Saturday, 17 September 2016

Carrying the correct personal rescue equipment ? A simple way to remember 4,3,2,1

Carrying the correct personal rescue equipment ? 
A simple way to remember 4,3,2,1

Whilst on my travels this summer running IRF & Rescue 3 courses around the globe for raft guides and safety kayakers. I find myself running into the same problem when it comes to guides carrying the correct personal rescue equipment (PRE). "Nobody has ever told us how much to carry" 

During this post I want to  explain a simple method that I picked up whilst watching the rescue for river runners series by Canadian river guru Jim Coffey ( Highly recommended). Having also had the opportunity to work alongside Jim this year on a IRF workshop I have now adopted this thought process for my own personal use and for when I am teaching on courses and its super simple to remember.

Most of us raft guides if we concentrate hard can just about remember to count from 4 through 1 backwards that,s 4,3,2,1,

4,3,2,1 is all we need to remember when thinking how much PRE we need to carry on the river. 

All of the equipment mentioned in this post is carried onperson by myself each time I am on the water.

4 Carabiner,s 

I carry kwiklock carabiners as a personal choice option. If I need to set up a system quickly the last thing I need to be worrying about is have a screwed all of my carabiners up. Regular cleaning and maintenance will ensure the gates dont seize. I also use HMS carabiners which allows friction hitches to be used easily. My recommendation DMM kwiklock BOA 25kn  

3 Pulleys 

I carry 3 Pulleys this allows me to construct a few different mechanical advantage systems if needed. Most guides will use a 3:1 or Z drag as there benchmark MA system where only 2 pulleys are needed. By adding a 3rd  pulley as a change of direction at the anchor end of my system will allow the haul team to haul at a different angle than the direction of pull on the main system. This means that if we have a system failure my haul team are out of the way of any supersonic flying pieces of debris from the fallout of a broken system greatly reducing the chance of somebody getting injured from a high speed flying  piece of broken kit. I recommend Rock exotica mini 1:1 machined pulleys  which as an added bonus are also prusik minding pulleys which means I dont need a prusik attendant minding my MA system. The rock exotica mini pulleys are also strong small and compact and take up very little room in your PFD

2 Prusiks

Prusiks can be used as the progress capture in a mechanical advantage system. One of the main problems guides encounter is carrying prusiks that are 2 thick. A good way to test to see if your prusik is the correct thickness for your main line is the pinch test. Simply pinch a bite in your prusik if the diameter of the hole is thinner than your mainline your pusik will work. If the hole is bigger than the diameter of your mainline your prusik will not grip your main line. I recommend Sterling ropes hollow block 6.8 sewn loop  . Sewn loops are stronger than traditionally tied prusiks that are tied with a double fishermans knot that always seems to get in the way and takes up space in your PFD. A carabiner and a prusik can also be combined with a raft or kayak paddle to be used to sink or raise a line across or under a river.

1 Flip Line 

My Favorite Piece of PRE a true multi purpose device. A 4m length of 25mm tubular webbing. Beside been used a conventional flip line this piece of equipment can be used for so much more. I will be dedicating my next post to this topic "101 ish uses of a flip line". For those of you with eagle eyes this is a prototype flip line myself and Gaspar from wwtc have been working on and is not yet available yet. Keep your eyes open for the WMD flip line in the not so far off future. 

1 Throwbag 

A good throwbag is a must. Again a throwbag is another MPD multi purpose device it can be used for much more than a throw line. I use a minimum line length of 18m as I find its the perfect length for me to throw effectively. I recommend WWTC throwbags   WWTC throwbags are becoming more and more popular now with not only river guides using them but a large section of the professional rescue services. One of the benefits of the WWTC bags are the optional carry system that has a added pocket that enables you to carry some of the above mentioned kit.

If you work in a regular team of guides if each of you were to use and adopt the 4,3,2,1 system you would never be short of kit based on a team of 3 guides you would collectively pooled  be carrying the following 

12 x carabiner
 9 x Pulleys 
6 x prusik 
3 x 4m flip line 
3x Throwbag 

With that amount of PRE and the correct training you would have plenty of equipment to solve most problems on the river.

If I get enough requests I will publish a post on advanced river rescue kit
good luck 

Monday, 27 June 2016

In to the Uknown (again) 1st IRF workshop in the Ukraine

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.  

The Flow of the safety talk: We discussed the correct sequence in which we should introduce the various subjects within a safety talk. We noticed that most guides give the paddle commands at the start of a safety talk. We discussed the fact that once you have completed the safety talk if you sit the customers in their paddling position in the raft and introduce the commands just before you get on the water the customers are more likely to retain the information given to them. Having the customers sit and practice the commands on the dry land also allows the guide to rectify any issues and give some good coaching points This can also work as a warm up too.

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.

Most of the candidates had come from a racing background. Primarily racing the former soviet design inflatable catarafts.

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.

We rounded off day 1 with a introductory rope work session. We practiced the following knots

  • Bowline
  • Round turn & 2 half hitches
  • Clove hitch 
  • Figure of 8 Bite 
  • Water knot 
  • Alpine Butterfly 
  • Overhand bend 
  • Double fishermans 
  • Friction Hitch
  • No knot
Day 2 kicked off with a quick revision of the knots we learnt on the previous evening. We also discussed river signals before heading to the water to work on our rafting skills. I wanted to now get the guides working as a team on the river using some basic river running principles. I found the CLAP model worked well for this workshop.

  • 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 !


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Raising the bar in the Himalayas

As many of us witnessed the disaster caused by the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, my thoughts turned to how I could personally help towards the long term rebuilding process. 
I have had the honor of travelling to Nepal for kayaking and rafting based trips since 1998. Since 2013 I have also run a series if IRF guide training programs and workshops for Nepali raft guides and kayakers.
Marshyangdi was an excellent venue. 
Nepal has the largest representation of IRF qualified guides on the current IRF guide register.

A large portion of Nepali raft guides now work overseas during the monsoon season in Nepal. I have personally worked with Nepali raft guides in countries as far away as Iceland. Nepali guides have a worldwide reputation for been hardworking professional guides. 

I wanted to arrange an IRF instructor workshop and create some new Nepali IRF instructors to ensure that the IRF standards are kept for years to come. I approached the IRF to see if there was anyway they could help with the funding of the course. The IRF kindly decided to waive the administration fees for the Nepali candidates on the course making it easier on the pockets of the guides who wanted to attend the course. 

From my previous experience of operating IRF workshops in Nepal I knew to expect big attendance numbers. I needed to recruit an IRF assessor to help me operate the course. I also needed a Nepali raft company to help me organize the logistics and hosting the trip. Paddle Nepal kindly provided us with bus and the equipment for the course free of charge which was great. 

I also recruited Canadian river legend Jim Coffey from Esprit rafting to be my co instructor on the course. I remember I was really impressed with Jim's series of river rescue videos called rescue for river runners. Jim kindly agreed to help with the project which was great. 

Jim explaining the finer points of the safety talk.
Over the following months I noticed that the course was attracting interest from around the globe. We now had bookings confirmed by guides coming from Ecuador, USA, Australia,UK & India  The course was taking shape fast. 

I had taken the time to select an appropriate river the workshop. I needed a testing class 4-5 river that would keep us on our toes for the duration of the workshop. I decided to re use the Marshyangdhi river which flows from the Annapurna region of Nepal, situated in the Lamjung area between Kathmandu & Pokhara. I have used the Marshyangdhi for previous courses and found it to be a truly testing piece of water. The top section compromises of around 18km of continuous class 4 & 4+ rapids. The lower section of the river below the dam has a 15km section of slightly easier class 3 & 4 rapids for those on the course who were looking for their class 3 skills to be developed.  

Any 5 day rafting based course is going to be physically demanding. So I decided that the group would need a good base for the duration of the workshop. Again I selected the Mango Tree eco resort on the banks of the Marshyangdhi to be our base for the week. The Mango Tree provided us with 2 really good meals per day and some comfortable tents to rest our heads at night. 

Going to the river, Mango Tree resort behind us. 
The week prior to travelling to Nepal I had been running an IRF workshop in Morocco. This was my first workshop of the season which meant I was primed and ready for the Nepal course. 

After arriving in Nepal I met up with Jim. We both spent a day kayaking the Marshyangdhi as a check out run to identify some potential teaching & trip leader scenario sites. Both myself and Jim both agreed that the Marshyangdhi was going to be the ideal choice of river for the workshop. 

The evening before the workshop started we held a pre workshop meeting. This was a chance for us to meet the students for the week and collect all of the relevant paper work: logbooks, first aid certs etc. 

The rest of the workshop looked like this:

Day 1 0600
Bus departure to the river  was at 0600 hrs. We jumped straight into course by holding  2 brief sessions on knot tying and river signals. This was the ideal wake call for the group. 
Once we arrived at the river and inflated the rafts we had a PPE (personal protective equipment) check along with a PRE (Personal rescue equipment check).
As we were 2 instructors on the course this gave us the opportunity to be able to assess 2 safety talks at a time. This is where we identified a few key points.

Safety talk key learning points (as previously discussed in other blog posts:)
  • Actions speak louder than words. 
  • Avoid using complicated English (keep it simple).
  • Arrange your customers into a place where you are the sole focus with no distractions. 
  • Summarize your safety talk into 3 key learning points at the end of the talk. 
  • Your safety talk continues during the trip, you should be constantly recapping your talk as you approach the rapids. 

We took to the water for a 3 hour paddle down the continuous class 4 & 4+ section of the upper Marshyangdhi. This gave myself & Jim the chance to observe and assess the raft guiding and customer communication skills of the guides as they guided their boats down the river. 

Day 2 0600
We decided that early morning starts were the order of the day. This gave us chance to take advantage of the cooler mornings. For our instructor candidates I gave an example of instructor standard theory session on safety kayaking tactics. This session had 2 main aims. 

1. The students got to see the required standard needed for instructor candidates who needed to give their own presentation later in the week.

2. The IRF is the only body to give structured safety kayak teaching. The session was a spring board into a discussion on the role of a professional safety kayaker on a commercial rafting trip. The key learning points were.
  • Safety kayakers who can also guide a raft and have rafting abilities are a big bonus on a commercial trip.
  • Safety kayakers need to be thinking 2 or 3 steps ahead of the raft guides on the trip. 
  • Forward thinking safety kayakers are able to put themselves in the right place at the right time in order to play a key role in a rescue if needed.

We took to the water and stepped up the tempo by looking further into the rafting capabilities of the students. We did this by observing the students making challenging maneuvers on class 4 rapids. These maneuvers included forward and reverse ferry glides along with some challenging breakouts. Each of the candidates came off the water tired and tested. We spent the evening looking into some of the rope work components needed for the following days rope work test 

Day 3 
Today was called wobbly Wednesday. The intense sun and heat was taking its toll on all involved with the course. We both agreed that today was going to be a park and swim day. We parked the bus at a convenient roadside rapid and spent the day finishing off the guide assessments. It was a pleasure to spend the day swimming in the river to escape the heat. All of the students were today put through their paces and tested on the following skills:
  • A challenging swim
  • Throw bag test making 2 throws with a packed and unpacked throwbag 
  • IRF flip drill 
  • Ropework test. The students had 5 minutes to construct a functioning  mechanical advantage system using their own equipment. 

During the day we also looked at the use of the integrated chest harness on our rescue PFD´s by practicing some live bait rescues. 

Days 4 & 5 
The next 2 days were spent running trip leader scenarios. We had started to notice that all of the students were starting to gel as a team of guides which was going to make the trip leader scenarios not only a test but a true learning experience. If you ask any guide who has already completed a trip leader scenario they will always comment that the scenarios are a true test of experience, judgment & skill and most of all the scenarios are fun. 

The first set of scenarios for the class 3 candidates were set on the lower section of the river. Both the trip leader and instructor candidates soon learnt the benefit of having well trained and focused safety kayakers assisting them on their scenarios. Between us Jim & myself were setting some challenging realistic scenarios. 

The second set of scenarios were help back on the challenging top section of the river for the class 4-5 trip leader and instructor candidates. We witnessed some true professionals at work here. The scenarios attracted lots of attention from the locals to the point where I had to tell one of the Nepali students to inform the locals that we were training and the man stuck in the river under the flipped raft was only pretending. Although we did see a concerned family cut a piece of bamboo to use as a reaching pole for one of our guides who was pretending to be a casualty of the scenario.  

Day 6 
Each of the scenarios was passed with flying colors along with all of the instructor candidates presentations. We put on the water on the morning of day 6 with one class 4-5 TL scenario to run. During this scenario we dealt with an unconscious victim. The scenario brought up the topic of carrying AED devices on a river trip. Hopefully in time to come we will start to see more and more AEDs been carried on commercial rafting trips. 

Ian acting as the unconscious victim during the scenario. 
The last section of the workshop was to spend the rest of the day testing the safety kayak skills for those who wanted to be assessed for the safety craft awards. We dealt with multiple & panicked swimmers along with unconscious swimmers. We also looked at way to control a raft from a kayak. 

As the course closed to an end each student received a detailed feedback session. The students all agreed that the workshop was a demanding but rewarding workshop with high standards in a fun safe learning environment. New friendships were made and the rafting world is now better off having some more IRF qualified instructors, trip leaders and guides from all corners of the world.   

Many thanks to Jim Coffey from Esprit and Paddle Nepal for helping to organize the course! 

Congratulations Nim, Josh, Grim, Ian, Chris, Daniel, Franco, Bharat, Dinesh, Bidur, Maila, Suraj, Arjun, Diraj and Manju! 

Happy paddling, Mark