Swimming Skills

Packrafters should have specific training in paddling and swift water rescue. Check the list of training providers.

To avoid the risks associated with swimming your best defences are:

• Understand rivers – to avoid swims
• Develop advanced paddling skills – to avoid swims
• Choose good lines and know when to portage – to avoid swims

If you’re noticing a recurring theme here that’s good – avoid swims.


We can’t always avoid swims so we must be ready for them. Many problematic rescue situations we observe arise from lack of fitness and burst speed. You must be fit enough to make a sprint burst for the nearest eddy or riverbank.

  • Swim at the pool
  • Swim in safe places on rivers
  • Maintain your fitness
  • Take a river safety course
  • Know passive swimming and aggressive swimming techniques
  • Practice swimming with your packraft and paddle
  • Buy the River Rescue Manual as a reference point.

The float position

The safe “defensive” floating position: arms out to steer, feet out in front to deflect rocks but not so low as to get trapped. Waiting to line up an eddy to roll over and swim into.

Aggressive swimming is on your front (aussie crawl) when you need to move quickly into an eddy.

Swimming a rapid

  • Float passively conserving energy and adjust to cold water shock
  • Feet up to deflect rocks
  • Arms out to adjust and maintain a ferry glide angle
  • Look for the eddy
  • Roll from back over onto front and swim aggressively towards your target. In some situations you may need to swim facing upstream with a ferry glide angle set so the current pushes you to the side
  • Roll across the eddy line reaching deep into the eddy to plant an anchor
  • Barrel roll if needed

Ferry gliding in the float position to allow the river to push the swimmer towards the eddy

Eddying in and out may be needed to reach a safe exit point – the principles are the same as for breaking-out in a boat.

  • Speed is critical – a strong burst as you approach the eddy line
  • Angle – upstream into current best learnt by practicing
  • Position – head of the eddy
  • Reach – reach into the strong downstream current to harvest the power on your arm and pull you around
  • Barrel roll – to cross strong eddy lines
Crossing the eddy line with a barrel roll

Self Rescue

Half speed to show boat re-entry technique (experiment with this – whatever works for you works!)

Boating alone is discouraged. The minimum party is three craft. As with tramping, four in the party is the preferred minimum size. Some suggest three on Class II and four on Class III as a minimum group size. This means you can set safety and assist each other in the event of a swim.