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Buddy Syetem

Enhance Your Safety Net in Paddling With the 'Buddy System'
                                                                                                                             -- Jim Simmons

In spite of the economic downturn recreational paddling continues at a high level of popularity and boaters everywhere keep pushing the frontiers of difficult streams. Related to rescue, more river and whitewater paddlers have completed, or at least have a working knowledge of, swiftwater/whitewater rescue techniqes. Increased numbers of paddlers on more difficult runs will translate into opportunities for river mishaps. Whatever your level of river difficulty there is an accompanying need to continue enhancing safety and rescue awareness. The buddy system can enhance your safety net as you peel out from the putin.

Having a designated 'buddy' emphasizes staying in close proximity to your partner, and speed of deployment in being ready to assist quickly. This leads to a much faster response for such situations as a boater overturning and swimming, runaway gear floating along, or a buddy getting stuck in an inaccessible place. It's always wise to concentrate on prevention and staying out of danger but if something does occur at least you and paddling friends can be prepared to 'get out' of a predicament quickly. Such strategy invokes 'situational' judgment, a critical ability to spot potential risky places ahead of time.  You know, keeping your 'eagle eye' in focus.

Scuba diving is a good example, in which the buddy system and close protection of a partner is a sacred rule, as it should be. In rock climbing beginners gain experience by staying close to a more experienced lead climber; and in both examples a lifeline is usually attached between two participants. With paddlesport no line joins paddlers, however beginning boaters often follow and learn from more experienced friends as they move downriver. This pattern of 'buddying' is commonly used as streams increase in difficulty because on 'extreme' runs any paddler being even slightly "off line" in a rapid can lead to serious consequences. While penalities are not as severe on class II-II+ streams, this same principle applies.

Obviously, the buddy concept employs the proven basic skills of swiftwater/whitewater training, but yet, takes your thinking to another level of awareness. Think of the river as a fun, complex puzzle where you are imagining how you can respond quickly -- and this 'tape' runs constantly in your awareness. This helps you scope out potential danger spots--situational judgment again!  You're not looking for trouble but simply awakening 'circuits of prevention' from previous paddling experiences as you read the river. These natural feedback loops will conjure up surprising alerts that will help you anticipate in advance, because you're viewing the river through 'night vision' goggles.
Setting a backup throw bag below a rapid where a swim might occur, especially if it is an inaccessible and rugged place; being ready with a quick boat assist; or even establishing redundant backup safety (both a boater and a rope thrower in backup position). Just being prepared for any circumstance that requires you to serve as lifeguard for your paddling partner. Does this extra effort have to diminish your paddling fun? Not at all, you're just invoking the additional dimension of "thinking like a rescuer"...!

Sure, confidence in your boating skill is a first defense against mishaps but it is foolish to believe you, or a buddy, won't every need assistance. Don't assume someone won't miss a roll attempt and have to self-rescue, or need a rope throw, or get stuck in some midstream place. The usual tendency to think "this is too difficult a place to get out and set up safety--just too much trouble"...Indeed, situations for establishing backup can be challenging, however if a throw bag, for instance, is to be the inherent valuable tool it is, it shouldn't remain resting in your boat.

Within your paddling group before departing the putin you and a buddy(s) can make a pre-determined agreement about being constantly vigilant and ready to assist each other. Regular rehearsal of such quick-hitting strategy is important and will enhance your paddling safety net.  Don't leave home (the putin) without a designated paddling buddy!

Jim Simmons--12/2011; edited 11/2012
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