I’ve had a few people ask me what to look for when buying a new line, so thought I’d put some pointers up here.
First of all, try everything! It doesn’t matter how good something is on paper, or how many rave reviews it gets online, unless you find it easy to throw and repack, it’s of no use to you.
Rope Length: Short lines are usually used by raft guides to be quickly deployed from a raft. For most people boating in the UK though, 20 metres is a good length to go for. It allows enough length for a short drag in a pinned boat scenario and is also long enough to throw on our typically narrow rivers. Lines of 25 and 30 metre length are mostly only used for unpinning boats and rafts, as their weight means that they can’t easily be thrown for their whole length.
Rope Diameter: The thickness of the rope affects it’s strength as well as it’s handling. Very thin lines (usually less than about 7-8mm) can be painful to hold on to when they are weighted.
Rope Strength: Some lines are designed as personal lines, purely for fishing out swimmers and live-baiting, whereas others can be used for hauling boats and in mechanical advantage systems. The higher the breaking strength, the more you can safely use the rope for.
Shape and Weight: Some throwlines have a very narrow neck, which makes it hard to re-pack the line fast. The bigger the opening, the easier it will be to pack the bag with cold hands on the river bank, ready for it’s next use. The bag shape also affects how it can be thrown. Some, like the HF Weasel and WRSI Hail Mary can be thrown over arm easily, like a tennis ball, or American football. Other heavier bags, like the Palm range are better suited to an underarm throw. This is where it comes down to personal preference and why it is important to try as many as possible.
Bag Opening: The last thing that you want is for the throwbag to burst open and for the rope to pay out in to the water, especially if you’re wearing it on your belt. Make sure that the bag you buy will close securely, so that it doesn’t cause you any problems.
Once you’ve bought your throwline…
Check the knot:
It has been known in the past for rope to be cable tied in to throwbags. Physically check the knot to see how it is tied in to the bag and if in doubt, re-tie it with an overhand or figure-of-eight knot.
Make sure you have a “clean” line:
A “clean” line will go through pulleys without getting caught and also reduce the risk of hands/feet getting caught in it, when its in the water. A line with knots or attachments to it is also more likely to snag under the water – bad news for the swimmer, who will be dragged down as the rope tightens. Some throwbags come with plastic handles attached (presumably something to do with regulations for lifeguards?) which can be more of a hindrance in white water. Untie the rope from the bag, remove the handles and re-tie the rope to the bag.
Make sure that the loop on the bag is as small as possible:
We train swimmers to hold on to the rope, not the bag, however people see a handle and will try and hold on to it. The risk is that somebody will put their hand through the rope loop and either get it caught and not be able to release it, or injure themselves when the rope comes tight. Firstly, be sure to remove any plastic handle and then re-tie the loop as small as possible – it only needs to be big enough to clip a karabiner in to.
Grab a marker pen:
Make sure that you write your name and phone number on your throwline to make it easier for it to be returned to you if you lose it on the river. Also, if it isn’t written on the bag obviously already, write the length of the rope on the outside, so that anybody borrowing it will know straight away. Picking up a 10 metre rope to throw to a swimmer 12 metres away isn’t very helpful.
Hopefully, this article will have been of use to any of you that are looking at buying a new throwline. Try to demo as many as possible to see which one is best suited to your needs and remember:
– If you carry a throwline, you need to be carrying a river knife as well.
– Get proper training in how to use one. The BCU Foundation Safety and Rescue Training (FSRT) and the White Water Safety and Rescue (WWSR) courses are a good starting point.
– Practise! When somebody is counting on you for safety cover, you need your throw to accurate. Practise throwing in different ways, whilst wearing the bouyancy aid that you’ll be wearing on the river.