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Rafting Safety Kits: A Handy Checklist

Safety kits are a collection of items used for a variety of rescue situations. The items found in a safety kit are commonly used to pull boats that are wrapped or pinned, so they are sometimes referred to as wrap kits or pin kits. Advanced training is needed to get the best use out of these tools, all of which can be used for simple mechanical advantage systems, telfer-lower systems, Pig Rigs, or Z-rigs. The most important safety tool is the throw bag, which can be used to secure a swimmer or pull on wrapped or pinned boats. 

River Safety Kit Items
River Safety Kit Items

The exact contents of my safety kit depend on the river I’m doing and the type of boats on the trip. Here’s a full list of items I bring on multi-day trips with big, heavy gear boats.

Heavy Duty Safety Kit Checklist

  • Safety Line
  • 8 Locking Carabiners
  • 2 Each of 20-foot and 30-foot Sections of Tubular Webbing
  • 2-4 Pulleys
  • 4 Prusiks

150 – 200 Feet of Safety Line

A safety line is the key ingredient of any safety kit. It should be strong, but its most important characteristic is that it has very little elongation when pulled on. In other words, most of the force applied to the rope should be transmitted to whatever is being pulled. A good safety line also holds tension for a long period of time, which is important for tefler-lower sytems.

Safety lines vary from 3/8-inch (10-mm) to 1/2-inch (12-mm) in diameter. You can choose between Nylon core static lines or Polypropylene core ropes. Polypropylene ropes (often found in throw bags) tend to stretch more, causing energy to be lost with each tug. The Nylon rope is typically twice as strong as the Polypropylene, but it doesn’t float.

Safety Line Attached to Pinned Gear Raft
Safety Line Attached to Pinned Gear Raft

Another option for your safety line would be Spectra or Dyneema rope. These are both high-tech ropes that are incredibly strong and stiff. A 3/8-inch Dyneema line is typically stronger than a 1/2-inch nylon core line, which makes for a nice compact and strong line that takes up less space in your safety kit. The downsides of Dyneema or Spectra are that they are more expensive and these smaller diameter ropes are harder to grip (it’s generally easier to grip thicker ropes). Also note, that If you use a smaller diameter rope, then you’ll need smaller diameter prussics.

8 Locking Carabiners

A 3:1 mechanical advantage system (also known as “Z-Rig” or “Z-Drag”) can be set up with a minimum of 4 carabiners, but you often need more for most rescue or pin situations. You should only use locking carabiners for river rescue.

2 Each of 20-foot and 30-foot Sections of Tubular Webbing

Tubular webbing (AKA hoopie) is used for setting anchors on rocks, boats, and trees. Webbing can also be used to tie rescue harnesses to people. It’s very strong and very easy to work with. It takes at least 20 feet of webbing to create a self-equalizing anchor using two D-rings on a raft. It takes at least 30 feet to use 3 D-rings. If you find yourself in need of 15 feet (or less), you can always cut your 20 or 30-foot sections into smaller lengths. 

2-4 Pulleys

Pulleys are used to reduce the friction on ropes when the pull-direction is changed. Pulleys have many uses beyond Z-rigs. You can create a 2:1 mechanical advantage by simply putting a pulley on the object (typically a raft) you’re trying to move. They can also be used to change the direction you’re pulling if there is a tree, cliff, or rock hindering the direction you need to pull. If you need to set up a tefler-lower system to rescue someone in the river or to get a raft to an injured person, you’ll want to have 4 pulleys.

Working the Brake on a Mechanical Advantage System
Working the Brake on a Mechanical Advantage System

4 Prussics

Prusiks are loops of rope that can be pre-sewn or connected with a double-fisherman’s knot. They can be connected to larger ropes by using a prusik hitch, which allows flexibility to move the attachment point. The primary purpose of prusiks is to attach pulleys and brakes to your static line when setting up mechanical advantage systems.

In theory, if the diameter of your prusik is half the diameter of your static line, it will likely slip from the static line before it breaks. This is a good thing because when a prusik breaks it’s usually violent and can cause serious injury, so you would prefer it to slip rather than break. I like to use 11-mm static line and 6-mm prussic line.

Safety Training

There is no substitute for proper training. Keep in mind that 30% of all victims are the rescuer. A rescue class will teach you safer methods for removing wrapped boats, and more importantly, systems for stabilizing and freeing a trapped swimmer. A 2-day swiftwater rescue workshop should be the minimum training for Class IV boaters and the 3-day Whitewater Rescue Technician (WRT) class should be the minimum for professional river guides.

Originally Published: | Updated on


Zachary Collier

As owner of Northwest Rafting Company, Zach Collier combines international guiding experience in places like Siberia, Bhutan, and Chile with a natural business acumen for systems and logistics. Whether he’s on big water or in the back office, Zach strives to ensure NWRC offers exceptional whitewater and wilderness experiences for guests and guides alike.

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