But what i learned about rescuing someone panicking in the water is stay away from them. Proper carry technique is to get an arm around them from behind. If they grab at you take a breath and go under then move away. They taught us to knock them out with a right cross to the chin but I've always doubted the wisdom behind that, or the ability to throw a punch in the water, and it wasn't concerning rescuing strangers. Could you have swam close enough to extend a paddle to them? Maybe thrown the PFD from the swamped canoe? In A strong current, a person grabbing a rope will go under so that probably won't help much in a panic situation.
REACH, THROW, but only GO with training and equipment.
Have you taken a CPR class recently? Our local fire dept offers training cheaper than from the Red Cross. On the plus side, just thinking about your options now means you'll be more prepared next time.
Cartop Kayak Carriers
YakCatcher Rod Holder
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