This picture shows members of Rescue Companies 1 and 2 of the New York City Fire Department using ropes to bring a 260-pound diver up a 20-foot wall with no difficulty at all.

Photo by Walt Hendrick

We can now place and secure the open end of the carabiner under a gunnel wall or lip. Actually, the carabiner can be secured to anything on the inside of the boat, and, if necessary, we can even stand on the carabiner. The length of the strap will now go between the victim and the boat and be passed under the victim and around him on the outside and back up to our rescuer’s hands.

Place one strap above the elbow yet below the shoulder and one strap above the knee but below the hip. We can now simply roll our victim into the vessel by pulling in on the straps.

This system will reduce the actual weight of the victim by one-third to one-half and make it extremely easy to bring him to the top gunnel. Obviously a 200+-pound man would still be difficult to handle after that, but he would be in the vessel.

The straps should be stored in a rolled up format with one wrap of duck tape to allow for rapid release.

The system works, but only if your teams have practiced it until coordination is attained and they are equipped to implement the technique when needed. The person nearest the head of the victim must be given and maintain control. If the lower torso (legs and feet) are raised too fast, it becomes difficult to get the victim into the boat or other safe location (such as the pier). If the upper torso is raised too fast, the shoulder strap can work its way up to and around the victim’s neck and bead.


As for the problem of being thoroughly familiar with your river banks and access areas, this is entirely up to your rescue company. Take your in-water vessel and cruise the banks of your major problem sites, listing available exits (shore up locations) by number and area. Put one copy of this list in the hands of the duty officer and one copy in a large watertight plastic bag on the vessel for your rescue crew. Drills should be held at these sites before any real need arises.

There are two ways to practice victim extrication and beach site transport:

  • Use a real person in a PFD (personal flotation device) and request that he does not assist the crews on land or in the boat. You must be extremely careful with handling the boat and motor in order not to create a real rescue situation.
  • A second option is to use a fullsize mannequin that can float and can easily withstand an over-anxious boat handler or improper boat techniques. At its worst, you can replace an arm or leg on this mannequin.

Good boat handling and in-water rescue techniques do not come easily and should be practiced often. You wouldn’t allow a new driver to chauffeur your $500,000 rescue truck, so why allow an inexperienced boat crew to control a life and death situation in the water?

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