Principles Of Safety – CLAP

During a recent trip on a local river with those starting to make their way into White Water boating we had a small incident where a boat ended up in a newly formed syphon. It was handled with minimal fuss and with a little bit of know how the boat was recovered with ease.

Dereen Syphon Giff Small

Afterwards some of the guys were full of questions about ropes, carabiners, pulleys, mechanical advantage and all the other cool shiny stuff some kayakers seam to obsess over. I’ve to hold my own hands up and say I’m as probably more into the technicalities of that stuff than I should be. Howandever resisting the urge to go full nerd and overwhelm the guys with all sorts of nonsense I tried to bring back to basics and start at the beginning as they say.

As a Canoeing Ireland Instructor I deliver their R.S.R syllabi and on occasion deliver my own workshops for specific tasks that aren’t covered in huge depth as part of the R.S.R.  While I might be considered bias I think the R.S.R is one of the best things to come from C.I. / T.D.U in recent years. It gets people to focus on not just their paddling skills but to start thinking about their whole approach to safety and how the run rivers in a holistic way.

Paddlesports seams to be full of mnemonics to help you remember important bits of inofrmation, what I am going to try do over the coming post is to try to break these down to bit size chunks you can read when you have 5 mins / on the loo and maybe you just might remember them when needed.


I’m not reinventing the wheel here, the above image is from White Water Safety & Rescue by Franco Ferrero which really is the go to book on the topic of WW Safety & Rescue.

The CLAP principle is one of the foundations of our approach to making things safer on the water and is applicable regardless if you are on a fun Class II or running the Gnarr on Class V+ on some foreign adventure of a life time.


Signals need to be clear and concise, they must be agreed and understood before getting on the water. Signals can be audio or visual. While many groups of paddlers who use similar signals don’t be the person to find out the hard way by running that blind rapid after mistaking their get out and scout signal for a ‘yea just charge on down’ signal. Remember bad or misunderstood communication is as dangerous as have none at all.


Line Of Sight

‘Never run anything blind’ A quote from Franco Ferrero’s book, I fully agree with it and yet I’ve stupidly ignored that advice on more than one occasion. The reality is you can only assess the risks and choose your line if you can see what’s coming ahead of you. You do not want to end up in a situation where you round a blind bend into a rapid that is chocked full of trees and you have no way out, the same goes horizon lines. Never assume it will be okay!

All members of your group must be able to see at least one other person in your group. Keeping this line of sight is vital, combining this line of sight with quality communication with other group members enables us to effectively see around or other such obstacles. Remember if in doubt get out and scout! If you can’t inspect a rapid from your boat, eddy out and and get a suitable member of the group to get out, inspect the rapid and indicate the line.



‘Avoid Hazards where necessary’ straight from the Canoeing Ireland RSR trainers notes I use and have included in this post. This is a bit of a catch all to be honest, but if you can asses the risk and make informed decisions you will dramatically reduce the chance of  incidents arising in the first place. When choosing what river to run you need to consider the abilities of all the members of your group, just because you are shit hot that doesn’t mean your mate who hasn’t paddled in years and is just getting over the flu is just as good. Be honest with each other and choose a run that matches the ability of the weakest member of the group.

Make a plan and then have a back up plan for the ‘What if’ situation, things can and do go wrong, don’t be found wanting when the shit hits the fan. Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

Utilize the Systematic approach to rescue. Talk, Reach, Throw, Row, Go, Helo. This can be applied to any situation and when you know and understand the sequence it’s invaluable when the pressure comes on. Under no circumstances should anything you do worsen the situation of a casualty.



Place yourself in a position of maximum effectiveness. When setting up rescue / protecting a rapid ask yourself ‘Am I in the best place to positively effect a rescue’ E.g You want to be in a position where there is the greatest risk of an incident occurring, this does not necessarily mean the biggest hazard on a rapid.

Perfectly position to provide protection above syphon

Perfectly position to provide protection above syphon

Do not put yourself in a position where you might get in trouble yourself, if you become part of the incident you are no use to anybody.


Reading books and blog post like this are not a replacement for practice or experience and are certainly don’t take the place of getting some training formally & informally from someone suitable qualified / capable. However when you understand the Principles of Safety and the part they play in white water paddling you will be far better able to look after yourself and your mates. White Water Safety & Rescue by Franco Ferrero is a great bit of reference material and an ideal stocking filler, get on to you Wife, Husband, Boyfriend or Girlfriend to get it for Christmas for you.

David Gif Derreen

Over the next while I’m going to try cover some of the other principals of safety aimed at a fairly basic level much like this post, if there are any topics or skills you would like to be covered let me know.



Posted in Canoeing Ireland, Coaching & Instruction, White Water.

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