Commentary - Are We Teaching Rescues to the Highest Level?

Tuesday, 12 September 2006
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Snooping around on youtube.com, I came upon this footage that got me thinking. Here we have two people out practicing a T Rescue.



There are a couple of things that we can learn from this footage. The total time from start to finish is 4 minutes. For me it is way, way to long especially in those conditions. A good benchmark for the T rescue should be under two minutes.

Now imagine this same rescue with wind waves and swells, how would they perform? Would it turn out successful? I am not sure, but watching it got me thinking about our roll as instructors.

We have a responsibility to our students to make sure that we teach proper kayak safety and rescues. Time and time again, I read rescue reports of people who, when they got in trouble, they either couldn’t remember the steps or didn’t have the technique or strength to properly rescue the other person.

We need to work harder to make sure that we teach rescues properly and make sure that students walk away knowing that they can provide a basic level of rescue support for the conditions they are going to be going out in.

With that in mind, we must make sure that we practice rescues in realistic water conditions. Flat water is an excellent location for a beginner to lean as it gives them a chance to practice and work out their rescue "systems" without the distraction and frustration of wind and waves.

But intermediate paddlers paddle in different conditions then flatwater paddlers. That leads me to this question. If you have only practiced a T rescue in 2 inch waves, how can you possibility be efficient in 3 foot swells? You need to know how your boat and yourself will perform in those conditions.

I strongly believe that, as an instructor, you have a responsibility to inform the student if you don’t feel they will be able to rescue themselves or somebody else if they paddle in more advanced conditions then what the rescue clinic was originally taught in. We don’t want to install a sense of false hope or confidence.

{josquote}We need to work harder to make sure that we teach rescues properly and make sure that students walk away knowing that they can provide a basic level of rescue support for the conditions they are going to be going out in.{/josquote}

The number of rescues that are available to a new student is unlimited. There are so many out there, what are the best ones to teach to new students? What makes a good rescue?

My philosophy is that a good rescue is one where the water is out, the butt is back in the seat and the victim is back underway in an efficient and reliable amount of time.

An efficient rescue is one that doesn’t have a lot of steps to remember, and doesn’t take up a lot of energy to complete.

The rescue needs to be reliable. I have been taught and taught others that the scramble or "cowboy" rescue is the best rescue of all time (besides a roll). It takes no gear and gets you back in your boat quickly. All true points but in the past several years I have changed by view of the scramble rescue. I no longer teach it as the best of all rescues because I feel that for people just learning the scramble, it isn’t reliable. If it takes two or three tries to get in (in real life conditions) it isn’t a good rescue.

Before I could roll, the scramble was my #1 rescue. I have honestly practiced it probably 300 times but when I found myself swimming one time in 3 foot wind waves, I took me three attempts to get in leaving me exhausted at the end. With that in mind, I still teach the scramble more as a fool around, "get to know your boat" skill rather then the best of the best rescue.

We have a great responsibility teaching rescues, we need to be diligent and make sure that we do our job correctly and professionally as the consequences could be high.
David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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