How to use Rescue Pulleys

If anyone has had any experience in how to rescue a jammed canoe using pulleys I’d appreciate knowing what type of pulley I should always carry with me and the best method to pry a canoe off a rock or stump using a pulley. Thanks


– Last Updated: Jun-30-10 4:09 PM EST –

I suspect TheBob will let you know that I meet the qualifications you state (experience pinning a canoe and getting it un-pinned with much help). The 2 pulleys I carry are CMI Twin Micro Pulley with becket. But I am paddling a 17 foot tandem and am usually the largest boat in the group, which means I better have beefy enough gear with me to un-pin my boat. No one else will. For small solo's or small tandem, CMI Micro Single pulleys would be fine. And you can get by with just using good carabiners, at the cost of some friction loss to your mechanical advanatage. I got my pulleys from Baileys and they also have a good selection of no/low stretch ropes.
Learn how to set up a Z-drag system with all the equipment you need; your deadman, your long rope, your prussic ropes, and the pulleys. Using 2 or more 1" wide loop runners as the attachment to the pinned canoe should do less hull damage than just using direct rope attachments. It helps to see a demonstration of how a Z drag is set up. I watched TheBob do one probably 5 years ago, and then started carrying one. It wasn't but 2 years later that I actually needed one.


“River Rescue” by Bechdel and Ray illustrates a variety of rescue and rigging techniques.

I’ll whack that bell…

– Last Updated: Jun-30-10 1:37 PM EST –

I recently reviewed the movie Lonesome Dove; one of my favorite movies.

As I often do; I latched onto a bit of dialogue from a movie. This line or something very similiar to it was spoken by the Mexican cook in Lonesome Dove,
"I'll whack that bell if I want too"!

What has that got to do with rescue pulleys?

Change the line of dialogue to,
"I'll buy that rescue pulley if I want too"!
"I'll wear that rescue vest if I want too"!

When I did the Z-drag "demonstration" at one of the Ozark Rendezvous, that's exactly what it was; a "demonstration".

If I remember correctly; I prefaced that demonstration with these words of advice, "Just because you have the money to buy the components of a Z-drag system, and you "generally" know how to rig a Z-drag system, does NOT mean you have all the information you need to know"!
I'm sure I also added; get a good book with information about haul systems, read that information thoroughly, and then "get some instruction".

Haul systems/rescue equipment/rescue techniques, and their possible use in boat retrieval &/or rescue situations have "inherent risks" as well as benefits.
Do some reading, and "get some instruction" is still my advice. If you do not; you will "not" know all of the inherent risks of owning, and using that type of equipment. In my opinion, using rescue equipment and rescue technques without approved training & instruction put you & others at risk. You may even worsen a situation without training & experience.

CMI does make good gear in my opinion.

The best river rescue book in my opinion is
Whitewater Rescue Manual by Charles Walbridge & Wayne A. Sundmacher Sr. I may be biased; Sundmacher was my Swifwater Rescue Instrutor Trainer when I was first certified in 1995.

I was also trained in Swiftwater Rescue by Shane Williams at NOC, and Gordon Black of ACA.


P.S. Or as the old mountain man in Jeremiah Johnson said to a young Jeremiah, "Didn't put down enough dirt; seen it, right off"!
Transpose that to, "Didn't know what he was doing; seen it, right off"!

“Now that was a damned foolish

… thing to do Jake. You could have missed that bell and hit the house. No wonder you’re on the run.”

How you attach to the boat is important.

– Last Updated: Jun-30-10 1:49 PM EST –

... too. "I was there" when rescuing Duluth Moose's big tandem from a nasty pin. It looked to me like simply pulling the boat straight away from the pin would probably do more harm than good, due to the strong current resisting such a pull, and because a rock well below the surface was in the way of pulling that direction. The boat was on its side with the open top facing the current, and I wrapped the pulling rope over the top and all the way around to the side facing the direction of pull before tying it to the corner of a thwart. That way, the boat did not need to be dragged straight against the current and up against that deep boulder, but was "rolled" out of there like rolling a log on the ground. Once it rolled 1/4 of the way around, the current lifted it to the surface and it was free.

The point is, half the solution to a pinned boat can sometimes be pulling it in a well-thought-out manner that won't make a bad situation worse (for the boat, that is). After we unpinned that boat, Bob told me that articles have been written about the method with which I wrapped that rope before tying, so I guess the manner in which that boat was pinned must have been a pretty common situation (and apparently some guy with a rather large ego has gone so far as to ascribe his own name to that roll-the-boat method, but in Duluth Moose's situation the method was really nothing more than common sense).

The method…

– Last Updated: Jun-30-10 2:45 PM EST –

The method you described is similiar to the method sometimes referred to as the "Steve Thomas rope trick".

I am not so sure that someone other than Steve Thomas named the method after Thomas; as opposed to Thomas naming it after himself.

That technique is one of several that might be used "instead" of rigging a Z-Drag. Other possible techniques include the C-Rig, Armstrong(aka 10 little boy scouts), Vector Pull, or a variety of those mentioned, used at the same time.

On "many" occasions, the inability to dislodge a pinned boat is simply "not knowing" the correct/effective angle of pull.Which leads to anchor points, choosing webbing, choosing rope, attaching slings, caribiners, pulleys, prusiks, etc, rock as anchors, trees as anchors, horns, wraps, cracks, chocks, multi point anchors,the correct knots to use, load distribution, shock loading,minimum breaking strength, haul system limitations, & on & on & on.

All of doesn't come on a printout when you buy your rescue pulley.

It's not rocket science; anybody with average intelligence & motivation can learn what they need to know.

Rig a haul system with a couple of pulleys & caribiners; shock load the rope, and you may find out what a caribiner & a pulley taste like, feels like, or looks like, coming at you at 50 mph.


P.S. To "further muddy the water"..........."the moral dilemma"............

You buy all the gear necessary to rig a Z-Drag haul system, and then you "read about it".You might even get some training. You start carrying the components of the Z-Drag system with you on river trips. One day you come upon a scene where someone is pinned between a boulder & a canoe. This person needs help & quickly. You have the components of the system, you've read about the system, you had some training, and you've even practiced setting it up a couple of times.

Now what ya gonna do?
If you don't rig it right; you may worsen the situation.
Even if you rig it right; the victim may be permanently disabled, or die.
Whether or not you had training may, or may not matter. If someone has the money for a lawyer, and thinks you are "somehow" at fault........
What you gonna do?
Decisions, decisions...........

Our local paddling shop
sells little laminated cheater cards featuring assorted popular useful knots and pulley rigs. They are very handy to have in your rescue bag with your pulleys and carabiners.

We also use them in swiftwater rescue training to help people figure out how to set up a Z drag or a pig rig. Then we dump all the gear back in a bag and take the cards away.

If you can’t find them locally you can make your own.