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Rescue Film Series: Ep. 8: Boat Extractions

When a boat gets pinned while whitewater kayaking or canoeing, knowing solid boat extraction techniques is essential for retrieving it safely. In Episode 8 of the R3 Rescue for River Runners series, swiftwater rescue expert Jim Coffey demonstrates how to retrieve a pinned kayak or canoe using methods ranging from pushing and pulling to setting up a mechanical advantage system, often called a Z-drag. He also discusses the basic equipment to carry in your kayak un-pin kit.

From our lawyers: The series is a supplement to, not a substitute for, hands-on training classes.

For simplicity sake, it’s best to put more people pulling on a line to free a boat. However, if you have a small group that may not be feasible, and a mechanical-advantage system is the only solution.

As always, our first priority in a rescue is to take care of the people. After they’ve been securedf, we can turn to rescuing gear. The first thing to do with a pinned boat is to get a line attached to it. Then, when it kicks free, we can pull it to shore, instead of having it take off downstream.

To set up a 3-to-1 mechanical advantage system, or Z-drag, with a final change in direction, you’ll need a line (which can be from a throw bag), four carabiners, three pulleys, two prussics and a length of webbing. Each boater should carry an unpin kit; that way everyone is ready to help in setting up the system.

Start off by attaching the line to the boat. Then create an anchor point on shore by wrapping the length of webbing around a rock or tree. Now we add our prussics and pulleys to create the mechanical advantage that lets us magnify the force needed to extract the boat.

And, as always, practice these skills until you are able to efficiently employ them in an emergency situation.