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Swift Water Safety - discussion & advice

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by joeb, Aug 15, 2017.

  1. joeb

    joeb middle aged guy who lies around alot

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    All

    The tragic death of Luca Chiarabini started a discussion on dangerous river crossings. Per AW's comments, I thought it best to start a new thread dedicated to water safety and canyoneering.

    As more and more canyoneers venture into the Grand Canyon and other places involving swiftly moving rivers and/or deep cold water. A discussion thread where we can exchange advice and ideas on being better prepared when encountering dangerous water conditions makes sense.

    Please feel free to post experiences, lesson learned and advice.
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  2. joeb

    joeb middle aged guy who lies around alot

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    First off - nothing compares to proper training and preparation. For any type of water adventure, can you swim a least a mile? can you tread water for at least 45 minutes? If not, go get swimming and water safety training and to be able to achieve these two goals prior to heading out door for that packraft adventure down the GC.
  3. joeb

    joeb middle aged guy who lies around alot

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  4. ratagonia

    ratagonia

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    ?????????????????????????????????????

    It is easy to swim a mile in the grand canyon. Just hang onto your lifejacket and enjoy the view for 15 minutes.

    In other words, let's not get carried away. I do not have the endurance to swim a mile, well, I can, but it takes an hour. I can tread water for 45 minutes... easy with the Kokotat Maximus PFD. I have swum in a Colorado rapid 3X, and had to do neither of these things. The swims tend to be 3-5 minutes. So, let's keep this discussion, if people want to engage, to realistic statements. I have minimal whitewater rescue skills, and I know it. But I also know not to be attached to a rope when swimming in current, unless it is by a releasable knot with releasable anchor on the shore end too. But mostly I know that I DON'T KNOW, which makes me very very cautious.

    T
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2017
  5. Brian in SLC

    Brian in SLC Brian in SLC

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    I see what you did there....
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  6. joeb

    joeb middle aged guy who lies around alot

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    Tom

    I am going to borrow your soap box on this topic. People get rescued for the following reasons.
    1. Underestimating currents and the power of moving water and waves
    2. Overestimating one's ability in the water
    3. A false sense of security from a flotation device.

    Your quote of "Just hang onto your lifejacket and enjoy the view for 15 minutes." is a prime example of number 3. Approximately 1/3 of ocean rescues are people using boogie boards or other types of rafts/floats who get literally get carried into waters they can't handle. This type of thinking makes your PFD a crutch. A device that gives one a false sense of control and will lead one into situations they are not ready to handle should something go wrong.

    The analogy I see from canyoneering is the fact that you stress being able to ascend ropes, evaluate anchors and know how to escape potholes, etc to be properly prepared to descend canyons. However we all know that most of the time these skills are not needed. It is only when things go wrong do these skills matter and in a life and death way. Of course you can tackle the Colorado river three times and "not had to do either of these things" just like the majority of canyoneers get by without incident even though only about 10% of them have all the skills mentioned above.

    HOWEVER, that time that your raft blows away from you and the rapids come at you faster than expected and you get pummeled by the whitewater and your life vest comes off as it wasn't buckled properly then it matters whether or not you are a competent swimmer. Being able to swim HARD for a few minutes comes from doing swim practices at longer distances.

    Do I expect everyone to swim at an elite level? of course not, but being in a remote part of the Grand Canyon where self rescue is the only option - one better be a competent swimmer lest "one get carried away"
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  7. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    (Moved here from another thread.)

    Whitewater playgrounds? It's a subject for which I've gained a boatload of respect. No certifications here, all knowledge gained was OTJ.

    I did a fare amount of paddling in the 80s and 90s. Saw boats wrapped around trees, trapped, submerged, literally ripped apart, pinned against every kind of imaginable object - natural and man-made. Most of the occupants escaped without major injury.

    This is the most valuable take away I gained during that time. Never underestimate the power of moving water - NEVER! It's relentless. It's stronger than you'll ever be. And you won't defeat it. Your best play is to try and work with it. When it says no, try something different. Don't argue because it wins every time. Experienced two really close calls during those years, made a believer out of me - both times. My participation now is much less intense and or frequent.

    And if I EVER convinced myself that I needed to tie a rope to my person and get in swift water, it would have to be a dang good reason - even when going with the flow. And an even better reason going against the flow. As in life or death. Even then there would be a fail-safe quick escape process and the rope would be 5mm or less. (You can always pull over something bigger if needed, as has been suggested.)

    As for PFDs, in whitewater - Absolutely. But "swimming" in a PFD? In whitewater IS a misnomer. The resulting drag is extremely amplified. Its bulk makes even the most basic swimming strokes awkward and often ineffective. So, I understand Luca's logic and I'm sure he would have been successful without the rope trailing behind. 99% of the time, the PFD is required gear. Its best value in that environment is to give you a safe rest when you are spent... when you need it the most.

    Lastly, getting an appreciation/respect for moving water is vital. We took a group of young men last month down a tame whitewater river in the foothills of the Appalachians - class 2 and 2+. It's pretty much been an annual outing for the past 30+ years.

    The last rapid on the river before the takeout is a thousand footer that has big water (2+), a few holes and haystacks. It has an easy take out, so you can run it over and over. We traditionally have the willing participants make a floating run in just their PFDs... with a twist. They wear the PFD like a diaper, legs coming out the arm holes, strapped on tight. It frees up the upper body for swimming. It's a reasonably safe/fun way to gain respect for old man river. Some are one-and-done, while others can't get enough of it (self included).

    Our ultimate goal is that it's teaching a valuable lesson that can be learned in no other way.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2017
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  8. joeb

    joeb middle aged guy who lies around alot

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    Kuenn

    I think your training exercise sounds great and a lot of fun. Per Dave's concerns, I think the key element here is "Controlled Environment"
    1. the participants have already shown swimming competence
    2. seasoned instructors are present and know how to run the exercise properly and safely
    3. the risk exposure is enough to push the participant out of their comfort zone but not over their ability level

    it is important to note that while all ocean/swiftwater experts are solid swimmers, not all solid swimmers are ocean/swiftwater experts. Understanding how to "read" the ocean or the river and not "fight it" - comes from training exercises like this one.
  9. Dave Melton

    Dave Melton

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    Let me start by saying my comments on the previous thread were not a critique of or directed at Luca's accident. I wasn't there and I don't know any of the facts surrounding the incident. I'm not second guessing his actions in any way. My comments were directed at the other posts people were making on the thread, in the hope that maybe another accident might be prevented.

    I don't want to run this into the ground, but.....

    A river with class 2 and 2+ rapids Is not a controlled environment. Even in flat water with current, there can be many things under the water that can act as "strainers" (trees, logs, boulders, vehicles etc. that can trap you and kill you).

    There is a difference between a person experienced in whitewater adventures and a "seasoned instructor". (For purposes of full disclosure: I am NOT a Swiftwater Rescue Instructor). I have assisted with numerous training sessions as a team member and at NO TIME would we ever enter a swiftwater environment without a properly worn PFD. In fact, no rescuers are permitted within 10' of the waters edge during training or an actual rescue without a PFD. I agree with your statement about devices like boogie boards, rafts etc. that can get away from you and can't be counted on. I can't think of any survivable scenario that my properly fitted and properly warn PFD is coming off, so to me, it's a life saving tool and not a crutch.

    I would love to participate in Kuenn's river adventure sometime, but I'm wearing my PFD. (And I'm not going in any caves with you Kuenn - too scary)

    Please take this info for whatever you think it's worth, I'm not the PFD Police

    Dave
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2017
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  10. Mike Zampino

    Mike Zampino Canyon season never ends.

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    I am no swift water expert either, but I would guess that if someone doesn't know to fasten their PFD properly, then they also haven't learned other skills since this is one of the first things taught.
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  11. Kuenn

    Kuenn

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    Random comments.

    *
    My reference to leaving room to 1% "99% of the time, the PFD is required gear." is based on this recollection from years ago, posted in another CC thread.

    So the remote potential does exist that a PFD can actually be a nemesis (the inescapable agent of someone's or something's downfall). You may have observed a log (even size-able), tumble endlessly in the grips of a keeper, its buoyancy is at the root of its captivity.​
    *
    I am certainly not implying that you "can't swim in a PFD", only that it is very difficult in whitewater. Readers, especially novices, should not think a PFD is the great equalizer of turbulent water.​
    *
    The "diaper ride" experience is a "reasonably safe" (my qualifier) exercise. We WANT the flotation that the PFD provides, but at the same time when worn in that fashion it allows the occupants face to get wet, splashed, and momentarily submerged. Teaching the kind of respect for the river we're after. Again, this is done judiciously. It is the "last rapid" of ~13 rapid run over 5 miles. It helps deflate confidence that may have been over-inflated during the trip.​
    *
    The invitation is open to one and all! Both venues!

    Scary?? Eating at McDonald's is scary! All the rest of this stuff is just getting the most out of life on (or inside) planet earth!​

    Hiwassee River at Reliance, TN
  12. joeb

    joeb middle aged guy who lies around alot

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    All - glad to see dialogue here!

    So per Tom's comments about "45 minutes of treading water" & "swim a mile" being unreasonable.

    This is the PADI Scuba certification water requirement:
    *************
    Float or tread water for 10 minutes in deep water Most people naturally float in water and should easily be able to pass this test by just lying on their back and floating.
    200 meter/yard continuous surface swim or 300 meter/yard swim with mask, fins, and snorkel It's important to note that the swim is untimed, but continuous – which means you can take as long as you like, just as long as you don't stop.
    ********************

    Is this enough? well there are roughly 4 to 5 scuba deaths a year on the island of Catalina just off the coast of Los Angeles, it is where all the LA newbie scuba divers go to get certified and well as being a great place to dive. There are approximately 10,000 dives made on the island for the year and minor current on the east side of the island facing Los Angeles. My buddies are the ones who get to go out and retrieve the bodies off the ocean floor. I have personally rescued several divers attempting a beach entry/exit in surf.

    So from my perspective - this requirement is not enough for people going to into swift water situations.

    Why a mile? Well, here on the Big Island, there are multiple open ocean swim races of a mile in distance. The youngest finisher is usually 10 or 11 and the oldest finisher is usually in the 80's. Anyone doing GC adventures has the base fitness to swim a mile with some technique training and practice. At most ten to twenty workouts should do it unless one is starting out as a complete non-swimmer.

    The benefits - you will be able to swim MUCH faster!
    50 yard swim time:
    60 seconds - The average person who just knows how to swim to get by
    35 seconds or so - the average person who has gotten swim coaching with a couple dozen workouts or so
    23 seconds or so - Top notch competitive high school swimmer putting in 4 mile a day swim workouts

    So you can see that the initial investment yields a huge benefit - why does this matter?
    1. You need to get across the river safely prior to the rapids
    2. Swim training uses the same motion and muscles as paddling - again, gets you across that river faster and helps those situations where you are paddling against the wind.
    3. You will be more comfortable treading water doing rope disconnects and pot hole escapes
    4. You won't feel obligated to put your PFD on when you go down to the river's edge to get water or rinse your dish. (Ok - snarky comment but an example of how people can end up in the river WITHOUT their PFD)
  13. Jeff Randall

    Jeff Randall

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    I HIGHLY recommend people get at least level 1 of swift water rescue training. I've been through it a couple of times as well as the advanced class and it will open your eyes to what can be done and what shouldn't be done when it comes to swift water. Of all the training classes I have taken, swift water continues to be my favorite....and I hate water and I'm scared to death of drowning. But using proper techniques and understanding a little about hydrology can save your life or someone else's.
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  14. redneckdan

    redneckdan Barely Domesticated...

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    I'll 2nd that ^. I just took SRT-I this summer. Cert is good for 3 years but I will be going again next summer, its that much fun!
  15. Deagol

    Deagol too many hobbies

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    I (barely) lived through an example of this, although the PFD I had on was not a very good one. I can imagine this happening with even a good one. I have learned a lot since this time.
    In 1993, in May (high water) on the Animas River near Durango CO, we put in on the river. Not long after, we flipped in a hole. I got sucked in for what seemed like an eternity. My friend on shore also fell in with me but was able to get out. He watched me get re-circulated under the surface for what he estimated was at least 2 minutes. I was getting “Maytagged” endlessly and never got to the surface to breath. I got water in my lungs (??) and was very close to blacking out. I was obviously well beyond panicked and thought I was surely going to die- not a nice feeling. Words can’t capture that realization to me.. Anyway, I calmed down enough when I felt my awareness slipping away and was actually able to hatch a plan that I am pretty sure saved me. I decided to try to take off my life jacket so I could sink down and kick off the rocks below me that I couldn’t reach with the PFD on (I was too buoyant to sink down enough, but not boyant enough to come to the surface to breath). I got it mostly off and after some unknown amount of time, I realized my head was above the surface, albeit I was heading downstream super fast towards a huge class 3 rapid known as Smelter Rapid. I still had water in my lungs and was coughing bad but was able to kick off rocks sideways, not trying to fight the direction of the current. I was able to get to the bank of the river just soon enough to crawl out before getting pulled into the chute leading to the huge rapid. I was coughing and delirious, and took about 2 steps running to find my friend before the affect of the cold water dropped me like a rock. It was actually a very hot day out (which was a good thing) but the temp of the water was brutally cold. Once I recovered enough to go find my partner, I was still freaked-out, hypothermic, delirious, and super ecstatic just to be able to breath.
    Lessons learned: 1) thermal protection is a must. I was young and dumb and went it without any.
    2) You have a very limited “energy budget” that the cold water is constantly depleting. You can waist all your energy trying to fight the current, which is futile- or you can expend short bursts of energy at critical moments, working with the current to get you out.
    3) You need to stay calm and think it through. Think about how the river is behaving and look for eddies behind rocks.
    4) don’t try to stand up if the current is too strong and the water is above your knees (approximately). You can get foot entrapment by doing so.
    5) if you see yourself coming fast to a rock, position yourself to you your feet to deflect off the side- timing is crucial.
    Last edited: Sep 5, 2017
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  16. redneckdan

    redneckdan Barely Domesticated...

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    I did my SRT-I on the Animas. Glad I sprung for a dry suit. It's cold! A lot of our training was in Smelter to Corner pocket. Its even spicier now that they grouted in some features. In one exersize we had the option of going into a suck hole, on a belay line. It was scary but educational. First round I had to be pulled out. Second round I went with a less buoyant vest and was able to exit the bottom.
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  17. Deagol

    Deagol too many hobbies

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    Yeah, they re-did the whitewater park after high water washed away some park benches one year, it may have been 1993 since that was a big water year...

    It's been a few years since I have seen the park, but it's been much altered since my incident.
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