As the demand for International rafting federation courses is growing year on year, I am noticing that I am able to travel to new exciting destinations to run IRF courses. This year alone my travels have taken me to Morocco, Nepal, France, UK and now to the Ukraine for their first ever IRF workshop with Kiev Kayaks.
After a period of email communication with Anton Federenko of Kiev Kayaks my bags were packed and I was heading out to the Ukraine not knowing what to expect.
Anton kindly picked me up from the airport and took me to his river base in the middle of the Ukraine. We arrived late in the evening and to be honest I was dead beat tired having spent the whole day travelling. So a quick set of hellos, then off to bed.
The morning of day 1 kicked off with the typical course introductions. Having now delivered a few workshops I now have a set pattern of how I like to run my workshops.
First off I needed to asses a few key points
- Our communication skills. I do not speak Ukrainian & I know that my fast Northern English accent can be hard to understand sometimes. I was happy in the end as 80% of the group had really good English. I was also lucky to have a interpreter Andri, who was also a kayaker.
- The groups prior experience. This became quite interesting as the group was pretty big, we had 12 participants in total. The ability of the group ranged from a medalist at the 2015 Adddas sickline Kayak championships right the way through to a handful of local guides with no formal training.
I decided to strip everything back to the raw basics. I had arranged the workshop over 5 days as this allowed me to really concentrate on getting the basics right before we could move onto more advanced options. We got dressed and made our way to the river. After a quick discussion about PPE (personal protective equipment) we started on safety talks. I was aware that I had a few trip leader candidates. I asked for a volunteer to step forward. Lurii stepped forward and presented a really good safety talk that only needed a few minor tweaks.
After Lurii´s talk we discussed what constitutes a good safety talk and these were the outcomes.
Set the scene: In order for the talk to be effective the customers must be positioned in such a way that the guide giving the talk is the sole focus of their attention.
Actions speak louder than words: I explained to the guides that in various other rafting destinations around the world not all of your customers will speak the same language as the guide giving the safety talk. We also discussed the fact that people remember actions more than words. A simple exercise of giving a safety talk without talking was shown & appreciated in the fact that all of the relevant information was given in half the time of a normal vocal talk.
Give correct demonstrations: Show your customers exactly what you want them to do. If you show the customers the wrong technique they will practice the wrong technique. A classic example of this was explaining to the customers that if they fall out of the raft to adapt the whitewater swimming position.. Where infact we want the customers to participate in their own rescue and swim back to the raft aggressive style.
We moved on to the river where I got to see some pretty good guiding skills. We had a nice 200m section of class 3 where we could easily run laps which was great. I did notice that the guides had been running the same lines for years so I spiced things up and got them too run some new lines. Been situated on the bank I could asses more guides a lot quicker. I would have plenty of time to be in a raft with them during the week. I was also useless in the raft as I was struggling with the Ukrainian paddle commands.
The main issue here was that the candidates were trying to guide the rafts in racing mode which meant a lot of things were rushed. We spent the afternoon slowing things down. We really focused on the guide controlling and steering the raft and using the customers as the "engine". Instilling the discipline into the crews to only paddle when the guide tells you was interesting to watch. We also looked at the totally new commands of "Get down" "Hold on" and backwards paddling. After a few hours of hard work we were making good progress.
Later in the day we looked at personal whitewater swimming skills.I needed to instill the thinking process into why where & how we swim instead of just jumping in. After a afternoon a trying some new techniques and strategies we ended day 1 with a swimming Olympics, which I also used as the personal swimming assessment as per the IRF guidelines.
- Round turn & 2 half hitches
- Clove hitch
- Figure of 8 Bite
- Water knot
- Alpine Butterfly
- Overhand bend
- Double fishermans
- Friction Hitch
- No knot
- Communication (Have clear communications systems always.)
- Line of sight (Always have line of sight with the raft in front and behind you.)
- Avoidance (Avoid any necessary risk by taking the safest lines and having clear communication.)
- Positioning (Clearly position yourself so that you are combining the 3 elements above.)
After lunch we got stuck into some throwbag work. We looked at various designs of throwbags along with the construction of a throwbag. I introduced the group the the cleanline principle and then we were good to go.
We took the time to look at various belay options along with introducing thrower positioning.
Once the group was happy with the basics we moved on to some more advanced throwbag rescues such a "drop bagging" & double swimmer throws.
The next section to be looked at was throwing a coiled rope. We looked at the benefits of
- Small coils vs big coils
- Butterfly coils
- The TRU technique
I found it challenging to explain to the group that there was not one set way to re-throw a rope that in fact there were many different ways which also work for a variety of different people. The group also agreed with me when I mentioned that throw bagging should be practiced lots.
The IRF throwbag test ended the afternoon session which all of the team passed confidently.
Our evening session continued with stepping up our rope work skills. We started off by looking at the following subjects:
- PRE (personal rescue equipment) based on the 4,3,2,1 principle
- Anchor tying and the forces associated with this
- Progress capture using pulleys & prussik loops
I had now manged to teach all of the foundation skills needed to build a mechanical advantage system which would follow on the morning of day 3.
Day 3 arrived and is affectionately know as "Wobbly Wednesday". All of the candidates were a little tired after 2 testing days on the river. I decided to keep the team on the land for the morning so that we could spend the morning looking at pinned boats and mechanical advantage systems.
The Big 4 for unpinning a raft were practiced
- Strong arm pull
- Rope pull
- Vector pull
- MA system
I then introduced the group to building mechanical advantage systems with basic river equipment. We all built the following systems.
- Internal simple 2:1, 3:1, 5:1
- Internal Compound 9.1
- External 3:1 , 4:1
The group also found the T method for calculating MA quite useful. We ended the session with the standard IRF ropework test.
The afternoon session of day 3 was spent exploring true rescues, mainly live bait rescues. A short session explaining to the group the mechanics of the chest harness function on their PFD´s led us perfectly into the practical side of their use. First we practiced releasing the harness under a load and then we practiced live bait rescues.
The morning of day 4 was spent looking at entrapment's. We practiced a selection of systems used to quickly rescue an entrapped customer. We all agreed that the best method was the down & dirty technique of getting hands on as quickly as possible. We also strongly agreed that river rescue is a teams sport and should be practiced
as a team.
In my eyes most group now had all of the skills needed to tackle a trip leader scenario assessment. We spent the remainder of the workshop working through the trip leader scenarios for the trip leader candidates to pass the required level needed. We got a few funny looks from some of the other local rafting companies practicing all of this unneeded strange foreign voodoo magic but we did not mind.
The trip leader scenarios were completed with ease and it was heart warming to watch the guys putting some new ways of thinking and skills to use.
The Morning of day 5 started with flip drills before tacking the IRF written paper before final debriefs and goodbyes.
The Ukraine now has its first IRF certified guides and trip leaders. It was a privilege to work with these guys. Good Luck !