Head Above Water: Practicing Swift-Water Safety

Swiftwater rescue training with rope

Studying wild fish out in the field is an exciting job because each day is different. Weather and streamflow conditions can change hourly, making for a fun adventure, but these unpredictable conditions can also make fieldwork in or near the water quite dangerous. In order to be well prepared for any hazards we might encounter, FISHBIO staff participated in a swift-water safety course at the end of 2019 on the Stanislaus River in Knights Ferry, California, which was put on by Sierra Rescue. The two-day course was tailored for biologists, hydrologists, and fisheries technicians who frequently work in or around water. We learned everything from in-the-classroom theory to in-the-water training in what was a fully immersive experience.

Swiftwater rescue training Stanislaus

The rescue techniques we learned focused on impromptu and low-tech methods that could be employed quickly with gear we might already have on hand, such as a short length of rope and a few carabiners. The whitewater rafting guides who taught the course relayed some invaluable insights on how to recognize hazards in the water and how to keep ourselves and coworkers safe under any conditions. We learned some great insider tips and tricks, like how to adjust our swimming angles to enter an eddy and how to tie knots that allow one person to move a boulder without help. The self-rescue and rope-rescue techniques that we practiced in Class II rapids and on the shore will hopefully never have to be used in a real-life situation, but could truly be a lifesaver if we ever need them. Since safety should always come first, we feel reassured knowing our staff have the skills and confidence to keep their heads above water, also have the ability to help others in distress.

Swiftwater safety group shot