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How to Swim in Whitewater

Self-rescue by aggressively swimming to shore is one of the most important whitewater skills you can master; it can be a life-saving maneuver. In a swift-flowing stream, efficiently breaking through an eddy line to calmer water is the difference between safety and being swept downstream. In this video, rescue instructor Jim Coffey shows how to make the right moves in this whitewater self-rescue technique.

An eddy is a feature in a stream where the water is flowing in the opposite direction to the main downstream current. It can be a place behind a boulder or other instream obstacle, or along the edge of the stream. The transition between the upstream and downstream flows is called the eddy line, or eddy fence. When scouting a rapid it’s a good idea to spot the eddies that you can use for safety.

To catch an eddy when swimming, you need to line yourself up so you’re crossing the eddy line at 90-degrees. The best place in the eddy to cross is at the top of the eddy. Further down, the eddy line spreads out and crossing becomes more difficult.

To increase your chance of getting safely into the eddy, reach in first with your upstream arm. This will help pull your body deeply into the eddy. Reaching in with your downstream arm will likely cause you to bounce off the eddy line and force you downstream.

As with any skill, practice makes perfect. Practicing this one should be done as a team effort, with safety being set up below the practice area in case the swimmer needs assistance.

This type of learning is something you’ll get when taking a swiftwater rescue class, which we strongly recommend. Check out the link to the right on how to find swiftwater rescue classes. If you’re having trouble finding a class in your area, give us a call; we may be able to link you to other resources.