-- Last Updated: Apr-14-13 1:55 PM EST --
Honestly, the only thing that see you did questionably was to get physically close to an unknown situation with the swimmer. The usual rule of life guarding is to always try to insert something for the swimmer to grab, at a distance sufficient that they cannot touch you, before going to the alternative of grabbing them yourself. Once on the swimmer, it is nearly impossible to execute the perfect carry technique if they have grabbed you around the head and are holding on tighter than a leech.
The other question might be assuming that the first paddler's disinterest indicated the situation for his companion. It is a normal first response and I think many of us would have the same. The only cure might be to up your estimate of idiot behavior on this river, and assume that anyone in the water is likely to be drowning. The worst that happens is you get to improve your rescue technique and save a few extra folks.
If you are going to take a swiftwater rescue class, you'll learn to use a throw rope. But if not everyone is proficient with it, which does take time.
If a throw rope isn't going to work and you need to insert objects between you and the swimmer, I'd start with the biggest and go down. In sequence that'd be the canoe if there was a moment that it was in position, tossing something from your boat then hauling that with the swimmer on the end back to shore (it does sound like he could have climbed up on your own boat) and then things like paddles or even a loose PFD. Just paddle or swim faster than the person you are rescuing.
Overall though two people are out of the water and one is still alive because of what you did. I'd congratulate you on that.
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