Medical Information regarding Swiftwater Rescue

Leptospirosis, Weil’s Disease, Hepatitis A, Gastrointestinal Illness, Blue Green Algae as well as a host of other contaminates can be in that water that you are having fun in. So at the very least just remember to wash your hands when your done, before you have a snack.

Cold Water

Working or playing in cold water can be fun if you are well protected. It is especially important to remember the phrase "dress for a swim", as too little protective clothing can result in a cold shock. This happens when most of the bodies cold sensors "fire" at the same time and can prevent a person from being able to actively swim. Happily often taking a dip in icy water can prevent this condition.

First Aid Kits

Your first aid kit should be tailored to the river trip that you are on and the type of people on it. I always have a first aid kit in the car, so I will just take some duct tape with me on the river. Duct tape will take care of 99% of all medical situations that a standard fist aid kit can on the river (if you are an old school hard boy). For guiding and instruction I take a regular first aid kit as my customers will expect a slightly higher standard of care.

On wilderness trips I will often add lots of other exotic pills and potions so that I can take care of anything that happens until I can get myself or the patient to somewhere with better facilities, which can often take longer than you think and might not be as great as you hoped for.


Everybody should be able to perform Basic Life Support (CPR). The success for bystander BLS in drowning cases is as high as 79% so it makes sense to give it a go especially if the river water is cold. The record for an successful adult reanimation (without brain damage) was after 60 minutes fully immersed in very cold water.

Prof. Chamberlain of the European Resuscitation Council recommends adapting their guidelines to best suit your patient. In drowning this means blowing more than recommended for a heart attack.


When traveling to exotic destinations don't forget to get your shots far enough in advance. I would caution the use of Malaria tablets as in my experience it is not as widespread in kayaking destinations as you would think. The exception to this is Uganda where most people who don't take malaria tablets end up contracting it.