You’re looking at the pieces of equipment that—aside from personal floatation devices—all boaters (and every angler who fishes from a boat) should know and understand. The throw bag can and will save someone’s life, but it’s your responsibility to know how to make that happen.
Unlike the PFD that works almost by itself, provided you have the right fit and buoyancy rating, the throw bag requires a little practice to master. And the key word there is practice, because you want to be able to throw a line to someone in distress accurately and quickly, by instinct. In a river situation especially, when someone falls out of the boat, you should assume you get two shots maximum. Here’s how to make them count.
Grab the base of the rope in your off hand, and the bag in your throwing hand. Use an underhand tossing motion to throw the bag right at the person you are targeting. It’s okay to hit them right in the kisser if it gets their attention and lets them know the rescue line is at hand. Don’t be afraid to give it some distance; it’s better to overshoot and have the line draped on the victim than to come up short.
Now here’s the tricky part. Say you miss with the first shot or the victim drops the bag. You need to immediately start coiling in the slack line with your hands, with steady even strips. The thing to remember is that, on the second shot, the rope end is the end you throw, and the bag end becomes the anchor end. You don’t have time to coil it all up, readjust and throw the bag again. You strip in the line, hang onto the bag, and throw the rope.
You should be able to fire off two lengthy, accurate tosses—one throwing the bag, the next throwing the rope—within 10 seconds or so. And the only way you’re going to be able to do that is if you practice on dry land. Believe me, you will—and especially the person you’re throwing the bag to when it matters will—really appreciate the time you spend honing the toss.
Whether I’m on a lake, a river, or on the ocean, I wouldn’t own a boat without a throw bag on board. Most throw bags cost less than $50, which is a very prudent investment, provided you also invest the time needed to learn how to use it.
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, and an editor-at-large for Field & Stream.