Long Rescue Rope

by Bob Dill - March 1990

In a some rescue situations the only way to get to a person in the water will be to send a rescuer a significant distance onto weak ice. This is not a good idea if there is even a moderate chance that the rescuer will become a victim too.

At the Canadian Nationals on Hamilton Bay a couple years ago two sailors went through the ice in an area of bad ice on a very warm day. In the course of trying to rescue them, one more sailor (Tac Boston) and two firemen fell through trying to get to them. All of them were not able to rescue themselves because of the rotten ice they fell through. An attempt to get to them by boat was not successful because the weak ice made pushing the boat across the ice almost impossible. Luckily both a helicopter and hover craft arrived on the scene after about 40 minutes. Everybody survived .

Better protection for the rescuers would have prevented their becoming victims. They should have had some sort of cold water protection: a survival suit, a dry suit or a wet suit (in order of decreasing effectiveness). Rescuers should be belayed with a back-up rope so they could be rescued from shore or by a second rescuer a considerable distance behind the lead man.

We have made a large version of the rescue throw bag described in the December 1986 newsletter. It contains 1200 feet of 1/4" polypropylene rope. this particular rope is film rope" with a breaking strength between grapevine (double overhand) knot loops of a little over 600 lb. The end is attached to a harness on the rescuer before leaving shore. He can go the full length of the rope and still be rescued with out having anyone else have to go onto the ice.

The rope in a bag system allows the rope to pay out without assistance from another person. The rope pays our with very little resistance and little risk of tangling. The bag will need to have a rope storage volume of a little less than four times the rope volume on a reel. I made an 11 inch diameter bag.

The bag end of the rope should be tied to the bag. It should have a strong loop on it to attach additional rope if necessary.

The bag is most easily filled by running the rope through an overhead pulley. The bag can be held open by another person, used as a waste basket liner or what ever while the rope is stuffed in. I made my bag out of sleeve knit which is stiff enough to stand on its own.

A couple notes of caution. This system is not foolproof. A 600 lb strength rope is marginal for a belay rope. Ropes get cut. Knots come undone, especially in polypropylene. Prolonged exposure to sunlight severely weakens polypropylene. There are sometimes hidden "splices" in long pieces of rope (often made with masking tape). If you fall through the ice and the rope separates from you for any reason, you are no better off than the person you went to rescue, unless you have protection from cold water.

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