Whitewater NZ/NZOIA River Rescue for Kayakers

Revised for Whitewater NZ and NZOIA by Matt Barker and interested parties, January 2007

Revised January 2007

Courses, Providers, Forms | River Safety | River Rescue

This course is designed for people who have already undertaken the river safety course and for those who are taking a leadership role on water above grade 3/class III.

Guiding principles for the course

1. Principle of Personal Safety
You must not to add to the state of crisis; every action you take must be seen as a carefully measured risk. You must minimise the potential for putting yourself and your fellow rescuers in danger.
2. Principle of Victims Best Interests
Everything you do must be in the interests of the victim's safety; don't put the victim in more. Think about stabilizing the situation and then resolving it.
3. Principle of Simplicity
Simple rescues are fast to set up and often get the job done with a minimum of equipment, which in turn leads to a quick solution.
4. Principle of Maximum Usefulness
In every rescue situation it is vitally important to fully utilise your resources to make an expedient rescue. Roles and versatile equipment in a rescue are of high importance.
5. Principle of Clean Rope
Knots need to be releasable under load and/or be able to pass through an HMS or pear shaped karabiner. Rescue ropes should have any knots or handles removed from the loose end.
6. Principle of Presumed Insanity
Never underestimate the power of a nearly drowning person to try to save them self at any cost. Don't let the victim drown the rescuer.
7. Core Principles of Gear Recovery
Rescues should never be confused with gear recovery. Rescues need instant action to minimise the situation spiralling out of control; people are in mortal danger. In a gear recovery people are not in danger so the rules of engagement have a very different focus. Of primary importance is to not endanger anybody.
8. Principle of Least Risk
Is the recovery of someone's gear really worth it? In gear recoveries time is of little consequence and careful consideration must be made and the time taken to double-check and ensure everybody's safety.
9. Principle of Clear Communication
When the time pressure is off in gear recoveries it is doubly important that mistakes are not made in your communications. Mistakes can be very costly in both time and peoples lives.
10. Principle of Using Natural Forces
Make it easy, let nature help you. Work downhill and/or with the flow of water wherever possible.
11. Principle of Diminishing Returns
Use the minimum mechanical advantage that gets the job done.

Course Content


  • Equipment available in New Zealand its use and dangers.
  • Rationalisation of equipment carried (too much or too little)
  • Team principle of rescues
  • Rescue timelines (Maintaining airway a priority)
  • Knowing your limits


The practical side of the course is broken down into four key areas:

  1. Getting there
  2. Extraction
  3. Packaging
  4. Evacuation

The course should cover but is not limited to the following skills in each category.

Getting there

  • Getting out of boats in hard places
  • Sprinting to rescue sites
  • Throw bagging
  • Paddle hooks
  • Getting ropes across 25m+
    1. Pendulums
    2. Ferries
    3. Tracking
  • Improvised climbing/abseiling harnesses
  • Italian hitch and direct belays
  • Assisted hoist/ lower


  • Maintaining airways
  • Tools
    • Saws
  • Rope tricks
    • Zip line
    • V lower
    • Shuttle line
  • Mechanical advantage
    • 2-1
    • 3-1
    • vector pull
  • Rope and Kayak Ladders
  • Extraction from holes and of unconscious victims


Preparing evacuation, using the resources that are readily available on a kayaking trip.

  • Dislocated shoulders
  • Lacerations
  • Leg immobilisation
  • Hypothermia


  • Improvised stretchers
  • Rafting
  • Assisted ferries
  • Pontoons

Instructional Format

These skills should be taught in a series of workshops and scenario based experiences.