneuver or a bow rescue.
  • Drainage - You can quickly empty water by dragging their boat upside down over yours.
  • Bulldozer - You can plow a swamped boat to shore.
  • Sea Anchor - You can pull a boater trapped in a hydraulic out from a safe distance using fast current to assist.
  • Life Raft - In big water, most PFDs have a tough time staying on the surface. A boat with air bags is like a mega-PFD.
  • There are other uses as well like a quick shelter on land. Use your imagination.

The number one rule for SWR is the rescuer's safety comes first. Be honest with yourself, do you really have the skills and training to make that rescue. On a recent boating trip, a paddler got stuck in a hydraulic and was having trouble getting out upright. Another boater that isn't used to playing sizable holes decided to do a boat based rescue. His boat got pulled in as well but fortunately, the hole eventually let them both escape. Was this a wise decision - hell no! I have seen boaters get their ribs broken from friendly but inexperienced boat based hole rescues. If both paddlers end up swimming, we have a lot more people and gear to rescue. Perhaps a throw line would be more effective and safer. This is why we teach RETHROG.

When leading novices, it is a good idea to send them to shore when a rescue is needed. They can set safety above and below the rapids and retrieve any gear that gets sweept downstream. This allows the more seasoned paddlers to concentrate on the rescue and not worry about others getting into trouble.

When time is critical, paddling a boat to the victim is much faster than tossing lines, wading, or swimming. You can also see better from sitting in a boat than swimming. Sometimes you can also see the accident site much better from a boat than people on shore since you are closer and there are no boulders in your way. Before trying this type of rescue, you really need to ask yourself if your skills are adequate. How confident are you that you will not capsize, swim, and add to the rescue challenge? Is there any chance that your boat may get pinned or swept into a dangerous rapid, strainer, or other obstruction? Do you know how to handle a very panicked swimmer? Scared swimmers often grab what is convenient and that may be your waist which can pull you over. Think, then act.