River Reading & River Safety for Whitewater Canoeing : How to Swim in Whitewater Rapids


When you flip on the river and aren’t able
to roll and have to come out of your boat, its real important that you follow a couple
of basic rules for swimming to keep yourselves safe. The number one rule is don’t ever
stand up. When you’re out of the boat, when you’re swimming on whitewater, the most
dangerous thing to do is try to stand up in the bottom of the river. There are lots of
cracks between rocks, lots of other obstructions on the bottom that you can’t see that could
trap a foot or an ankle, and with that, if you get your foot trapped on the bottom, the
current pushes you forward and you can’t breathe. That’s called a foot entrapment,
probably the most dangerous thing that can happen on the river, and the easiest one to
avoid. The way to avoid it is, to keep your feet up, keep your toes up on the surface
so that you can see them. As long as you can see your toes on the surface of the water,
it’s virtually impossible to get foot entrapment and that’s a good safe position. The other
thing you want to do with your feet is keep them pointed downstream, your feet bounce
a lot better than your head, right, so you want to have your feet bounce off the rocks,
you want to have your feet hit the obstacles first and um, it gives you good visibility
as well, because you can see downstream. So floating on your back, with your back arched,
your feet up so that you can see your toes, your head kind of looking downstream, okay,
you can be alert, you can see where you are going and you can see what’s coming up.
Then once, that’s called the defensive swimming position, from the defensive swimming position,
once you see where you want to go, you can use a more aggressive swimming position, to
turn over onto your stomach and do the crawl, swim as hard as you can. You can use that
swimming position intermingled with the defensive swimming position, depending on what kind
of rapids you’re going through. Some shallower places, it may be better to defensively swim
on your back, in deeper places where you know where you’re swimming toward you may want
to turn over onto your stomach and swim hard. Of course if you have boating gear with you,
you can hold that in one hand and kind of do a sidestroke with the other hand and swim
yourself over. You can do all the maneuvers when you’re swimming that you can do in
a boat, you can do eddy turns, peel-outs, ferries, but they are more difficult, you
certainly can’t move, you’re not as agile when you’re swimming and when you’re doing
those moves, you’re crossing eddy lines, you have to cross them at a lot more than
you would if you were in your boat. So remember the number one rule, keep your feet up, don’t
stand up, defensive swimming position, feet pointed downstream, on your back, float with
your butt high by keeping your back arched and you should be able to get through most
water that you can paddle through and uh, keep safe.

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