Mention ice self-rescue tools and those experienced in the wintry outdoors will probably immediately envision ice awls or ice picks – those spiked handles that help you grab onto the ice when pulling yourself from the hole. They are indeed a primary rescue device for anyone who’s fallen through the ice.
If you’re familiar with paddlesport rescues, particularly fast water/white water methods, you know that a throw bag is a pouch containing 50 feet of rope that feeds out when tossed to the victim providing a looped end to hold onto while being pulled to safety. It makes sense to use the same technique in an ice break-through situation, too.
For the victim, having a throw bag handy, attached to the upper exterior of a backpack, or carried in a pocket – anywhere that it’s accessible for quick access and deployment – can be a life-saving tool. A throw bag can also be used to toss a line out onto the ice for rescuers to use to haul out a victim, too.
Here are a few tips on using a throw bag:
- Never coil the rope beforehand and “load” it into the bag as one mass. It can snag or bunch up and not be able to feed out freely, which is critical to being able to throw it out its full length. Instead, load the rope into the bag by feeding it continually from its uncluttered or bunched length on the ground. It takes a bit longer, but allows for a smooth, fluid feed from the bag as it sails through the air towards your target/victim;
- An underhand toss is usually more accurate and less likely to snag during the throw;
- If your first toss doesn’t reach your victim, haul it back, but do not waste time trying to re-stuff the rope into the pouch. It’s better to add just enough weight to the pouch to give it a little mass so it can be tossed a longer and more directed distance. I’ve stuffed snow into the pouch and found that it works well as ballast;
- Make sure the loop on the end of the bag is big enough to easily slip around a gloved or mittened hand. Also that loop can be used to pull the standing end of the line through it to make a larger loop that would then go around the victim’s shoulder/armpit;
It can take a few practice tosses to learn how best to drape the lines from the pouch to allow for the least encumbered motion for throwing. You want at least 2- to 3 feet extending out of the bag as you wind up to throw it, but don’t want it spilling out onto the ground, either.
Having a throw bag handy for any type of activity around water, flowing or frozen, is a smart piece of gear to have. And like all gear, take the time to practice with it before you have to use it to save a life!