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Pin Kit

A low down on what gear to carry for when things don’t go quite to plan…

When a kayak becomes pinned, or a raft wraps around a rock, the whole force of the river bears down upon it, holding it in place. Depending on the speed of the water and how badly the boat is pinned, it may be possible extract it easily, by just pulling the boat in the right direction. However, those that are badly pinned may need a lot of force applied to remove them – perhaps more force than we as humans can generate on our own and so we look to mechanical advantage to help us. A “pin kit” or “wrap kit” is a set of rescue equipment that can be used to help build these MA systems, to help us get out gear back.

So what should you be carrying?

As you will have to carry everything that you use, you’re aim should be to do as much as possible, with as little as possible. Multi-purpose gear reigns supreme here. Your knowledge of MA systems, as well as some real world experience will dictate what you carry.


At the very least, I believe that kayakers should carry enough to build a simple 3:1 Z-drag.


The majority of my pin kit lives in my buoyancy aid, so that if I swim from my kayak or raft, I can go about unpinning it myself, should I have to. My usual kit is:

– 4 x HMS Screwgate Karabiners (only 3 are needed to actually build a Z drag)

– 2 x Prusik loops

– 1 x 5m Rescue tape 

– 18/20m Throwline


When paddling as a group, if everyone is carrying a similar amount of kit, then we can pretty much solve anything with our pooled gear. Add one more borrowed rescue tape/sling to the above set up and you’re already well on your way to setting up a 4:1 Pig-Rig, to gain even more MA.

Let’s take a look at those items individually:


Ideally, HMS Screwgate karabiners are what you want. Screwgates are less likely to come undone or snag on anything than simpler “snapgate” alternatives and are a must if you’re going to use them to clip in for live-bait rescue as well. But why HMS? HMS karabiners are shaped to accept an “Italian Hitch” for belaying and will also pass easily over an overhand knot, when setting up a tensioned downstream diagonal:



Some bags with skinny rope that have low breaking strains are better for throwing than hauling heavy loads. Likewise, a short line (perhaps 8-12m) is going to be of limited use, unless the boat is pinned very close to the bank. When buying a throwline, it’s essentially a compromise between the many characteristics – a strong rope that is long enough to haul on, but without being too heavy to throw accurately. My HF Weasel has performed really well in the past, both for throwing and also suprisingly in two, high load Z-drags. 

Rescue Tape:

The Palm rescue tape is basically a length of climbing tape, with a sewn loop end to accept a karabiner. The genius part however, is that it’s the perfect length to be coiled up for a reach rescue, or to be used as an anchor or flip line, to create a pig-rig, or to be used as a klemheist  knot. Truly multi-purpose.

Prusik loops:

These are the brakes in your MA system, used to capture the ground you’ve made whilst pulling. Bear in mind that thicker ropes will need a larger diameter Prusik cord to grip properly and vice versa. 60cm Dyneema climbing slings can also be used in place of a Prusik loop as shown below:


But don’t I need pulleys? 

No you don’t need them. Having pulleys in the system doesn’t somehow magically create more force. They are however, more efficient than rope-over-karabiner, but less efficient than tape-over-karabiner. Another reason why carrying rescue tape is an efficient, lightweight solution:


Your pin kit will also vary depending on where it is that you paddle.  In the U.K. we can often easily find trees close to the river to anchor off, using our 5m rescue tape. But when paddling in areas where the banks are strewn with large boulders, you may need to re-think what you carry. It’s not uncommon to carry longer lengths of tape, or pre-sewn slings to deal with this. Below shows two 8m lengths of climbing tape and one 240cm sewn sling:


What about for rafting?

Many rafting companies will have dedicated “wrap kits” carried in a sweep boat. Due to the forces involved with unwrapping a raft being potentially higher than that of a kayak, it is common to use static rope instead of a throw bag in an MA system and even to use multiple Z-drags. Using pulleys instead of tape in this situation allows a long “throw” in the system, before having to re-set and start again. The simple answer: carry more, of everything:


There are many ways to unpin boats and the method you use will depend on the situation each time. However, putting some thought in to the gear that you carry will give you more options.

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