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Nelson family in rapids capsize using ride-on kayaks

by NZ Police Media 6 Jan 18:07 NZDT 6 January 2020
Motueka River Grade 2 rapids © Rescue Nelson

Members of a local Nelson family had a very close call when they went kayaking down a section of the Motueka River near Ngatamoti on Sunday afternoon.

It was the first time they had been on the river and they were not prepared for the grade two rapids they encountered.

As they entered rapids, two of the party of four got into difficulty.

A woman capsized and was then swept down the rapid head first and a teenage girl became pinned against a rock at the top of the rapid.

This is an incredibly dangerous situation to be in, local Police Search and Rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Malcolm York says.

The girl's father managed to get to her and they made the correct decision to stay in the safe position on the rock and call for help.

Police and Fire and Emergency staff responded and set up below the rapid where they could assist with throw lines if the pair were swept off the rock.

Members of the Tasman Land Search and Rescue River Search and Rescue team were dispatched with a jet boat to the scene, where a rescuer gave the pair helmets and walked them upstream to the jet boat where they were then taken back to shore.

Thankfully the pair were uninjured but were assessed by St John staff before returning home.

The woman who capsized and another male were able to get themselves back to shore safely.

There are some very important lessons learnt by the group that were kayaking a river they had never been on before.

Their kayaks were plastic ride on kayaks that are only suitable for calm seas or lakes.

They also had no helmets to protect their heads from striking objects in the water.

Sergeant York says it's so important to know your limitations and stay within them.

"To run a river with rapids you need to have the right equipment and know how to use it correctly. You need to be trained how to read the river and how to pick the safest line to travel down.

Even on a grade two river, like the Motueka, there are so many hazards for the untrained.

Sadly, we have lost too many lives on the Motueka River over the years.

"Even with the right training and equipment it's always important to find out from a local expert about the section of river you want to run and preferably go with someone who has run the river before."

River running is a complex skill that requires kayak training, rescue training, good equipment, local knowledge and a good level of New Zealand bush skills including navigation and first aid, New Zealand Kayak School, NZOIA Assessor, Tasman White Water Rescue Team member Mick Hopkinson says.

“If you really want to be a river runner either join a kayak club or go with skilled, experienced friends who can look you after when things don't go to plan.

“Sit upon kayaks are designed for family fun on easy, safe beaches which are sandy and shallow with an incoming tide and an onshore breeze.

Sit upons are definitely not designed for navigating down Class Two rapids with boulder gardens.”

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