I recently followed a lengthy debate on a popular paddling forum regarding the pros and cons of rescue stirrups (aka rescue slings). A rescue sling is a device used to help a swimmer who can’t seem to pull themselves up onto their boat during a rescue. Although I’d definitely consider a stirrup to be a last resort, there are times as a guide that a stirrup has proven a quick and effective way of getting a cold and tired paddler back in their boat.

There are a host of different ways to use a rescue stirrup. Many stirrup configurations are unwieldy, time-consuming, and hazardous. Some methods require lashing paddles together…something which strikes me as a bad idea (you might need that paddle!) and one that would be impractical in rough water. Others use long loops of webbing that invariably wind up wrapped around the swimmer as they climb back into the boat.

In keeping with the K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple, stupid!) principle, I’ve devised a simply stirrup that deploys quickly, floats, and has a quick release to minimize the risk of entrapment. The rescue stirrup I carry as a guide is a 9 ft line with a rope end ball on one end and a bowline on the other. When the ball is fed into the bowline, it forms a loop that is draped around the cockpit coaming of the empty boat, with the long end hanging in the water.

Rescue StirrupBowline and Ball
(Above) The K.I.S.S. Stirrup: 9 ft non-floating line, rope ball end, a bit of minicell foam in shrink tubing or wrapped in electrical tape for a float, and a section of aquarium tubing to create a foot hold that sinks.

The rescuer stablizes the boat as in a normal assisted rescue, while the swimmer places a foot in the loop so they can use their legs to boost themselves onto the back deck of their boat.

As the swimmer enters the boat, the rescuer can trip the quick release with a simple push of the thumb:

Quick Release 1

Quick Release 2

There are a number of drawbacks to using a stirrup. They take a little more time, and poses an potential entrapment hazard. But those risks have to be balanced against having a tired swimmer staying in the water too long, or the problems associated with scoop rescues that get a paddler back into a fully swamped boat.

The quick-release rig I’ve configured is a handy bit of kit to carry, especially if you’re leading or paddling with individuals who may not necessarily be proficient in getting back into their kayak. Our guides all carry stirrups, which we’ve found to be just “another arrow in the quiver” when it comes to rescues. Remember, the best rescue is the one that works!