Both paddlers here are wearing cows-tails attached to there PFDs. The paddler on the left has a loose over sized cow-tail that is an entrapment hazard . Whilst the paddler on the right has a snug tight fitting cow-tail

Keep it clean !!

I remember attending my first ever rescue class in the UK in 1996 as a fresh faced 19 year old kayaker. I attended the course as I wanted to learn more about rescue and river safety.

During this time in the UK and Europe there was this new trend called the “Clean line principle” that was starting to gather momentum. Stories were coming to light that the handles on the end of your throwbag were potentially dangerous and could cause a snag hazard resulting in potential fatal accidents. “Clean line principle”

Any throwbag with a loop big enough to get a hand through is an entrapment hazard

The clean line principle advises us that a loop in either end of a throwbag is a potential  snag hazard. This means that the loop could potentially become snagged in a tree root or around a rock thus creating a potential entrapment hazard. We have always been taught that “Ropes and moving water are a bad mixture”. A swimmer or an object could then become entrapped in the snagged rope escalating a bad  situation. By removing any loops from your throwbag you were reducing the probability of creating a snag hazard.

In my eyes over the years the clean line principle has now evolved into the “Clean Principle”. We have taken our leanings from the clean line principle and applied them to our personal Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)  set up.

Unfortunately on my travels I am still seeing and hearing lots of stories of entrapment’s and near miss situations that could have been avoided if the “clean principle ” had been applied.

In this post I would like to give some examples of accidents and near misses and discuss some common solutions on how to avoid them.

1. Open gate carabiners

Probably one of the biggest causes of entrapment is caused by having non-locking carabiners stored on the outside of rafts, PFDs or around the waist.

This video has been on YouTube for a while now. As the guide hits the hole he falls back onto an open gate carabiner that is securing his throwbag into the raft. This then entraps the guide into the raft as it is surfing in the hole. This could have turned very nasty very quick.

Notice  how the open gate carabiner has forced its way through the pocket of the PFD

What we have learnt:

  • If you need to attach your throwbag to the raft use a locking carabiner and keep it locked at all times.
  • If you need to have locking carabiners on the outside of your PFD make sure they are locking carabiners that are locked.

2. Incorrectly fitted equipment.

Loose PFD straps or poorly designed kit lead to entrapment’s. The video below sums this up. The kayaker was entrapped by a loose PFD strap that was not correctly adjusted.

3. Flip line stored around the waist and over-sized cow-tails 

I will put my hand up for back when I first started guiding – I used to wear my flip line around my waist.
I remember been taught that having your flip line around your waist made it quick and easy to get to instead of having to route around in your PFD pocket during a flip. Unfortunately I then heard about a kayaking fatality from a friend who told me the kayaker had drowned due to becoming entrapped by the flip line wrapped around his waist.

Since then I have stored my flip line between my PFD and body, neatly rolled up which is easy to get to, plus it can double up as a quick 5m throw line should I need it.

Another massive misconception I see is the use of the cows-tail or affectionately known as a towing tether. The cow-tail was first introduced by German paddlers in the 80s. It’s intended use was to be able to attach a rescuer to the rescued or a quick way to attach a line to a entrapped person.

Over the years people have adapted the cow-tail to be used to tow swamped kayaks. Some manufactures have even gone as far as to market the cow-tail as a tow tether and increased its length to accommodate a tow. This has now led to massively excessively long cow-tails  dangling from PFDs which 9 times out of 10 are attached to a solid point that cannot be released causing a massive entrapment hazard.

Both paddlers here are wearing cows-tails attached to there PFDs. The paddler on the left has a loose over sized cow-tail that is an entrapment hazard . Whilst the paddler on the right has a snug tight fitting cow-tail

Many Paddlers have now opted out of using a cow-tail as most of the market available cow-tails are too long. I have simply cut down a piece of webbing and measured my own cows-tail to be a snug fit cutting down on the chance of it becoming an entrapment hazard.

You are your own unique individual and it is up to you to make the judgment decisions and accept the risk of how you set up your personal paddling equipment. Here are my top tips for reducing equipment based entrapment:
  • Always carry a knife that is easy to access  with one hand in an emergency.
  • look at your own personal set up and look at ways to minimize entrapment hazards.
  • Always ensure your PFD is correctly fitted and adjusted.
  • Take out or reduce any big loops in your throwbags.
  • Attend a whitewater rescue course and get tuition from a experience qualified instructor.
  • Share this article with your paddling community so that your days on the river don’t turn into near miss stories in the bar.
Safe paddling