You'll have to pardon this long, rambling scene setup, but I could really use some advice on how things could have been handled better.
My wife, her brother and myself took to the Flint River, in GA on 4/13 for our first outing of the year. Water's up so the shoals were rapids (probably class 2 ~ though we're all relatively new to paddling so I don't have a very good frame of reference) and we all got to enjoy doing some self rescues. No big deal, water felt great, we all wear proper fitting PFDs, it was just a little exhausting pulling a swamped kayak to shore so they could be drained. We took lots of breaks, enjoying the day. Just after one of the more mild rapids (that we all navigated successfully, and with much joy), we pulled over for a rest stop and saw a another kayak and canoe coming down the river so we stood there and watched (actually, I was in my kayak still). Well, the canoe dumped and I went out to gather their stuff while my brother-in-law swam out to grab the canoe and we all assumed they would just swim to shore (this section of water was deep). I have the paddles and head back to shore, see my brother-in-law with the canoe near shore, the guy in the kayak is taking photos with his phone and talking about posting them at work (co-workers on a weekend trip) the next week when he starts yelling "He's drowning!" Brother-in-law drops the canoe and swims back to the guy, I'm just about to shore where I bail and start swimming to the guy as he bear-hugs my brother-in-law and dunks him. Thankfully my BIL is a fair swimmer and has a PFD so he held on for the ~30 seconds it took me to swim out where the guy now grabs me and dunks me pretty good too. Even at 6'4" and underwater, I'm not touching bottom and didn't till we were 5' from shore. Obviously, he's freaked, not wearing a PFD (it was loose in the canoe), not helping with the effort to get him to shore and it's a freaking LOT of work to drag him (he was probably a dense 200lbs, my BIL is a dense 220 and I'm a dense 240 ~ I don't float without PFD assistance but I'm a strong swimmer) back to shore. He was dunking each of us alternately, so breathing was fun... plan to breathe when he's not pushing and right after a strong kick, exhale while underwater, rinse and repeat.
We made it to shore where the guy puked up a little river water but was mostly just shaken from the experience. Heck, *I* was shaken from the experience and sat on shore for a good 40~50 minutes after this... and even when we started to leave, my legs went all limp-noodle and I dumped myself back in the water.
Now, I'm trying to understand if we could have done things differently for the better and how. In hind-sight (always 20/20, isn't it?) my BIL would have grabbed one of the PFDs in the canoe, my wife would have tossed the throw-bag that was in my BILs kayak (she was busy rescuing the canoe, the other canoe occupant got to shore and sat there doing exactly nothing while we rescued everything for him). I know that one can use a kayak for rescue too, but I suspect the guy would have grabbed the cockpit and dumped me in with him and then there would have been another boat to drag in.
Plans, as of right now, are to buy 2 more throw bags so we each have one. I'm not sure my wife could have done too much more than toss the bag and wind her end around a tree (she's only 5'4" and 120lbs dripping wet). And also attend a swift water rescue class (trying to find the money and make sure we have a free weekend right now).
I'm thankful that things ended as good as they did, and I'm *NOT* looking for pats on the back (only did what anyone would do, or what I hope anyone would do). I do want critical thoughts on how this situation could have been handled better on our part. This seems like it could be a common occurrence if we keep paddling (and I'm loving it so-far, so I think we're going to keep paddling) and want to be prepared better next time. Even if it's only knowledge.
Thanks ~ Brian