1. Get upstream
The first rule when you dump and swim in rapids is to get upstream of your canoe or kayak, so you can’t be caught or crushed if the boat pins against a rock.
2. Get to shore
The next rule is to get to shore safely. “Swimmers don’t ferry very well, so swim perpendicular to the current,” says Mike Desrocher of Water Ice Rescue Training. Do the front crawl with your head out of the water, but keep your teeth clenched so you don’t swallow too much of it. And remember that the water is always slower on the inside of a bend. If you are about to be swept into a hazard, turn and assume the float-through position, with feet forward, head up and body near the surface. When entering a wave train, time your breaths so you are inhaling in the troughs and turning your head as you hit standing waves. People die every year from flush drowning. “Even though they are wearing PFDs, too much water gets in their lungs,” says Desrocher.
3. Avoid strainers
If you see a strainer, such as a log snagged near the surface, assume you would be entangled if you went underneath, and do your best to go over it. “If you can’t avoid a strainer, turn so you are swimming toward it, and try to scramble over top of it as you hit it, keeping your airhole clear as your body makes contact.”
4. Avoid foot entrapment
The last danger is a foot entrapment, which usually occurs when people walk in moving water. If your foot jams between two rocks and the current bends you over, there is no way to get upright. “Keep swimming until you feel the bottom with your hands, then crawl. Don’t stand up until you are out of the current,” says Desrocher.