Steps to a Successful Water Rescue

Learn how to plan and execute a water rescue before you leave for your canoeing trip.

  • Ten basic steps will allow you to deal with any canoeing mishap.
    Photo by Getty Images/fullvalue

Over many years of dragging people and canoes out of rivers and lakes, I have come to realize that canoe rescue is no different from any other kind of emergency. You don’t need to worry about how to deal with a great variety of rescue situations. By following 10 basic steps you will be able to deal with any situation, whether it is a simple capsize in a lake, or a catastrophe on a remote wilderness river. 

The following ten steps outline the sequence of decisions and assessments that must be made during any rescue.   

1. Initial Assessment

The first step, initial assessment, is critical. This is where you first realize that a problem does indeed exist. The sooner this happens the more likely a successful rescue can be made. This is also the time when you must first ensure your own safety and then ensure the safety of the rest of the group. Protecting people at an accident or rescue scene is an on- going procedure, you should try to post at least one person to watch for the well being of the rescuers and the victim at all times. 

On a lake, it can be very easy to lose sight of the victim during the initial assessment, and during the rescue. Your best chance of maintaining sight of the victim is to place a watcher on a point overlooking the water. If the victim disappears, or the watcher loses track of him, it is important to always know the exact position where the victim was last seen. If at all possible the watcher should firmly fix this position in his mind using two or more in-line reference landmarks for the location. Protecting a river rescue scene may require one or two rescuers downstream of the scene with throw ropes, a rescue boat downstream of the site, and possibly a rescuer up stream of the scene to warn oncoming river traffic of the rescue in progress. 

You should take these precautions at all times to ensure the continuing safety of the rescuers. Accidents commonly happen during practice sessions as people are learning new skills, working in unfamiliar surroundings, and experimenting with new techniques. 

2. Problem Assessment 

The next stage is for you to make an assessment of the nature and magnitude of the emergency. This includes determining whether the situation is stable, deteriorating, or fluctuating. At this time you must also make the initial determination of the risk/benefit ratio, and decide if the rescue is to be carried out in Rescue Mode or Recovery Mode. 



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