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    What are you packing? Does size matter? – The bare essentials

       Words by Rosie

       on 29/09/2017 16:48:00

    We’ve all heard that infamous phrase:

    “It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that matters”.

    Of course, you all know I’m referring to the kit we carry whilst whitewater kayaking. It’s not what we carry, but what we do with it that matters, right? Well, I’d argue it’s actually both. Of course, you can have all the best kit – but if you couldn’t hit a barn door at ten paces with your throw line, it’s time to get practicing.

    22015404_10155592097021425_982279570_o (1)

    I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked the question “what safety kit should I be carrying?” This isn’t a bad thing; in fact I see it as a very positive thing. After all, it is my job to teach people how to be the absolute best they can be on the water, and that starts with keeping them safe. If people are asking these types of questions, wanting to know more, and wanting to be better – it shows they care about keeping those around them safe.

    Of course, and I can’t stress this enough, kit is useless unless you know how to use it and practice regularly! If you would like some advice or further training on how to keep you and your friends safe on the water – please drop me a message –

    What kit we carry and why changes every time we’re on the water. Changing depending on who we’re with, what we’re doing, the weather, the river, the conditions, the list goes on.

    No one piece of kit is right for everybody. Just because that throw line is perfect for your best mate, doesn’t mean it is for you too. So what should we carry and what do we need to consider when choosing what safety kit is right for us?

    I’ve cut it down to the absolute essentials. The kit I think every whitewater paddler should carry (and know how to use!) on the river…

    #1 – A Throw line

    Obvious right? You need to be able to rescue your friends if they’re swimming. But they can do a whole lot more than that.

    Here are just a few of the things I have used my throw line for:

    - Rescuing swimmers
    - Pulling boats out of holes

    - Returning kit to a swimmer on the other side of a river

    - Lowering/raising boats on steep terrain

    - Setting up a hand rail for people on steep banks

    - Setting up a mechanical advantage system (“z drag”)

    - Setting up a “live bait” rescue

    - Pulling somebody to the right side of the river to walk out

    So what are the important features of a throw line?

    22095474_10155592140456425_1960720363_o (1)


    I find an 18 - 20m throw line to be enough on most rivers without being excessive.

    Remember, you can always make a rope shorter by taking some out of the bag before you throw it. You can’t make it longer if it’s too short to reach!

    Sometimes, especially in steep environments, it can be useful to have more than this. Depending on the team and environment, I may carry an extra line in the back of my boat or I may utilise the ropes the rest of my team is carrying – if this is possible.


    Generally speaking, the thicker the diameter of the rope, the more comfortable it will be to hold once it has a load on it (e.g. a swimmer) but the heavier it will be.
    Conversely; the thinner a line is, the lighter it will be to throw but the less comfortable it will be to hold under strain.

    You can get both “round” and “flat” lines. Round lines tend to be more comfortable to hold but heavier than the flat line.
    This is a huge consideration. It’s a combination of the length, diameter and the weight of the rest of the bag.

    Why’s weight so important? Well, a throw line is only any good if you can actually throw it to someone! There’s no point carrying the longest, fattest rope in existence if it’s too heavy for you to throw!
    Picture this: you’re swimming (don’t worry, we all do it) and you’re about to swim into somewhere really nasty when you see your friend on the bank holding a throw line. Which of the following options is preferable?
    A) They throw you a line – and hit you perfectly. The rope is flat and a bit uncomfortable to hold, but they pull you in.
    B) They throw you a line – but it’s 5 meters away – the line was too heavy and your friend couldn’t throw it all the way to you. But don’t worry, if you could’ve reached it – it’s a lovely fat comfortable rope to hold!

    Ok, so that may seem a bit silly – but I’ve seen it happen.

    Am I saying don’t buy a thicker rope? No. I’m saying whichever rope you have, make sure you can throw it!

    If a line is too heavy for you to throw - get a lighter one! Don’t let anyone tell you this is wrong. It’s wrong to miss. Do what you can to not miss. It’s as simple as that.

    Other considerations

    Breaking strain – this is how much force it takes to break the rope – most ropes are above what will be needed, but be sure to check as they all differ. 1 kilo Newton (kN) is approximately 100kg of the force required to hold 100kg of weight.

    Re-packing the line – find out how easy your line is to re-pack. Not to re-pack and throw the line again, because who actually ever does that? But because you don’t want a throw line that takes the skin off your knuckles every time you have to put it away!
    Clipping in/snag hazards

    Have a look at the system on the bottom of the bag used for clipping a throw line. Some bags have a sling with a sewn loop, some simply have a rope loop and some have a metal ring. The easier the bag is to clip, the quicker it will likely be to set up a live bait, but the more likely it would be to snag. As with all choices, it’s a trade off. If you have a rope loop – tie it small enough that a swimmer can’t get their hand through it!

    Closure system

    Ensure the closure system of your throw line actually keeps your line in the bag and is easy to open in a hurry.
    My throw line of choice is the Peak UK 20m line:

    #2 – A Tape Sling

    This is probably one of the most versatile pieces of river rescue kit we carry. It can be used for towing, setting up anchors, reach rescues, helping people in steep environments and much more.
    You can simply go out to a climbing shop and buy a length of climber’s tape, or you could buy one that has been altered for paddling.
    I use a sling that has a very small loop sewn at both ends. Why? Because I carry it in my BA pocket with a karabiner clipped through both ends ready to start towing. Some slings only have a sewn loop at one end, and people often carry these rolled up with a karabiner through the end loop.

    I would advise that you carry your sling and karabiner ready to use (i.e. on your person). As you often need to use these without getting out of the boat.

    22095218_10155592106641425_1976425394_o (1)

    #3 – A karabiner

    This one could set off an age-old debate. Screw gate or snap gate? Or even twist lock?
    Some people will tell you that you should absolutely not carry a snap gate.

    I say that anyone who deals in absolutes is absolutely wrong.
    All of these pieces of kit have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, no locking karabiner (screw gate or twist lock) I have ever found has managed to fit over the shaft of a paddle. If somebody if stuck behind the curtain of a waterfall, “javelining” a paddle clipped to a throw line to them can be the only way to get behind the curtain of the drop.
    However – a snap gate used in a live bait is VERY DANGEROUS! Never use a snap gate in a “live bait” rescue. When twisted, they can unclip themselves from the rescuer. If in a panic you could accidentally reach for a snap gate, you could put somebody in a lot of trouble. You have to know you would never use it in the wrong place. Some people don’t carry them for this reason.
    So which is better? It depends what you are using it for. I carry both. My advice - if you are only going to carry one, make it a locking karabiner such as a screw gate or twist lock.

    #4 – A knife

    Moving water is powerful. The second we start using ropes and slings – we have systems with a huge amount of force in them (hundreds of kilos). We need to be able to release this system instantly in case of emergency – say somebody comes downstream or somebody on the bank gets trapped in the rope and is about to get pulled downstream. We need to be able to cut that system free. It’s a last resort, but it’s one we’ll be grateful for having if we ever need it.

    So what do we need to consider when buying a knife?
    There are three things a knife needs to be:
    1 – Quickly accessible and open-able with either hand.
    2 – It needs to lock in the “open” position – so it can’t chop your fingers off in use.

    3 – It needs to be sharp.
    In my time on the water, I am thankful to say I have only ever used my knife for cutting cheese and chorizo. I hope it stays that way.

    #5 – A whistle

    A whistle – for attracting attention. It needs to be loud, and you need to be able to get it to your mouth with either hand. I have mine attached to my buoyancy aid shoulder strap. There is really only one whistle I recommend, louder than any other I’ve heard and a simple, reliable design.

    Buy a Fox40 whistle, when you need it, you’ll be glad you did.

    So what next?

    Go and find what kit works best for you – and get your own. Canoe and Kayak store have a deal on multi-buys of rescue gear for #SafetySeptember. This is a great chance to get multiple bits of kit together. Have a look at the package on their website, and if any bits don’t suit you give them a ring and they may be able to swap pieces out for you.

    September Safety Kit Photo

    Once you have the kit, go back to my advice from the start.
    Learn how to use it – then keep practicing using it. If you want to learn more about how to use your kit – get in touch and I will be happy to advise ( ) . If you already know how to use it, then get out and practice with it; regularly!

    Here’s a little challenge. Next time one of your friends tells you they have done a Whitewater Safety and Rescue course, praise them because they clearly care about keeping others safe. Next ask them how long since they practiced throwing a throw line, and if they want to spend 5 minutes practicing together. If we all spent 5 minutes practicing throwing each time we are on the river, I bet we could all be a lot better.


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