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Useful Whitewater Rescue Videos

posted January 14, 2018
by Charlie Duffy

I teach a fair number or ACA Safety & Rescue classes each year.  I’ve also lead numerous Instructor Certification Workshops.  The ACA Level 4 Curriculum covers many topics.  Some students/candidates are interested in real world examples where these skills come into play.  I was quite fortunate to have Charlie Walbridge lead my Instructor Certification Class.  One of the many interesting exercises was a slide show of various incidents we analyzed and took a stab at “what would we do?”.  With the proliferation of Go Pro video cameras, I decided to make a collection of successful rescues that I share as exercises for Instructor Debriefing exercises. 

Everyone should be very thankful to those paddlers that reported these incidents to the AW Safety Database (https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/view/) and shared their lessons learned so we can all benefit.  Everyone lets their guard down sooner or later – talented paddlers practice defense in depth and can manage these incidents.

Swiftwater Swimming Skills & Avoiding Flush Drowning

·                  https://vimeo.com/10290133

o   https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/3301/

o   One of the best examples of conserving energy in big water

·                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAtAFYkjVmw

o   I can’t find an entry in the AW Safety Database

o   NRS Instructional film, great rescue communication skills

·              https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/3214/

o   No video but a great instructional report on flush drowning, non-tethered rescue, and the need to maintain First Aid training

Four Corners (Scene Management), Plan A, B, C, …

·                 https://vimeo.com/68476394

o   https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/3724/

o   https://boatertalk.com/forum/BoaterTalk/1052440674

o   http://www.mountainbuzz.com/forums/members/1679-albums1324-picture6247.jpg

o   Not all rescue solutions are obvious.  This is why we box (enclose) the rescue site, so someone is in place when Plan A doesn’t work.  Also gives a great example on why bulk heads in kayaks have been redesigned.

Low Head Dams

·                 https://vimeo.com/12656654

o   No entry in the AW Safety Database (it’s foreign). 

o   Shows how difficult it is to escape this feature and challenges in rescues.

·                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g6n0O7T13o

o   https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/4034/

o   Better example of recirculation, note how small the drop is.

·                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW65pWAjDgo

o   I can’t find an entry in the AW Safety Database (it’s old, 1975)

o   Shows the hazards to rescue professionals dealing with low head dam rescues.

·                https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3Sc27E6ZCU

o   Nice video showing a wide variety of professional rescue techniques

Bad Hydraulic

·                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl-LjPG7ltc

o   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDDgOnDuDAE

o   No entry in the AW Safety Database (February 2015)

o   This is a great training video, lots of challenges.  It’s really special since you have videos from both the rescuer and the person needing assistance. 

Reach Rescue

·                 https://www.facebook.com/failarmy/videos/1252419981521828/

o   Unknown if in the AW Safety Database (January 2017)

o   Fast, simple, effective and no ropes.  Great example of RETHROG.


·                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz3gy5XyaBo

o   This is such a great training resource (not an incident)

·                 https://www.soundingsonline.com/voices/hypothermia

o   This is such a great training resource (not an incident)

Tethered Rescues

·                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_o43JnQknus&feature=youtu.be

o   Not in the AW Safety Database.

o   The Green River Race has the most incredible safety crew imaginable.  Lots of great examples of tethered rescues at Gorilla including the most famous clip at the 3 minute point.

Sieve & Stabilization Line Rescue

·                 https://www.instagram.com/p/BaR1ouwA8ks/

o   https://www.facebook.com/african.river.rat/videos/1256292557850175/

o   https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/22248/

o   https://thinkrain.blogspot.com/2006/09/initiation.html?m=1

o   Many pins have taken place at this spot and the hazard is well documented.  This is a great example in the use of a stabilization line.


·                   https://www.adn.com/outdoors-adventure/2017/08/15/daring-rescue-on-six-mile-creek-caught-on-video/

o   https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/14298/

·                   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvzumGifKPA&t=170s

o   Couldn’t find an AW Safety Database entry.

o   Well narrated.  Tethered rescue, hands on is key!

Solo Paddling·              


·    h              http://www.kayaksession.com/near-death-experience-on-belson-creek-ohio/?utm_content=buffercde16&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

o   https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/4096/


o   Paddling solo is one of the most common contributing factors to all reported incidents in the AW Safety Database.

Throw Rope Skills

·                 https://vimeo.com/72792859

o   AW safety database entry unknown.

o   Few films show very clearly why we need to practice our throw rope skills.

Undercut Rescue

·                 https://vimeo.com/150611975

o   No AW Safety Database entry, this was during a race on Daddy’s Creek.

·                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0xgRKB3Vu4&t=19s

o   No AW Safety Database Entry (Foreign)

o   Very close call

Hands On, Near Drowning, Situational Awareness, Equipment Trap

·                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvzumGifKPA&t=170s

o   https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/Accident/detail/accidentid/4396/

o   Excellent rescue with a lot of challenges.

Raft Unpinning

·                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nIAmxDinzU

o   Very challenging place to unpin a raft, worse yet – a bucket boat. 


·                 https://www.facebook.com/lance.beaber/videos/191139297696956/

o   No AW Safety Database report.

o   Many paddlers these days choose not to scout when necessary.  Yes it’s inconvenient but in a few cases may save your life as well as your friends. 



Useful Links to Low-Head Dam Safety Issues

posted May 12, 2017
by Charlie Walbridge

A discussion of low head dam hydrology, and what features make a dam dangerous, and how to mitigate them.



A list of low-head dam related fatalities nationwide:



A list of dam-related fatalities in Iowa going back over 100 years. Iowa has done a remarkable job removing or modifying low head dams.



The original video on dam safety: The Drowning Machine


AW Partners with Dam Safety Researcher

posted June 12, 2013
by Charlie Walbridge
article photo 2

American Whitewater's Accident Database contains more than 1000 fatal accidents and near misses reported over the last  35 years. We sometimes give qualified water safety researchers access to this material. Our latest research partner is Ed Kern,  a Masters Degree candidate in civil engineering at Brigham Young University in Utah. Click through for more information and a link to his web site.

Life and Death Beyond the Edge

posted January 9, 2013
by Adam Herzog

An article by Adam Herzog discusses risk taking, death, and other issues for Class V kayakers. First Published in Site Zed, a web site for thoughfrul essays about paddling sponsored by Immersion Research.

Adding Death into the Equation

posted October 2, 2012
by Doug Ammons

Link to Article about Liability & Rescue

posted April 2, 2012
by Charlie Walbridge

Dealing with Sudden Death

posted July 14, 2009
by Charlie Walbridge

Sudden death is a charged emotional event, often compounded by trauma among those who witness a drowning accident or try to rescue or resuscitate someone. Few people realize how little time you have for a successful drowning rescue. The sad facts are that unless a drowning person is pulled out within 6-10 minutes of going under, their chances are almost zero. Anger or displaced anger towards rescue and recovery efforts are not unusual. Excellent Resources for managing sudden death grief and trauma can be found on the Higgins & Langley website. These pamphlets, created by the Royal Hospital Foundation in Belfast, Northern Island, can be downloaded as needed


The GPS Project: Taking the “Search” out of “Search and Rescue”

posted September 1, 2006
by Eric Nies
article photo 1
Over the next decade, AW hopes to serve as the collecting point for GPS data on whitewater rivers for the purpose of aiding rescue professionals. We hope to create a set of GPS data for river runs listed on AW’s website, starting with the coordinates of the put-in, continuing with info on the major rapids and landmarks, and finishing with the numbers for the take-out.

A Primer on Critical Incident Stress

posted February 10, 2006

American Whitewater's National Accident Study

posted February 6, 2006
by Jennifer Plyler
Jennifer Plyler's National Accident Study was an effort to take a close look at fatal accidents in the paddlesport community using both U.S. Coast Guard and American Whitewater data. It is the most detailed look at accidents involving canoes, kayaks, and inflatables throughout the country.

Whitewater is Safer Than You Think

posted February 5, 2006
by Laura Whitman
Laura Whitman's article compares the accident rate among kayakers with other common sports and activities.

Table: Whitewater Fatalities 1975-2005

posted February 5, 2006
by Charles Walbridge
This has tables showing the number of fatal accidents by year and by state over the past 30 years.

American Whitewater Safety Archive - 1955-2000

posted September 27, 2005
by Dave Steindorf

Paying for Rescue (SAR) Costs

posted October 8, 2003
by Jason Robertson
article photo 1
Boaters want to be responsible, largely self-reliant visitors to America's public lands.  Our community does not desire to create a financial burden on the system as a whole. The issue of how government agencies pay for and execute search and rescue services is a thorny one that cannot be addressed with simplistic responses. In the attached analysis, American Whitewater describes why we believe there are significant legal and discrimination issues preventing the charging of boaters for rescue services, or requirement of medical and/or rescue insurance before being granted a boating permit.

Behold a Pale Horse, An Analysis: Safety concerns can result in lost access

posted July 9, 2002
by Jason Robertson
Well-intentioned, albeit misplaced, management decisions to restrict access are often made in order to protect you. These decisions affect the FERC relicensing process, recreational whitewater releases from dams, result in a proliferation of permits, and have led to a loss of access on many rivers. This article relates examples through which access has been limited by river managers' fears for your safety.

Flatwater Study Finds Alcohol Boosts Drowning Risk

posted December 19, 2001
by Jason Robertson
CHAPEL HILL - Recreational boat passengers are just as likely as operators to die as a result of drinking alcohol, according to a new study of boating deaths in North Carolina and Maryland. One reason the study revealed was that passengers who have been drinking often topple overboard and drown.

Risk Management in Six Steps

posted January 22, 2001
by Jason Robertson
The success of any risk management plan results from the understanding, simplification, and implementation of a program that actually gets used by everyone in the organization. The essential basics are fairly simple. Here is what American Whitewater has found based on examination of dozens of lawsuits against outfitters and the results of conducting hundreds of risk management consultations.

Liability and Recreational Use Statutes

posted December 11, 2000
by Jason Robertson
American Whitewater has consolidated the recreational use statutes from all 50 states. Now, for the first time, you can find out what your rights as a landower or recreationist are - no matter where you live in the United States. This page has links that describe how to protect access, and yourself as a landowner or recreationist. It even includes links to the actual laws!