River Rescue Workshop 2021

Staying in the Current

Since I guided my first raft in 1986, the rafting “industry” has seen many changes. One of the most important of these has been the development and improvement of guide skills.

Being a raft guide in New Zealand now means holding a qualification, with sections of that qualification needing to be refreshed regularly.

To facilitate this, the New Zealand Rivers Association holds annual river rescue courses and workshops, one in the North Island and one in the South Island. The course component, two days, is for new guides, while the workshop component, three days, is for more experienced guides wishing to brush up on various skills, especially those relating to river rescue.

The most recent River Rescue Workshop held in the North Island was from the 10th to the 12th of November. Attending from River Valley were Tom, our new trainee guide, Hazel, and myself. Tom and I were up for our three yearly refreshers, while this was the first workshop for Hazel.

The skills we covered included working with ropes, knots and mechanical advantage systems using the equipment we carry on the river. These were mixed in with rafts, rapids and scenarios.

Using those systems, we swum rapids, moved rafts around rapids, threw throw bags (a bag that each guide carries which holds from 15m to 25m of floating rope), and were generally kept under the pump as we completed various on river scenarios. Off the river, we had lectures on various aspects of first aid, especially those relating more to what we could encounter in our guiding roles. That learning was then tested in river scenarios involving patients’ care followed by off-river extraction.

While every raft guide working in New Zealand has to ensure their 1st Aid qualification is current, only Senior Raft Guides must attend a River Rescue Workshop. We have to do this at intervals of no greater than once every three years. If a Senior Guide chooses not to attend, they can still guide a raft but no longer Trip Lead. Our policy here at River Valley is to cycle all river guides, senior or not, through a River Rescue Workshop at intervals of no more than every three years. This way, we have some guides attending every year and bringing back new learnings to be shared with everyone else.

For both Tom and myself, our three years were up, so attendance was mandatory. While I am often reluctant to attend a workshop – primarily because of other work commitments – I found the most recent workshop to be the best yet. The venue of Firmin Lodge in Kawerau, having the Grade 3 Tarawera River literally just out the back door, a spell of warm weather, excellent facilitators and the chance to catch up with old friends, was a perfect mix.

Even holding this workshop in these Covid affected times was always going to be difficult, so well done to the New Zealand Rivers Association for making this happen. It was genuinely heartening to see the high level of skills and professionalism that were on display.


Brian Megaw