The whitewater boating community suffered another huge loss on Jan 8th, 2012. Just a few days into the new year, Bob Norr, age 20 from Maryland, was pinned and drown on Flatliner Falls in Blackwater Canyon WV. This is a very hard class 5 section of remote river with a history of taking lives and giving some very close calls. This loss, and the many we lost last year, gives us a good reminder to take a few minutes and reflect on how to have a safer boating year in 2012.
Paddle within your skill level: Stepping it up and pushing yourself to be a better boater on harder water is part of what brings people into the sport of whitewater boating. But, when its time, you need to take into consideration all the factors involved and take that risk with your head on straight. Using your time on runs that you’re very familiar with to challenge yourself will quickly improve your skills. Hit every eddy, make every move exactly as you planned and in the hardest possible manner will turn your local run into your own personal slalom course and give you the confidence to try harder runs.
Paddle with people with local knowledge: Nothing is as helpful as paddling with someone who can show you the ropes and lead you down runs for the first time. There are frequently unseen hazards that you’d most likely overlook if you didn’t know the run and have experienced it at various levels. Find someone with that knowledge, even if you hate the guy, follow him down and learn as much as you can. Running things blind is a sure way to get yourself in trouble.
If in doubt- Scout! Get out of your boat and look at sections/drops that have the possibility to collect wood. Nothing is as scary as being in a narrow canyon and seeing unexpected wood in front of you. Wood kills… as someone who’s been stuck underwater in a strainer for two very long minutes; I’m someone who’s learned that hard lesson. Two videos have popped up on YouTube within the last year showing some mid-river body pins on wood that most likely could have been avoided if they had scouted prior to running it.
Carry Safety Equipment: Carry a throw rope and insist that your paddling partners carry ropes too. The rope you’re carrying isn’t used to rescue yourself; it’s to rescue your buddy. If you happen to need a rope thrown to you, you’ll be glad that you insisted that others also carry ropes.
Practice with your safety equipment: Having a rope or a pin kit isn’t going to save the day if you can’t deploy it in time to be of help. When you need a rope, it feels like you needed it yesterday and you’ll fumble to get it into action. Practice will ingrain the basic motor skills needed to get a rope deployed when things go crazy. Don’t forget to keep your rope handy. Having a rope on your body, not tucked in your boat is very helpful as you’ll always have it available. You never know when you’ll need it.
Choose your paddling crew carefully. Unless you’re paddling solo, which is unwise but sometimes very rewarding, you’re going to run into people who are a danger to themselves and everyone else around them. You know the type, drinking heavily to build courage to run something, paddling above their skill level for ego reasons, or someone who’s basically ‘safety unconscious’. Once you put on, its everyone’s responsibility to make sure that everyone makes it to the takeout. Why add to the risk by tolerating people who obviously couldn’t care less about their own safety and would be useless in helping if something bad went down? Pick your crew wisely, its usually makes the difference between having a great time or not.
To wrap this little reminder up, let’s all work hard to keep ourselves and our paddling buddies safe this year, as not only is it horrible to lose someone close to you, but it affects the boating community as a whole. Know the hazards, consider the risk, plan your run and come back with everyone and everything you launched with.
See you on the river!