Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Basic Paddling & River Safety Skills for Class II Whitewater Kayaking.

Paddle techniques, invididual & group skills, safety & rescue skills.

Warm, sunny summer days are a great time to help the next generation of whitewater river kayakers to get excited about the greatest of all sports. What do beginners need to know before they take their first class II river kayaking trip? Most boaters learn their basic skills by taking a paid training class, but then most continue their learning on private river trips.

What is the basic skill set of a "fully-qualified" class II kayaker? What additional skills should they have learned at the class II level before you start inviting them on your class III river trips? I've seen way too many kayakers advance way too quickly on to class III, IV and V boating with just partial skill sets. After surviving one hard rapid or one hard run they beat on their chests and loudly proclaim themselves to be a class whatever kayaker. Ho hum, I'm so totally NOT impressed!

Its way too easy for novices to follow a more experienced kayaker and count on the experienced boater to save them whenever needed. A group of "fully-qualified" class II kayakers should be able to navigate safely on a class II river where they have previously run with a more experienced kayaker, or explore a class II river run for the first time without a more experienced kayaker to lead them.

Individual kayaking skills - paddling & river safety techniques.

Wet exit. Kayaks are designed to tip over very easily. Nobody goes downriver with me unless they can exit easily and safely whenever their kayak tips over. (Or make a successful eskimo roll.)

Beginner eskimo roll. I take lots of novices on class II river trips knowing that they cannot roll up after tipping over. But no kayakers come on my class III trips until they have at least a beginner roll that works pretty well in the pool and works in the river more often than not.

Forward stroke. Kayaks are designed to not go in a straight line. Forward propulsion of your boat depends upon your skills. Vertical paddle, straight arms and torso rotation!

Sweep stroke. Spins the kayak in the direction you want to go. Flat, horizontal paddle, straight arms and torso rotation.

Brace. All braces are LOW braces. Flat, low, horizontal paddle, blade flat on the water, straight arms. Keep a low center of gravity. Always brace on the downstream side!!

Ferry. Paddle across the eddy line while maintaining your bow on an upstream angle. Maintain that upstream angle while paddling out into the current, possibly all the way across the river.

Eddy turn
. Used for entering and exiting the eddies. Head-snapping, breath-taking fun when done correctly, or ends in a flip when done poorly. Ferry out into the current, sweep on the left, brace on the right (or vice versa if you are on the other side of the river).

Swimming in whitewater. First get that critical breath of air that you need, then float on your back & keep your feet up, hang on to your paddle!!, get the paddle and the end loop your boat together in one hand and have the other hand ready to grab the back loop of the rescue boat. Listen for additional instructions from the rescue boater. Kick with your feet to help the rescue boater tow you to shore.

Recognize and avoid hazards. Recognize hazards like strainers, undercuts, pourovers and ledge holes. Paddle like crazy and/or swim like crazy to avoid these hazards. If you and your kayak are unavoidably broached on the upstream side of a rock first hug the rock, then wiggle forward or back to get out of there as soon as possible.

Group kayaking skills - organization & river rescue techniques.

Follow the leader. Listen to the leader describe what is coming up, watch the leader, follow the leader.

Hand and paddle signals. Critical for communication when the group is too spread out to hear each other.

Read the river & pick your own route. Always watch what the river does to the leader's kayak, but maybe you will choose a slightly different route. Show a good line to the kayaker who follows you. Oops, the river has pushed you far off the leader's route, so deal with it. Or maybe the group is just class II paddlers like you. Observe what the river is doing and figure out your own safe, fun route through the rapids. Captain of your own boat, immediate rewards, immediate consequences, glorious fun!!

Scout and portage. Eddy out above the rapids, scout from shore if you can't see a safe route from the eddy, portage around the rapid if you are not sure you can paddle safely through the whitewater.

Plan A, Plan B. Part of making a good plan A to navigate a section of river is thinking about what happens if you cannot keep your kayak on the plan A route. If that puts you into danger, then maybe a different plan A is needed. Plan A often fails, so have a plan B ready in advance. As soon as you feel the river has pushed you completely off of plan A, then immediately start paddling towards your plan B destination.

Basic rescue skills. Novices are only expected to do their best to keep themselves safe. Real class II boaters should be able to help with rescues of swimmers, boats and paddles in the pools at the bottoms of the class II rapids. Can you tow a swimmer to shore? Can you work together with other boaters to quickly help push a boat to shore?

Constantly alert! Are you always alert to the safety of your boating friends? Are you ready to help rescue immediately whenever needed? Five seconds out of every minute on the river you should be looking around making sure all other boaters are safe.

More about: Kayaking & Safety Techniques for Whitewater Rivers - BRT Insights.

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