Canoeing Safety Equipment

Follow these helpful tips on preparing rescue plans for when things go wrong on the water.

  • A homemade throwbag is easy to make, and will fit your own special needs.
    Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books
  • A variety of commercial and homemade throwbags.
    Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books
  • To repack the throwbag, the rope is coiled into small bundles, and stuffed into the bag.
    Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books
  • A throwbag should be carried readied readily available in your canoe at all times.
    Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books
  • Slings are a very versatile tool. They can be made from rope (top two), or nylon webbing (bottom).
    Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books
  • A rescue pulley makes rope systems Work more efficiently.
    Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books
  • A collapsible "Sven"' saw, or a folding pruning saw are useful rescue tools.
    Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books
  • Carabiners are very handy for many Canoeing needs, and are indispensable in rescue operations.
    Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books
  • The pack which contains the first aid kit should be clearly marked.
    Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Books

Throw bags

A throwbag is a device which allows just about anyone to throw a rope accurately and quickly with a minimum of practice. There is nothing new about throwbags; they have been around since at least WWII, when the navy used them. A throwbag consists of a small nylon bag, with some sort of closure at the top, containing about 20-25 m of rope stuffed or coiled inside. The rope is ready to use; there is no need for any time- consuming uncoiling or untying before the bag is thrown. Although it is a simple device, there are many subtle details which can make one style of throwbag much more efficient than another. While there are many types of commercially made throwbags available, I have never found a commercial throwbag that has all the different characteristics which I require, so I have developed my own design. Throwbags are easy to make, and making your own will allow you to produce a custom product which specifically meets your needs.

For the bag, I use coated nylon packcloth which is strong, reasonably robust and abrasion resistant, as well as being soft and flexible. A problem with bags made of heavier material such as cordura or canvas, is that they tend to “bucket” when they are in the water. Such a bag holds it’s shape and acts like a “bucket” on the end of the rope, making the bag slower and more difficult to retrieve, especially in river currents. Once my throw- bags are in the water, the softer material allows the bag to collapse and turn inside out, minimizing the resistance to the water, and making retrieval much easier. Some people also use nylon mesh for their bag material. However, I have found that mesh, while providing very little water resistance, has the tendency to always get caught whenever the bag is pulled through branches or other debris. I use bright colours for throwbags. Using a contrasting colour such as red and yellow between the handle and the bag helps the victim to see what to grab onto.

The size of the bag will depend on how much rope you plan to carry, and the diameter of the rope. The bag must be big enough to comfortably contain all the rope. A bag that is jammed tight when all the rope is inside is slower and more difficult to repack. My bags are 30 cm long and about 18 cm in diameter. As a handle, I use a piece of 2.5 cm flat nylon webbing, sewn lengthwise around the bag, with a 10 cm semicircle of webbing at each end. This handle is very useful, not only allowing easy throwing, but slipped over the forearm it supports the bag when repacking, and also provides an easy way of attaching it to your canoe.

A 5 cm strip of velcro at the top of the bag provides secure closure. Most of the other bags I have seen use a pull cord and spring clip to close the bag. This type of closure can be slower to open, especially if the strings be- come tangled or frozen while they are banging around in the bottom of your canoe.

The next choice is what kind of rope to use. I use 9.5 mm yellow twisted polypropylene for my throwbags. There are number of reason for this choice. First of all it is inexpensive and readily available in most stores. Throwbag ropes can take a good deal of abuse. If you use your throwbag often, up to half a dozen times a day like I sometimes do, the constant dragging over rocks and debris will quickly wear the rope out. When it wears out, I simply replace the rope. Twisted polypropylene is also stiff enough to allow rapid recoiling and shifting back into the bag, quickly making it ready for re-use.

I use 25 m of rope in the throwbags. One end of the rope goes through a 3 cm hole in the bottom of the throwbag and is spliced around the webbing loop below the bag. Because the handle of the throwbag is directly attached to the rope, it can be used as a handle by the victim without ripping the bag. Inside the bag, the rope passes through a 15 cm diameter disc of 12 mm plywood, which gives shape to the bag and provides some extra flotation. The plywood can also provide a firm handle at the end of the rope. High density foam such as ensolite or camp mat foam can be used instead of plywood. It is softer, therefore to provide firm support for the bag, and to be of use as a handhold, a thick piece of foam is required which decreases the amount of space inside the bag. The other end of the rope has a fist sized loop spliced ir1to it, with a piece of plastic tubing around the rope to make it more comfortable to hold on to.

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