So safety on the water is super important and you would be hard pressed to decide what piece of your gear was the most important … PFD (lifejacket), Helmet, Shoes…. and I won’t argue, all are important. However, if you are going to have an IMPORTANT part of gear why not get the most out of it! PFD’s come in different classes, I won’t go into all the classifications (here is a link if you are curious), for whitewater there are basically two classes to consider, Type 3 and Type 5. Type 3 is your basic PFD for aerated water. The Type 5 is also for aerated water but generally is either a higher float jacket, requires further instruction because it slips on over the head with no buckles, or it is a RESCUE PFD.
So if you have made it this far you are probably wondering what the big deal is on rescue PFDs… and probably thinking that IF you don’t feel confident being the rescuer that they are not for you… BUT
Rescue PFD’s are inherently superior Jackets than your standard Type 3 PFD and here is why.
- Structurally they are built stronger than other jackets. The shoulder straps are not just bar tacked onto the top of the front of the jacket like in standard type 3 jackets (see photo) The shoulder straps are reinforced with webbing over the shoulders and down the back and front of the jacket often times in a “V” pattern. This is a safety feature that you should consider when buying a jacket because it adds strength to the valuable shoulder strap. Rescues often involve pulling on your lifejacket whether it is into a Raft or out of a Pin so extra reinforcement is great.
- Rescue Jackets have Quick Release Rescue Belts! This is a belt that is attached on one side of your jacket, either by stitching or threaded through itself. The belt then runs the girth of the jacket through loops, the loose end slides through a Quick release buckle on the front of the jacket with a ball pull to activate the release mechanism of the buckle. A ring or locking carabiner can be added to the back of the jacket through the belt and can be used as an attachment point for a tow tether or rope. The belt offers a quick release for this ring or carabiner, in that if the belt mechanism is released, the ring or carabiner will slide off the loose end of the belt. This allows a rescuer or rescuee to be connected to a rope on their belt and be able to release from it if need be. Below are some examples of how it works NOTE training is a MUST for rescue jackets as the release mechanism is not fail-safe so some technique is needed to deal with release issues.
Here are some of the many ways the rescue belt can be used.
- The belt on the rescue jacket can be used to send a rescue swimmer out to retrieve a person or piece of gear from another part of the river and keep them on tow in order to keep them from washing downstream. In extreme situations, a rescuer can jump right into a rapid to grab a person or gear and be reeled back to safety Also known as “live bait”
- The belt can offer a quick release attachment point for a rope to be ferried across a river by a kayaker.
- The belt used in conjunction with a tow tether can be used to tow gear or a person behind a whitewater kayak for short calmer distances. Generally, when towing people it is in a
- The belt, when used in conjunction with a tow tether, can give an entrapped person an option to expedite rescues where a rope is placed across the river to help support them. Often this is done with folks with body or foot entrapments or in kayak pins. If the entrapped person is able to clip into this rope on their own they not only create a bit of a safety net for themselves, in that if they are released from the entrapment they won’t float away… but also it gives the rescue team a point of attachment to haul on often expediting the rescue.