Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Whitewater Self Defense Starts With Education

Written by Justin Padgett, M.S., Paramedic, WEMT. Padgett is the Executive Director of Western North Carolina based, Landmark Learning, a nationally accredited school for the education and development of persons who work and recreate outdoors. Justin is an ACA Level 5 Instructor Trainer in Safety and Rescue and a Level 4 Instructor Trainer in Kayak. Justin has been an ACA Instructor since 1997, and currently serves as a member of the Safety and Rescue Committee.

Strainer bar drill during a swiftwater rescue course.
"Safety is no accident." I'll bet most paddlers have heard that a few times over their paddling careers. These are famous words from the grandfathers of River Rescue. Many of us who currently teach Safety and Rescue coursework for the ACA continue to share this phrase with students, as a focus on prevention. It's hard to come back from death, ya know. Certainly, none of us go to the river boating with the plan to die or get hurt; however, many of our friends, relatives, and members of our boating communities do die on whitewater rivers each year. 

While working on this article for the ACA blog, a kayaker fatality was reported in one of my favorite spots - the Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon outside Gatlinburg, TN. It is likely that our access to stellar modern equipment, youtube, helmet cameras, complacency, and maybe some ego has led to experienced boaters adding their names to Charlie Walbridge's Annual Accident report in recent years. In the past, drowning victims were rafting participants, tubers, and folks that knew nothing about hydrodynamics. Now it’s us……river people! Thanks to American Whitewater you can see reporting by year yourself here in the American Whitewater Accident Database.

This year was a revision year for the ACA Safety and Rescue curriculum, and as a proud member of that committee I can tell you that we made changes based on instructor surveys, committee experience, annual reporting on whitewater deaths, and accident trends. With the information age, we talk to each other more, we report more through social media and other electronics, and in the end we learn a lot. It is through sharing stories, strategies, and lessons learned that we are able to grow. This has always been part of our education in the outdoors. Although many of these stories start with “No joke….there we were” or something similar, the end message, whether good or bad, is always important to our development as river people.

Education is a big part of prevention. The ability to evaluate and navigate hazards along with the ability to adequately assess your own paddling skills is key. 

Safety and Rescue education is offered throughout the United States and around the world by talented and well-educated ACA Instructors. Look for these courses; they are available to you. In addition, this year in October the ACA will host the 2nd National ACA Swiftwater Rescue Conference in Dillsboro, NC. There will be something there for everyone, from boaters of all levels to firefighter and rescue workers and swiftwater rescue instructors. You can find out more about this conference and the speakers on the ACA's Swiftwater Rescue Conference website.

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