Chances are good, you are not simply going to decide to go swimming in a dangerous whitewater rapids area, but if you are in a kayak and it suddenly flips over, will you be able to keep your head above water? It is important that you know at least a little bit about swimming in this type of environment, whether you plan to dive in or not. The reason being, there could come a time when you simply do not have a choice. It could be for any reason. Your kayak or canoe could flip, you could get a hole in your inflatable, or you could simply end up falling overboard. In all cases, learning how to swim in whitewater could be the key to self-rescue.
Stay Calm and Get Above Water
If your kayak flips over and you are in the water under it, it is important that you stay calm. Your biggest priority if you cannot get the boat to flip right side up is to get out from under the boat and then find your way to the water surface. This may sound easy to do, but it is not always simple. The reason is not hard to imagine; you go from a thrilling ride to under water, often with very little time to prepare. You may not have the time to take a big breath. Your life vest is designed to float on top of the water, so you will have help to get to the surface, but the faster you can get there, the better off you will be. Keep in mind also that in some situations, you are better off swimming away from your kayak to get to slightly calmer waters before you can get up for air.
Ride It Out
Once you are above water, you will want to quickly look around for your kayak. If it is within reach, great, you can hold on to it to help you stay above water. If it is not within reach, you should still be prepared to ride out the water. Floating along is the best way to handle it. At all costs, do not try to stand up in a whitewater area. If you do attempt it, you could risk injuring your ankle, foot, or leg because there are rocks under the water that you cannot see. If your foot happens to get caught by one of the rocks, you may have a difficult time getting your foot out it. This could cause you to break a bone and if the water is deep enough, make it virtually impossible for you to get fresh air.
Swim to Safety
Wait until you are clear of the rapids or close enough to a shoreline or a rescue boat before you attempt to truly swim. At this time, you will have to aim yourself at safety because the current will most likely try to take you further downstream. When you are being rescued by a boat, it is also important to stay calm. Don’t grab at the boat or attempt to bring the rescue boat down with you. Doing so could easily mean you both end up in the water and that is not what anyone needs to see happen during a rescue.