Throw Bags, Accessories and WorkShops "Gear For Life"

Any Ole' Throw Bag

ANY 'OLE' THRO-BAG WON'T DO...Length and Strength
                                                                                -- Jim Simmons

 Boaters usually make choices in throw bags and line based on need, how a bag likely be used, cost and durability, size, and space/capacity a boat has for carrying rescue items. We believe this is a critical choice because a throw bag is a priority tool in rescue. Flooding, caused by cyclones, hurricanes, excessive rainfall, earthquakes, etc. is the most common natural disaster on the planet. Relative to the value of a throw rope, worldwide, more simple rescues of victims in the water have been done with a throw bag (or coiled rope) than any other.

 In river paddling, traditional recommendations have suggested using bags of between 50-75 feet in length, however, our group of rescuers feels there are compelling factors for having a certain "length" (reach) and "strength" in a throw bag--one with a minimum of 75 feet. This view is based on many years of paddling, along with countless field experiences teaching SWR workshops, and conducting field practice sessions. Although a rope length of 45-50 feet may be better than no rope, we have observed that this length "has come up short" in numerous instances.

Tim Jones is a dealer for Sterling Rope (Maine) which has allowed us to obtain all the various kinds of water rescue rope for use in our Rescue workshops. He also sews throwbags made to accommodate what the bag owner may want in the size and diameter of the rope and rope length. Sterling's water rescue rope serves the needs of professional groups as well as us recreational paddlers. This rope strong, durable, handle well, and above all, it floats (I'm not getting any remuneration for that).

Not only in live rescues but in numerous workshops, rescuers need 75 feet (or more) to simply reach the far shore. The common refrain of "first, get a line across", the initial step in most rescues, can be quite challenging. In setting a stabilization line (tag) for an entrapped paddler belayers from each shore will need to move upstream to establish a suitable angle to properly encircle the victim with the necessary support. There are numerous other examples requiring "length", such as belaying a tethered rescue swimmer.

 The strength factor of the line is crucial because of the strong river forces at play. Recovering equipment/boats, especially in a serious pin, always requires a strong and trustworthy rope. There have been documented instances where a line of 1600-2000 lbs strength has been successfully used to recover boats. Generally, for the "strength" factor this is our recommendation for a minumum strength. The prusiks may have heated and ruined the line, but you can get more rope and prusiks. For throw bags Tim makes, if cost is main factor, he frequently gets requests for 75 ft. of 5/16 inch maxgrip (grabline), which is 1600 lbs tensile (about 40 cents/ft). Because of the double braided sheath this size actually looks larger.

A rope that is inexpensive and not very strong will usually work just fine to pull a swimmer from the river; common lines are 3/8 inch plypro with a tensile strength of about 900 lbs.  At some point in your paddling experience because of river forces, you likely need a stronger line.

 We've long used 3/8 inch size spectra (4500-4900 lbs strength depending on brand) as a main rescue rope. UltraLine (dyneema), which is Sterling's newer version of the Spectra 1000, features a ultra high molecular weight polyethylene fiber with similar properties to spectra (3/8 inch size is 5261 lbs strength). It has very high tenacity yarns in the core and a poly sheath--the core provides the strength and the polypropylene gives it a non-slippery sheath that has excellent knotability and is perfect for high strength water rescue applications. Handling qualities are about the same as with spectra. In resistance to UV's in sunlight both spectra and ultraline rate only fair, but both are excellent in resisting rot and mildew and are highly visible in water. Over time and use both develop 'creeping' qualities and become a bit stiffer but we've found them to be durable. They also coil very well for a second throw. 3/8 inch ultraline is currently about $1.18/ft. If you can locate a source for bulk rope, spectra is about $1.05/ft.

5/16 inch diameter is no longer available from Sterling, but does offer 5/16 inch waterline (also 1600 lbs). There are commercial bags still available with 70-75 feet of 5/16 spectra (NRS and Salamander are two examples). Sterling also offers 1/4 inch ultraline dyneema (2608 lbs--about $1.18/ft retail). There are several drawbacks for 1/4 inch size in any throw bag line, mainly, it is difficult to grip (actually can hurt the hands), both if you are the belayer or if the swimmer receiving a line in the river. The 5/16 inch size is only a little more 'grippable' and both sizes are rather 'floppy' when recoiling for a second throw. As a minimum size to use we recommend the 5/16 inch grabline, because of its double braided sheath, cost and sufficient strength (and of course 75 ft in length).

Repeating what Sterling offers-- 3/8 inch ultraline (dyneema) is 5261 lbs - about $1.18/ft; 3/8 inch grabline is 3200 lbs - about 44 cents/ft; 5/16 inch grabline, 1600 lbs - about 40 cents/ft; 1/4 inch ultraline, 2600 lbs - about $1.18/ft)]. Sterling also has glo versions for night rescue work. Recently, Tim Jones has learned that Sterling may discontinue the 5/16 inch grabline, due to lack of sales. As mentioned above, they do have 5/16 inch waterline rope.

Some stretch in a rope is a help when catching swimmers (reduces shock), however, grabline has a lot of stretch which can be a disadvantage in boat recovery.  Another factor we've learned is that over time grabline becomes heavier due to sand and debris collecting in the double braided sheath.  Be sure to wash it each time you use it.   Also, it does not resist sunlight well but has good resisance to rot and mildew.  Because it has a lower price and sufficient strength Tim gets a lot of requests for it in throw bags.

If you don't have a strong throwing are but want to carry a 3/8 inch, 75 ft. line these strategies may prove helpful:
1.  to toss the full length try pulling out several feet and coil it in your non-throwing fingers.  As you throw, the bag's weight will 'pull' the remaining coils as it unfurls toward the target.  It'll take some practice but you'll improve.
2.  if you carry a 5/16 inch size (or a 1/4 inch) you'll need to consider the deameter of prusik cordage that will grab onto the smaller sizes (prusiks are used as links in a haul system).
Finally, an assumption is often made is that paddling on easier moving water doesn't require a substantial rescue line. Paddlers can be entrapped in river current or pinned in boats in any river current, supporting our contention that the compelling factors of length (reach) and strength appply for a rope in any river situation.

Sterling also makes 6 mm dyneema prusik cord (about 5000 lbs and $1.05/ft) that has a tighter weave and is much stiffer than usual prusik cord. We like it a lot especially when used with the Spectra 1000, Dyneema, or Grabline rope. As mentioned, prusik cord (especially its size) should be compatible with the host rope on which it will be used. Because of the layup and stiffness of dyneema use an extra wrap when putting it on the load line. You can also make prusik loops with a follow-through '8' knot, rather than a 'fisherman's knot--this seems to work better with the dyneema.
If you prefer not to spend extra for dyneema cord, nylon prusik cord works just fine. It is durable, serviceable, less expensive and sufficiently strong for haul systems.
*Refer to the article under Equipment/Gear reviews for our testing on prusik slippage on haul ropes of different types.

 Also, see our article on this link describing Michael Croslin's Reach Rescue System that has rope retriever capability. Wildwater has developed an economical snag plate that is also used for capturing another line (to establish lines across). Click onto to view, or purchase one for your bag.

 Jim Simmons--6/13/'07; revised 11/'11. Tim Jones contributed to this report.


















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