Throw Bags, Accessories and WorkShops "Gear For Life"


                                                                                      - Jim Simmons

Refer to the article, ANY 'OLE THRO-BAG WON'T DO, for important points and options when choosing a thro-bag. This discussion will center on throwing strategies when setting backup with a throw bag. Let's assume that we are using a bag with a 3/8 inch, 75 foot line that has a carabiner located on the side of the bag in a small pouch.

There are several ways to throw a bag. Overhand (as a baseball throw), side arm (when standing under tree limbs), an over-the-head hook shot (as in basketball), and the most commonly used, underhand (as in pitching a softball). Underhand puts less strain on your arm than the others, especially if you have to throw without warming up very much. Practice the underhand throw until it becomes automatic for you.
Throwing strategies (assume a right-handed thrower):
A) Hold the end of the line in your non-throwing hand with either a naked end (no loop), or with a loop (we prefer a small 'gob' knot loop) . If using a loop don't tie it large enough that it'll slide over your wrist (hand entanglement). Hold the loop in your 'pinky' finger and a few coils into your left palm just before throwing.
B) Release the throw while stepping in opposition which gives maximum distance. Often, people will do just the opposite and throw off the same foot as the throwing hand, not only limiting distance but hindering accuracy as well.
C) Visualize your throwing arm being a long, straight rod swinging from the shoulder as your throwing hand moves toward the target. Don't snap your throwing wrist very much otherwise the throw might go skyward and not gain the distance you want--think of a pendulum, or the bowling motion as you throw.
D) Yell "rope" to get the swimmer's attention then yell again when you make your throw.

(Visualize being on river left). As the swimmer floats down to your position on shore begin to gauge the distance and speed of the swimmer while preparing to throw. Execute the throw when the swimmer is slightly upstream of your position (will give more time for a second throw if you miss) and throw across and beyond the swimmer. If you are successful, the main line will already be in the left hand and on the downstream side. Next, place the line behind your hips and put the 'brake' hand (right hand) inside your right thigh to assume the belay position. Keeping the main line on the downstream side of your body prevents becoming entangled.
If you choose to carry a bag with 70-75 feet of line, but lack arm power to get the entire line out of the bag, just coil about 10-12 ft. in the non-throwing hand. When releasing the bag the weight of the bag will pull the coils off your non-throwing hand--with practice you'll soon be throwing the full line.

Oh, goodness! If you miss on the first throw and need to quickly pull in the line for a second throw you can coil the end of the line to either hand. Coiling to the left hand (the non-throwing hand) will feel more natural, however, when you have all the line recoiled for a second throw you'll now have to divide and switch the coils to your dominant hand side before making the second throw.

Coiling to your throwing hand is not as natural to most people and will take practice. It is the preferred method but you really need to be capable of doing both methods, depending on which riverbank you're standing. You must practice enough that recoiling for a second throw can be quick, smooth and effective. When throwing the two sets of coils use a little more wrist snap than with the first, full-bag pendulum throw. This will allow the naked line to unfurl its full length. Practice tip: start off by practicing with just a few coils, gradually increasing until you have accomplished coiling the full 75 ft. length
Couple of tips for both first and second throws. On a first throw if the swimmer is closer, say only about 45 feet from your position, place several coils into your non-throwing hand and throw only the length that you need. Or, toss the bag on the bank and coil from the naked end the length that you will need to reach the swimmer. Throwing the full 75 feet of line to reach a swimmer much closer can entangle the swimmer. When recoiling for a second throw, if the swimmer is near (about 40 feet), recoil only what is necessary. Step onto the line to anchor it and make your throw without waiting to pull in the entire 75 feet.

Here's another technique for a second throw. As you pull in the line after missing on your first throw, instead of coiling the line in either hand, place the end out to the side (so you can anchor it later). Quickly pull in the line making a pile in front of you. Once you get the bag to shore you'll swing and throw the bag end as the South American gaucho does--the 'bolero' method. The carabiner in the pouch will weight down the bag somewhat, plus the bag will have water inside as it gets to shore. I prefer to make only one preparatory swing (bolero circular swing) before throwing, rather than several swings. Because of directional control, this method takes practice but it's not as difficult as it seems.

If you're setting safety below a rapid and two swimmers are floating in the water, one several feet in front of the first and both not far from shore, you can rescue both swimmers with the single bag you have. Again, assume you are right-handed. Drop the full bag down and to your left while holding onto the looped (or naked) end. Quickly coil enough of the naked end to reach the first swimmer. As you make this first throw you'll be holding onto the bight of rope in the middle. Pick up the bag in your throwing hand and toss to the second swimmer just as with any full-bag throw. Keep in mind you now have two swimmers (and their weight).

To belay both swimmers double the strands of rope side by side and move them behind your body ready to belay. This prevents 'struggling' to get inside the line for belaying and avoids getting entangled. Both lines should be on the downstream side. Because the load is doubled you may have to sit down and anchor your feet or you may need a 'buddy' belayer (to grasp your lifevest shoulder straps from behind and anchor you down) to hold the load of two people. Using the traditional 'fireman's grip' (pressing a 90 degree bend in the line with your hand) will create a friction wrap and also help you hold heavier loads.

Depending on the ruggedness of the shoreline where you're standing it is not uncommon to be yanked off balance, so keep a stable stance and expect the load to create a jolt. Although in gentle current, reeling in a swimmer may work but a belayer's is really not to 'reel' in the swimmer. Instead, you want to pendulum a swimmer into an eddy below your position. This means you'lll need to consider where to set your position for your own safety, plus you'll need to be certain that you can safely land the swimmer into a safe eddy. Consider where paddlers might capsize and if they do, where a swimmer will likely surface. Think about how heavy the load might be, can you move down the shoreline if needed, and are there tree limbs or objects in your way.

Use of a throw bag for assisting and rescuing paddling friends makes you a valuable paddling partner. Practice the skills of throwing often to become comfortable and familiar with the characteristics of your bag. You'll be ready to make those important throws when you need them. Rope!

ACA Instructor, Jim Jones, contributed to this discussion.

JS--10/02/'07; revised 12/10

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