The Rhododendron Roll – River Bank clutter, a Safety Consideration

Following the latest Duck Boat tragedy, I thought about the end of a recent boat chase and the potential entrapment in strainers. Between a group of us, a swamped kayak was bullied to shore, in amongst Rhodendron shrubs clogging the bank. This location appeared reasonable to us to get the boat and paddle onto a rather steep bank. 
I had hold of the swimmer’s paddle in addition to mine; quite a handful. For the purpose of trying to ensure the boat did not overpower the paddlers pushing it into the bank, I snuck in immediately downstream and nosed my bow in to provide support, while another paddler positioned just below me, with a bush between us.  Quite a confined space now occupied by boats and shrubs.
As one of the paddlers was pushed back, I wound up in the shrubs. Both paddles were ripped from my grip, before I could throw the swimmers’s paddle to shore, and I flipped. Now, I was upside down in a space likely occupied by roots, branches, and so on. Fortunately, I hand rolled up and stabilized on the rhododendron branches – or maybe I also used the clutter underwater to aid my roll! Success! I eased my way out of the shrub clutter, into the stream. However, a better use of my effort would have been to position for possible aid for the paddlers already in contact with the swamped boat, had they got into trouble!
Success, but at a the potential for yet another swimmer, or worse. The paddler bullying the swamped boat noted after about wondering how to help me if needed. If the roots and branches were larger and stronger, the outcome would have been different. The swimmer was on shore, and the paddles retrieved.
The lessons I take away are:

  1. Not to get too eager to ‘help’ a boat without considering the immediate scene and potential for entrapment, or compromising the effort.
  2. Overeagerness and the desire to help can produce unintended results.
  3. If in doubt, leave the boat.
  4. If the swamped boat is too hard to handle, let it go.
  5. Let it go into a more quiet and safer area.
  6. Possibly the most important in this or similar instances, don’t push into a tight space without consideration of exits for oneself and the others, even if it appears benign.
  7. Familiarity breeds ‘contempt’.
  8. Take another swift water rescue class and discuss rescues and retrievals, whatever that entailed.

Allan Wood

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