Anne was a recipient of a FMC training scholarship for a Packrafting safety course in the 2017/18 summer as part of the Outdoor Community campaign.  As spring rolls around the corner and people are thinking about the rivers again, we’re publishing her account of her safety course, hopefully to inspire you to get yourself on one soon, plus with a real example of the importance of training. 

11 participants and 2 instructors met at North Mavora Lake early on 22 March. It had rained overnight and there was fresh snow on the mountains around us. After introductions were made, we discussed the gear.

Instructor Arno Marten demonstrating how to inflate a packraft

Raft – most are similar with ropes attached to grab if you fall out, a seat, valve system for inflating the raft. Some have decks and spray skirts, while others have holes in the bottom for self-baling.

PFD (personal flotation device} with 50 kg flotation. Some also had impact protection for bouncing off rocks, pockets for snacks and a personal locator beacon and a holder for a knife. On the back are a rescue belt (cows tail) and a loop for abseiling. It also had a locking carabina and a place for a water bottle.

The helmet needs to be strong to cope with multiple impacts and a brim was recommended as it allowed an air pocket to form in front of your face if submerged. Personal flotation device
Ideally you would wear a dry suit but a wet suit was a minimum requirement. You needed sneakers with good grip. The paddle needs to fit your style and power but be able to break down to fit in your pack.

We discussed how to repair a raft, and how to maintain it. The rest of the morning was spent practicing how to throw a Throw Bag. We tried side throw, overarm and the Aussie way. We also threw twice in a row, feeding the rope bag into the bag over our shoulder as fast possible between throws.

The different styles of throw-bags

After lunch we headed to the river and practiced getting into the river safely (sideways with your bottom arm out). We floated on our backs with our knees up (passively) and rolled over our arm and onto Floating ropes in bags our fronts, again with knees up (aggressively). We learnt how to roll over the arm nearest a back eddy to make it easy to get out of the current. Finally we were allowed in our boats, only to practice getting out and in them again. We learnt different paddle stokes then practiced on a small rapid, floating down, into a back eddy, across to another eddy, down to another eddy then out to walk back up and do it again. And again. And again. Some of us finished the day with a gentle float down the river practicing our tipping out technique.

Saturday evening we shared food and wine under Arno’s shelter before scurrying back to our cars and tents when the rain set in. Sunday morning the frost had frozen the car door shut and we waited eagerly for the sun to come over the snowy mountain.

Frozen packraft!

We spent the morning tying knots – overhand, figure 8 on a bite, figure 8 on a follow through, bowline, alpine butterfly, clove hitch and Italian hitch. Then we put the knot tying into practice by ‘rescuing’ each other using a sling and our throw bags.

knot tying workshop

We learnt about foot entrapment, creating an eddy with bodies and did a body belay. We were shown the vector pull and how useful it is to have the tape long enough to make a harness over and under your butt.

We packed up after lunch and headed to the Kiwiburn Bridge. Again we practiced our rescue techniques, this time with real people in the rapid and throwing ropes.

On one of my turns my foot slipped as I was sliding into the water. A real foot entrapment! The current took my head downstream and I was held underwater by the force of the water with my foot caught under a rock. All I could do was put my hand in the air and wait to be rescued. Fortunately the team were quick to put their newly learned skills into action.  The most valuable lessons I learnt was that the training is vital and always take a friend with you, preferably more than one!

You can learn more about packrafting by visiting the Packrafting Association of NZ’s website. PRANZ is a member club of FMC