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How To Throw A Throw Bag: The Handful Method

Minimal Risk for near shore rescues

Author: Willa Mason, Guide and Instructor

Throw bag techniques can be divided into two different categories: full bag and split bag. Using a split bag technique, rescuers throw a shorter length of rope into the river. This is normally achieved by throwing coils of rope, or in this case, a handful of loose rope.

Split bag techniques reduce entanglement risk by putting less rope in the water and should become every rescuer’s go-to in certain situations. With practice, the handful technique can become a super fast way to complete an efficient split bag throw.

We’ve broken down the main aspects that make this method unique, and highlighted the situations in which it is the ideal technique to use.

Summary: With the “Handful method” the rescuer holds on to the bag and throws a handful of loose rope towards the swimmer. This technique achieves a very quick and effective throw.

Video—The Split Bag Rescue (Handful Method  shown at 00:41) 

How to throw a throw bag with The Handful Method:

  1. Point the opening of your throw bag towards your target
  2. Open the bag completely
  3. Use a backhand throw (overhand or underhand will work too, but can take more time) to launch a handful of rope towards your target
  4. Your throwing hand will finish pointing at your target, in line with the throw bag 

Pros: Less rope in the river = less hazard. The rescuer still has half the bag of rope to rescue a second swimmer or to make a second attempt. This method works well when using a “backhand” style throw, which can be very practical in places where rocks or trees may impede rescuers from executing a spectacular underhand or overhand throw. 

Cons: Harder to throw the rope a large distance

Application: This “handful method” is useful in close-to-shore rescues where you don’t need a lot of rope. In a river with lots of rocks, trees, fellow paddlers, swimmers, or other obstacles, it can be really dangerous to have rescues where extra rope could become entangled. This throw can also be helpful when rescuing two swimmers at once, since half of the rope remains in the bag, ready for a second throw.

Case Study: The Handful Method in action

Case Study: In this situation, paddler (Alex) became stuck in a hydraulic, where the recirculating water wouldn’t allow him to move downstream. He tried to paddle out of it, but the current kept pulling his kayak back in. A rescuer on shore approached to offer support with a throw bag. Close to shore and stuck in one spot, Alex was a predictable target, an ideal situation to use the handful method because the rescuer did not need to worry about throwing the rope very far. Because most of the current in the hydraulic is recirculating rather than moving downstream, any excess rope would be tossed around in the hydraulic with Alex and his kayak, potentially entangling him. By throwing less rope, the entanglement risk was reduced.

This scenario has all of the elements for the handful method to be successful, and the rescuer did a great job identifying the handful method as the most appropriate resource for the moment, with an efficient and precise execution.

Ultimately, the best throwing style is the one that you are comfortable with. Underhand, overhand, full bag techniques and split bag techniques are all building blocks to increase rescuer versatility.  Now get out there and practice, because the more tools we add to our toolbelt, the more likely we are to reach for the right tool in the right situation!


Read: How To Carry A Throw Bag

Read: How To Carry Your Webbing Flip Line – For Whitewater

Training: Whitewater & Swiftwater Rescue Training

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