With the N3TC Drak Challenge just weeks away, and the influx of holiday makers leading to a significant increase on recreational users of the uMzimkhulu River, the local marshalls club has completed a river rescue refresher course to enable them to best deal with any crisis that might emerge.

The N3TC Drak Challenge is ably managed by the KZN Canoe Union safety team under Rob Hill, but key danger points are manned by men and women from the Sani Search Volunteers ready to provide assistance should a paddler get injured or entrapped in the river.

The volunteers have completed a refresher course with experienced local Mark Willment brushing up on the best practices for river rescue, using the Glenhaven rapid outside Underberg as their training base.

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Willment is fully confident in Hill’s KNCU sweep and safety team, but says the Sani Search volunteers provide a vital service to the race.

“These guys are all part of the Mountain Rescue Club, and in fact we are in the process of amalgamating with them formally,” said Willment.

“They are well prepared to carry out rescues at major rapids like Black Murray and Glenhaven, where they will be deployed on raceday, and the course we conducted went through all the protocols for rapid rescue, foot entrapments and rescue swimmers,” he said.

He added that being a mountain rescue squad they were best equipped to hike into remote areas to assist with rescues if needed, a reality given the numerous major rapids scattered in between the more accessible major rapids.

“We are all active in the mountain rescue squad, and these guys and girls have all the climbing and rope skills that will be needed if there is a remote rescue. They are incredibly versatile,” said Willment.

He said that the capacity of the local river rescue squad has been dramatically improved by the donation of specialised rescue equipment from the race sponsors N3TC last year.

“It has made a huge difference! We have specialised rescue life jackets and ropes, we have an inflatable croc that allows us to access any part of the river now, no matter how remote, and we have been training using the croc in specialised situations at weirs as well.

“They have indicated that they will be making another donation this year, which we have earmarked for more equipment, like small sit-on-top kayaks that will really help our rescue capacity,” said Willment.

“Swift water rescue is a really specialised field, and for a group like the Sani Search volunteers it is always a work in progress. we have to keep holding clinics and workshops to make sure we are up to speed with the best techniques and skills.

“It is holiday season now and there will be a lot of recreational trippers enjoying the uMzimkhulu on all sorts of craft. Hopefully it will be an incident free holiday season, but it is good to know that if there is a drama there is a uniquely skilled and committed group of men and women that can be deployed to respond and help,” he added.