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Wrapped rafts: Rescue tips for Guides

Wrapped rafts: Rescue tips for Guides

A wrapped raft is one of many challenging situations faced by whitewater river guides.  A wrap occurs when a river raft is pinned between an immovable object and water, and the paddlers or the guide do not successfully move to the high side to prevent the water from pinning the boat to the immoveable object.  This presents a situation where the whitewater boat is stuck in swiftwater and oftentimes is very well plastered onto the rock, log, or whatever it may be stuck on.  Every wrap is different but there are some general guidelines that will help in best assisting in this swiftwater rescue!

A boat is badly wrapped here! What is the priority of the rescue?

The number one priority in ALL swiftwater rescues are the rescuers themselves.  With the wrapped boat, the rescuers may actually be the people in the boat, so it is important to not make the situation worse!  Start with a good scene assessment and stabilization of any passengers in the raft that may be at risk for becoming victims.  Most of the time, a wrapped boat does not create any victims in the rescue, but poor planning and thoughtless actions can quickly make a simple swiftwater situation more complex.

Many whitewater river guides will unload their passengers onto the rock they are stuck on if it is big enough, or will bring up a rescue boat behind the stuck raft to unload their passengers.  If the passengers can swim and there are good eddies and downstream support setup, it is okay to ask passengers to swim to shore downstream.  Do not try to unload passengers upstream of the raft as it poses an entrapment hazard if they were unsuccessful getting off the boat and fell in the water.

The downstream boat is rescuing the passengers while the other guide helps to free the wrapped raft

Once the boat’s passengers have been stabilized there are a number of techniques that work well to get the boat unstuck.  They include:

  • Shifting weight
  • Unloading gear
  • Bouncing on a tube
  • Breaking the friction between the rock and the boat
  • And more techniques!

Many guides without proper swiftwater rescue training will go with a rope system first and try to “pull” a wrapped boat off.  This technique is foolish as a first tool for this rescue, and should be used as a last resort for wrapped boats!

Competent guides with Swiftwater Rescue Training will know the tools to handle this situation successfully and get their trip moving down the river in no time!  Remember, it is JUST a raft, and there is no excuse for risking your life or anyone else’s’ to save this piece of gear.  Play hard, be safe, have fun!

This raft is buried in whitewater, and took more than 6 hours to free.