Whitewater Rafting Safety Kits and the 4:3:2:1:1 Principle

by Zachary Collier

Whitewater paddlers should carry safety kits and obtain safety/rescue training - especially on rivers that are Class III and harder. Safety kits (also known as "wrap kits" or "pin kits") contain equipment that can be used to unpin rafts, rescue trapped swimmers, and/or transport people and gear around dangerous rapids.

A few years ago I wrote an article about the heavy duty outfitter safety kit we bring on our multi-day commercial trips. For day trips with paddle boats or catarafts I bring a slimmed down "safety kit" based on Mark Hirst's 4:3:2:1:1 principle.

4 Locking Carabiners

Carabiners are useful for attaching ropes, pulleys, anchors, and rafts to each other. In whitewater we should always use locking carabiners and you can choose between screw gate and auto locking. The auto locking carabiners are a bit more expensive but are considered safer since you they lock on their own. I suggest going with simple oval carabiners since they work well with pulleys.

A few different locking carabiners

A few different locking carabiners

My pick is the Black Diamond Rocklock Magenetron Carabiner. If you're on a budget then find a good screw gate carabiner like the Black Diamond Positron Screwgate Caribiner.

3 Pulleys

Pulleys reduce friction and change the direction of moving rope and are commonly used to create mechanical advantage. Two pulleys allow you to set up a 3:1 mechanical advantage system (a "z-rig"). If you have a third pulley then you can add a change of direction to your "z-rig" to get the people pulling on the system out of the line of fire of the equipment if the system breaks. When purchasing pulleys I like to get prusik minding pulleys and those with sealed bearings.

Prusik minding pulleys

Prusik minding pulleys

If you paddle with friends that also carry safety kits you may want to consider just bringing just one or two pulleys. I'm personally quite fond of the 2:1 mechanical advantage system that requires just one.

My pick is the Rock Exotica Mini Machined Pulley.

Note: You should receive proper training before setting up any mechanical advantage system in a whitewater environment.

2 Prusiks

Prusiks are an important ingredient for mechanical advantage and progress capture systems. When purchasing prusiks loops for whitewater rescue, consider:

Prusiks used for river safety

Prusiks used for river safety

My pick is the 13.5" Sterling 6mm Auto Block Cord.

1 Flip Line

Flip lines are 8-12 foot sections or rope or webbing that are generally used to flip upside rafts back over. They can also be use to create anchors on trees, rocks, and/or rafts. Most paddlers use 1" tubular webbing but there are new modern slings that are smaller and just as strong.

My pick is the Bluewater Titan Anchor Sling.

1 Throw Bag

Throw bags are an essential piece of safety equipment that require training and practice to use safely. There are many things to think about when choosing your throw bag:

If you're using throw bags often then consider a waist belt throw bag that you can wear while you're on the river.

My pick is the Super Guide Throwbag.

What you bring is up to you and depends on your level of training and the type of boating you do. Some people follow a 3:2:1 principle for things they carry in their PFDs which corresponds to 3 carabiners, 2 pulleys, and one prusik.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions please leave them in the comments below!

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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