• Leon Pantenburg | Survival Common Sense


Reader’s comments: Controlling panic when canoe capsizes in whitewater

Survival in whitewater depends on proper training and good equipment.
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This post from 2014 made my day! I ran into it while looking for something else. 

Here’s what a reader commented about controlling panic:

From Liana Ottaviano: Controlling panic:

Hi Leon,
Last weekend my husband and I canoed the North Fork of the John Day River (in Central Oregon) from six miles upstream of Monument, back into town where we had attended the Monument High School graduation the night before (June 2).  (My husband was handing out a SELCO Credit Union scholarship to one of the six graduates.)  On the drive upstream to the launch point, my husband (an Eagle Scout) made sure to educate me on the proper things to do if we fell into the water:  keep your feet in front of you pointing downstream, swim toward shore when you can, hang on to the rope attached to the boat, forget about the paddles, etc.

Survival in whitewater depends on proper training and good equipment.

Survival in whitewater depends on proper training and good equipment. (Pantenburg photo)

I was thankful for his advice about an hour later when we actually did swamp the boat in whitewater and both fell in fully clothed (with lifejackets, of course).  After my immediate shock of being in the water, gasping for air between waves, I recalled something one of your newsletters or blog posts mentioned about survival.

I can’t recall verbatim, but it had to do with keeping calm, not panicking, and using your head.  I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “I’m fine.  I have a lifejacket on.  Just relax like Leon said.”  When we reached calmer water, I swam toward shore, pulling the boat with me.  We both were perfectly fine.

I thought you might be interested that in the face of a stressful situation, your words of advice came to me and helped me.

Our life jackets worked just as they was supposed to, however I did make one discovery.  The lifejacket I was wearing is technically a “fisherman’s” lifejacket which has strings on the sides you can tighten for a snug fit.  Because I have a narrow body, I had them tight and the loose ends of the strings dangled about 3 feet long.  At the end of the strings are knots, and one knot became stuck between the aluminum seat and side of the boat when I fell out.

Initially, I was being dragged along with the boat through the water until I could get close enough to the boat, feel for the knot, and free it.  That was startling, and convinced me to get a new lifejacket for canoeing.

Thanks very much for your website and newsletters.  They really make a difference!

From Leon: Thank you for the feedback and kind words, but the credit for your survival has to go to your husband and his training! I learned this lesson from survival master Peter Kummerfeldt. Survival in any situation is a combination of many factors and facets of preparedness. I am delighted if I have managed to contribute one of those factors  from this website! You have made my day!

Outdoor Survival – Chapter 4 – Controlling Panic from Colorado Parks & Wildlife on Vimeo.



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