Safety on the river

Kayaking is a team sport. You count on your buddies, and your buddies count on you. While you’re on the river, you should make your own decisions, and choose your own lines, however you should also keep an eye out for your buddies, and work as a team to move downriver through the rapids.

Look behind you after every rapid and do a quick headcount. Better yet, have a buddy system, where each person has a paddle buddy and watches out for that person.

In addition, to help my buddies, I carry the following items in the stern of my kayak:

1. Throw-bag: The number one item to have on the river. A throw-bag can be used to safely extract a paddler from the water, setup a Z-drag, serve as a rappel rope, and much more. Rule of thumb is to carry the longest throw-bag you can carry in your boat. In general, the longer the better, as chances are you won’t be within reaching distance of your friend.

2. Pin Kit: Every so often, someone gets pinned, and the dead-weight that is a pin-kit gets put to good use! My pin kit is comprised of the following:

-2 to 3 carabiners

-1 or 2 pulleys

-2 prussik loops made of thin cordage

-4 feet of Tubular Webbing

Everything has multiple uses, however, in general, the tubular webbing is used as an anchor, and the rest can be used to set up a Z-drag or other form of extraction.

3. Break-down paddle: Commonly overlooked, it is my belief that this is one of the top three pieces of safety equipment to carry with you on the river. In the event someone swims and loses their paddle, a paddle is broken mid-rapid, or a paddle is broken on a hike in by falling boats, etc… you never want to be up a creek without a paddle. Carry it for yourself, for your friend, or the random paddler you’ll someday see stranded on the side of the river. Breakdowns come in a variety of styles- 2 piece for those paddling bigger, longer boats, and 4 piece for the smaller, short boats.

4. First Aid Kit: This one is optional. I carry one, because like I said, you never know what things are going to hit the fan.  You can carry your basic first aid kit on your backyard run, or a bigger one for an overnight trip.

5. Airbags: Airbags belong in the stern of your boat on either side of the foam pillar. They help in the event of a swim by displacing incoming water, and keeping the boat afloat (believe it or not, kayaks CAN sink!). In the event of a swim, the boat will be easier to tow to shore, and take far less time to empty of water.

Before you go paddle, consider the following, and pack accordingly:

1. Where you are going?

2. How much daylight you have?

3. How many people will be in the group and what are the abilities of the paddlers?

4. What are you paddling- Class I-V or an overnight trip?

5. How close is the nearest road?

If you find yourself paddling in more remote locations, or on an overnight trip, you may choose to carry an emergency pair of fleece gloves and a hat, and a waterproof headlamp/flashlight.

Happy Paddling,

Kim Russell

About Kim

Kim Becker is a professional whitewater kayaker with a passion for any form of river play. A Bend, Oregon native, she grew up paddling (11 years ago!), and will always have a soft spot in her heart for the Deschutes River. She is 2010 and 2011 Women's Champion of the Western Whitewater Championship Race Series. She paddles for Wave Sport Kayaks, AT Paddles, Kokatat Watersports Wear, Snap Dragon Designs, and FiveTen.