Just like defensive swimming, keep your feet on the surface to avoid entrapment.  Arching the back can help keep your head on the surface and ride a bit above the water.

You can support your head with your hands to keep it up and out of the water.  This also leaves the hands in an easy to see area for the shore teams so they will quickly notice when you are about to give a signal.  Don't forget to keep your elbows tucked in close to your body so they will not bang into anything.

This is a fun drill.  We typically have the students try a number of positions to see the effects on their bodies.  When done, they simply pull the quick release and swim to shore.

The hand signals are pretty simple:

  • I'm OK - Tap your helmet with your open hand
  • I want to go in that direction - Simply point with both hands in the direction you want to travel
  • I want out!  I am having problems - Wave one arm in the air.  This may be a precursor to pulling the quick release buckle so safety downstream are prepared

The LA County life guard training video gives a great demonstration: V-Lower Signaling.

Take the time to review the set of hand signals with your belay team so everyone is on the same page before heading out.  Rapids are very noisy and pretty much impossible to communicate verbally.

As with any complex technique, you should plan for mishaps.  Set safety above and below the rapids.  Ensure the people in the raft know how to trip the quick release knot.  Everyone in the raft must be SWR trained and know what to do if the raft capsizes.

The main advantage of a V-Lower is pinpoint accuracy in placing the rescuer on the accident site.  You can move the rescuer up, down, and right or left pretty easily with enough belayers.  This may be helpful in safely retrieving an injured boater.

The V-Lower set-up with a swimmer requires a rescue vest, a belay team on each side, the rescuer/swimmer, and always set downstream safety. In an emergency, the rescuer/swimmer will need to open the quick release belt and they will float downstream. Attach to an integrated tether or on a safety ring. If you are using a carabineer as your safety ring, make certain it is a locking carabineer and it is properly locked. Here is a video example of this technique: V-Lower Example.

Ideally, use a tow tether or a safety ring built for your jacket. Either option has a free-floating ring that slides smoothly along the quick release belt and is very unlikely to get caught on anything. If you have to use a carabineer instead, make it a locking carabineer and make certain it is locked and the belt slides smoothly through the carabineer. Both ropes are attached to the carabineer, ring, or tether. Both ropes are used to position the rescuer by pulling or feeding line. Avoid a vector pull scenario by setting a small angle, at most 90 °. This greatly reduces the load on the two belay teams or persons.