Thoughts on River Rescuing

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. At the very least you are still breathing. I wasn’t on the Seymour that Saturday and am not going to second guess the decisions that were honestly made in a moment of crises. I can add that the only fatality that I am aware of in BC involving a canoeist in the past 30 years did involve a river in flood. I have saved two canoeist’s lives and quite a few boats in that time.

So first the obvious; rivers in flood are dangerous. It doesn’t matter if you are a canoeist with lots of flotation or a kayaker; if you are in the water you are both equal and subject to the same temperature and turbulence. Shorelines disappear.

My observations on rescues:

Throw ropes are welcome at park n play spots. Think of Maytag on the Adams. I know of two times that they worked in a real situation. Both times the rescuer was already on the shore. Once I rescued Phil R and his son with a single toss on the Pasayten in the only grade III rapid while standing in waist deep water and the other was anecdotally related to me by Dave K. It involved throwing a rope to Wayne G immediately before the Tulameen waterfall at the Tunnel. (Since then we take out before the last micro eddy). All other times throw ropes have been less than useless, usually missing and always removing a potential rescuer from the rescue.

Most recently I was in my boat ¾ the way through a grade 3 rapid when a solo canoer dumped in a hole well upstream of me. I had lots of time, looked at the rest of the boulder rapid after me, and decided to get out my throw rope and out of the boat. The swimmer holding their boat was closer to the far side of the river so I waded out till I was up to my knees. I threw the rope and it landed just at the upstream end of the canoe. The swimmer saw it and grabbed on. They were holding on to their own boat on the far side and paddle as well but about one meter down from the end. As the rope grew taught they could not hold onto everything and so let go of the rope and swam the rest of the rapid. I was now stuck on shore, out of my boat and with 20+ meters of throw rope in the water. Not a very successful rescue.

Self Rescue – an opinion

Every good rescue starts with the swimmer initiating a self-rescue. (Hold on to your paddle and boat, move to the very upstream end and swim on your back towards what you think is the best shore. The weakness of this philosophy is that it often stops there, either because the leader/participants are unaware of better alternatives or are unwilling to do them.


A few years ago a group of us in the Beavers had a River Rescue clinic that started on Deer Lake. Towing a single person 30 meters was very difficult. On a river it is even worse since the closer you get to shore, as your boat enters the slower water, the more the swimmer drags you downstream. They never reach the shore and you can never hop out.

A better alternative — A canoer’s advantage

Canoe over canoe rescues

I and other members of the Beaver Canoe Club have performed canoe over canoe rescues consistently in up to and including grade III rapids. These include Tamihi on the Chilliwack at about 30 cms, (me), the grade III rapid on the canyon run of the Nicola, Brian & Karyn, the upper Similkameen at high water, Claude rescuing me, (oh shit said Claude) and so on. It is starts at Basic Paddlers in the Beaver Canoe Club and has been a part of the Club’s river running culture. It is noticeably missing from the “show and go crowd.” It is not a part of kayaking — can’t be done. It is certainly the criteria for anyone to accompany me on a first decent, (Coquitlam, Coquihalla, Similkameen Canyon, Nicola, Upper Coldwater, and Lilloette to Harrison Lake, etc.)