River Leadership: Avoidance

“Avoidance is better than cure” is about pre-empting what may happen and putting in to place measures to either eliminate or manage the risk. This is where the river leader’s experience based judgement comes in to play.

Having decided to run this rapid, the team go one at a time and place safety cover to reduce the risks. Avanmore, Ireland.

Having decided to run this rapid, the team go one at a time and place safety cover to reduce the risks. Avonmore, Ireland.

First of all, we know from experience that certain practices have caused problems in the past and so we do our best to avoid repeating them. This is why we don’t clip chest harnesses with snapgate karabiners, or have loops that may get caught on our personal kit. We’re trying to minimise as many risks as we can.

On the river there are many risks and again, we need to consider if we can eliminate them, or do our best to minimise them to a manageable level. Our river running strategies must change to meet the environment that we find ourselves in. When in easy water with good visibility ahead, we can afford to move together, all at once. If the rapids get more technical, or we can’t see as far ahead, then we may opt to start eddy hopping. This slows down the descent, giving us time to see what is up ahead and the option of getting out to scout if we need to. Lastly, no river leader wants to deal with multiple swims at the same time. If the chance of a swim occurring, or the risks resulting from a swim increase, then we need to run rapids one at a time. The rest of the group provide safety, either from the boat, or out on the bank.

There will come a point when we can identify serious risks in a single rapid – siphons, retentive holes, undercuts, strainers and the like. At this level we may decide that we can minimise these risks by putting in place our own safety measures specific to that risk – placing someone with a throwbag for example. Or, maybe we can’t guarantee that we will be able to minimise the risk to acceptable levels and so we decide to walk round a rapid. Avoidance is better than cure, after all.

We need to think about avoidance in during rescues as well, to stop making a problem worse than it already is. This comes back to our rescue principles: Self, Team, Victim. We look after ourselves and our team before the victim, or we run the risk of creating more victims. Also, it’s important to exhaust the possibilities of low-risk rescue options before switching to higher risk ones. If you get hurt performing a needlessly high risk rescue, you are no good to the victim or the rest of your team.

Next: Position of maximum usefulness…

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