Most sea kayakers who’ve passed a safety and rescue class are aware of the importance of carrying a tow rope. A similar safety device that could be of equal importance and prove more handy in some rescue situations is a whitewater throw bag. These bags are inexpensive and lightweight, so there is no excuse not to carry one in some situations.
Throw Bags Basics
A whitewater throw bag is a rescue tool typically with 50 to 70 feet or floating rope loosely packed into a bag that pays out easily when thrown to a swimmer. It often has a rope handle on one end that allows it to be easily grabbed and held by the swimmer as the current sweeps him downstream. There are specific techniques for their use in whitewater.
Using a Throw Bag in Sea Kayaking
As more sea kayakers venture out into caves, rough water, and rock gardens, we’re finding ourselves in situations that can be as dangerous as whitewater. While paddling in these types of situations, it’s useful to carry a throw bag in addition to a tow rope.
In a dangerous rescue situation, the rescuers must first think about their own safety before the safety of the swimmer. In a rough water rescue situation near rocky surfaces or in surf, the rescuers safety may by compromised if they were to attempt a hands-on rescue like a T-rescue. Most safety and rescue courses teach to go in retrieve the swimmer and tow them, via a short tow, to a calmer area.
In extreme situations, like the inside of a cave with large crashing waves all-around a short tow rescue may be impossible without exposing the rescuer to too much risk.
In these risky situations, bringing the swimmer to the rescuer is much safer for everyone involved. The swimmer may attempt to swim their kayak and self out of the risky area, but often a throw bag can help them out faster. In worse case scenarios, a rope may be your only option.
Using a Throw Bag
Throwing a bag from the cockpit of a sea kayak is a little different than throwing one from the shore, especially when trying to juggle a paddle and waves. The best throw is overhand, and it’s often helpful to clip the end of throw bag’s line to your kayak. Clipping it to your kayak relieves you of worrying about loosing it as you toss it out. Often having a partner raft up for stability will allow you to throw the rope much further.
Sitting down in the kayak also makes it harder to get a good throw. Expect the throw to land 30 to 35 feet away from you. And this is something you’ll want to practice with before having to use it in a real situation.
Once you have contact with the swimmer, they should turn their boat rightside up and either clip the rope to their boat, or hang on to both the rope and their kayak as they’re pulled to safety. The rescuer can retrieve the rope while pulling the paddler out, or tow the kayaker out by having the rope clipped to the kayak. Keep in mind restuffing a throw bag while retrieving the rope leaves the swimmer in danger longer and having loose rope near you puts you in danger.
A Throw Bag as a Deck Mounted Tow Bag
I’ve modified my throw bag to use as a deck mounted tow bag by extending the bags handle and adding a carabiner to the start of the bag’s rope (picture above). When using the tow bag as a tow rope, the extension of the handle runs through the fairlead and jam cleat and the ‘biner clips to the towed kayak (note I paddle fresh water, so the picture shows a aluminum ‘biner.) This keeps the bag on my deck and prevents it from snagging on something during a tow. When using it as a throw rope, I leave the ‘biner clipped to my kayak and throw the bag.
- NRS Wedge Rescue Throw Bag: A nice compact throw bag that will remain out of the way until you really need it. Good price too.
- NRS Compact Rescue Throw Bag: Another solid NRS offering. This is more deluxe than the former. The half mesh bag helps keep your rope dry. Has 70′ of line. If you can’t throw the extra line, cut it and make a rescue sling from it.
- Northwater Throw Bag: This is the bag I use. A great bag that has held up under multiple summers on the back of my ‘yak. It has a nylon webbing and plastic clip on the backside that can be using by the swimmer to clip to his boat. Or it can be used to keep the bag on your kayak until use.
- NRS Pilot Knife: Always have a knife easily available when using ropes at sea. A knife may allow you to cut yourself or someone else free if they become entrapped by the ropes.