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Swift water rescue

Swift Water Rescue in Mountain Rescue

Mountain rescue teams across the UK have varying degrees of water rescue capability designed to cater for incidents involving water sport enthusiasts in their respective areas. The Upper Dart Valley of the River Dart between Dartmeet and Holne Bridge on Dartmoor, is recognised nationally within the kayaking community as a challenging stretch of water and attracts many paddlers throughout the winter months especially. This stretch of water sits within the operational area of DSRT Ashburton and over the years we have been called out to various incidents which has, on at least one occasion unfortunately, ended in a fatality. To keep our volunteers safe when deployed on water and flooding rescues, we have for many years adopted swift water skills to our training programme for all members, a key element of which has been the creation of a team of highly trained swift water rescue specialists.


DSRT Ashburton have had a Water Team in various forms since 1999 when we adopted the role of water margin searching both on moving and still water environments. The members who initially put the team together came from a paddler’s and life-saving background, and developed team standards and techniques ahead of formal guidance from Mountain Rescue England & Wales (MREW) for bank and kayak based activities. Since 2009 we have adopted MREW, National and International Industry Standards and are committed to Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) aligned models of operations.



The Water Team are called upon to carry out various water-based activities for DSRT Ashburton in support of Devon & Cornwall Police, and at multi-agency incidents involving the Ambulance Service (SWAST), Coastguard (MCA), RNLI and Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service (DSFRS).

These can be summarised as:

  • Water margin searching of moving, tidal and still water environments;
  • In-water casualty stabilisation, extraction and evacuation;
  • Support during Urban Flooding/Coastal Inundation;
  • Instructing of MREW team members (to Defra standards):
    • Module 1 “Water Awareness” – involving how to recognise and avoid hazards, water hydrology and its effects, support of the command structure at water incidents;
    • Module 2 – “First Responder” – involving how to effectively and safely search water margins, provide support to Swiftwater Rescue Technician’s (SRT’s), demonstrate understanding in-water techniques for accidental immersion and self-rescue situations, support of the command structure at water incidents;
  • Implementing standards and best practice on behalf of the National Water Officer (MREW)


The current team of DSRT swift water specialists consists of 17 members, 13 of whom are Swiftwater Rescue Technician’s (SRT’s). Members can apply to become a member through the Training Officer, who will then liaise with the Water Team Lead regarding trainee candidacy. A trainee will work with the team for approx. 12 months, assisting with training delivery to the general team, participating in water team training events which introduces them to the skills involved, and being put through an SRT Course; at which point they will qualify as both an SRT and full member of the team, capable of water margin and in-water operations.


Continual Professional Development

Within the UK, Rescue3 training courses are used to provide the industry standard/best practice qualifications to all Cat 1 Responder organisations and voluntary blue light services. These internationally recognised standards allow personnel from disparate organisations to adopt the same operational techniques and command structures, meaning that cooperative working can occur at multi-agency incidents, for the benefit of those in need. DSRT Ashburton invests significantly in maintaining these qualifications for the members of the Water Team, and fully support the CPD ethos for its members who wish to assist the public in water based search & rescue.

Incident Report

DSRT Ashburton were recently called to assist the Police at an incident in the Dart Gorge involving two injured kayakers, who had become stuck on the opposite side of the river from their companions. Water team personnel deployed to the casualty site and used in-water techniques to safely cross the river (in spate) and assess the two young males. Basic first aid was delivered whilst they were waiting for other team members to reach that location with additional medical equipment, and they were evacuated safely to a waiting ambulance. Water Team personnel then recovered the casualties kayak equipment so as not to pose further danger to other river users, avoid false alarm calls should the boats descend the river unoccupied, and prevent further endangering of their party members who would likely seek to retrieve their belongings after the incident.


A short video showing the water team on a training exercise..

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