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Rescue Film Series: Ep. 9: Self Rescue

In this Episode 9 video of the Rescue for River Runners series, swiftwater rescue instructor Jim Coffey shows whitewater kayakers and canoeist the basic techniques for self-rescue, your first and best option for escaping trouble on the river. He discusses how to swim to safety as well as how to avoid dangerous foot entrapment in moving water. These are important skills to learn and master for safe paddling.

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

For whitewater kayakers and canoeists, the first line of defense is the roll. Developing a solid roll helps keep you from being out of your boat in swift, dangerous waters. Elsewhere in our Learn pages are video tutorials for helping you master the roll.

The second line of defense is training to swim your way to shore. Beginner boaters are instructed to get on their back, feet up at the surface of the water and pointed downstream. This is a great passive rescue swim position, but it doesn’t lend itself to self-rescue.

To self-rescue in a swiftwater stream you’ll need to swim aggressively toward shore or safety. As we get close to shore, we must make a judgment call on when we can stand up. Standing up at the wrong time and place can lead to a foot entrapment, a very dangerous situation.

Most foot entrapments take place close to shore, so just because we’ve come that close it doesn’t mean we’re safe. Don’t stand up unless the water is very calm, or it’s shallow, knee deep or less.

To gauge water depth, kick down with your heels. Reaching down toe-first exposes you more to a foot entrapment. Another thing you can do is to slow yourself down by grabbing onto a rock.

Once you’re in that zone of being close to shore, in calm or shallow water you can gather yourself up and get out onto shore.