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What's in a Throw Bag?

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

It's a simple thing. A bag of rope. It doesn't get more rudimentary that that. It is, however, the best option for safely performing a rescue in a river safely. There are inherent risks with introducing rope into water with a current. There is significant entrapment risks. As the rope in its length in the river, however benign it may seem, can collect a significant amount of weight or force. Because this factor alone makes it a complicated thing, we have to practice the use of throw bags in current and be familiar with their limitations, hazards and strengths.

Let's start with some throw bag basics.

  1. It is very important to take the time and back a throw bag properly! A properly packed throw bag will deploy easily, without any tangles and completely deploy.

  2. Never wrap the rope around any part of your body! Here is the big hazard with throw bags. They can entangle a person and cause entrapment when tensioned. The force of current acting on rope can be so powerful that it can be impossible to escape once entangled in rope. When it comes to current "More rope, more problems"

  3. Always carry a cutting tool with you! This is why we like to have knives on our PFDs. Its not just to look cool but to cut a rope that may pose a threat or have caught someone. We like having two cutting tools when ever possible. EG. a knife and a pair of shears.

  4. Size does matter! the size of the throw bag is important. A throw bag that is too large is hard to throw effectively and the diameter of the rope will determine how easy it is to hang onto. A small throw bag is easy to throw and aim however the diameter of rope in small bags is often very hard to hang on to for both rescuer and victim/swimmer. A happy medium maybe?

  5. How to throw the throw bag! All in all, the most powerful and effective throw is an overhand football style throw. However, this is only true for those who are practiced at throwing this way and with a bag that fits in your hand nicely for this. Under arm is best for large bags and side arm for when standing in water.

  6. Throwing the bag is the easy part! Once you have got your rope to your intended target the next challenge is bringing them into the shore safely. Having a victim or swimmer who is not trained in how to receive a throw bag can complicate things. it is important to consider what your victim is capable of. Also, your actions as the rescuer holding the rope and bringing the victim on the line in is very important. Belaying your victim properly can mean the difference between them peeling off the line or easily swinging into shore. I will always advocate for a dynamic belay(moving down the shoreline or inland to reduce the force on both you and the person on the rope) when ever possible. Often the only option is static belays. In that case implementing a vector on the line (having another person pulling the middle of the line into shore) will help reduce the force of the current on the victim and belayer.

There are some techniques to helping you getting the rope to some when you decide to throw.

  1. Wait, only throw the bag when the person is closest to you. That usually means when the person is directly across from you. Not up stream.

  2. Get their attention! Following the immersion into the river a swimmer may take a bit of time to get oriented. Use your voice or a whistle to gain their attention.

  3. Throw the bag past the swimmer laying the rope over them.

  4. If the swimmer is not engaging so you still throw the rope? Yes. Do you best to get their attention. However if they are not connecting with you throw the rope but try err to the direction they are looking so they see the rope.

What if you miss?

  1. Don't give up keep talking to the swimmer.

  2. Move down stream and stay in contact with the swimmer. You can mend the rope and flick it to show the victim where it is.

  3. Recoil as you move. If the rope is too far out of reach recoil in your favorite method (butterfly or forearm figure8). Judging the distance you need only coil that much so not to waste time.

  4. Carry a second throw bag. Many people advocate for this. Or keep an inventory of others that may be available (clipped to a raft or canoe, with another member in your party)

Your throw bag is very personal. It is something you should always have with you on the river. Be active in practicing with it. Practice throwing it every time you dry it out. And practice you secondary coils when your getting it ready to dry.

Have fun out there!

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