By Katie Collins News Eagle Reporter
UPPER DELAWARE - In 1979, a group of outdoor sportsmen were troubled by the number of people who were perishing in the Delaware River, so they decided to do something about it. And they did, by establishing The National Canoe Safety Patrol (NCSP), which to date, has saved countless lives, while just trying to ensure people enjoy the river safely. Today, with nearly 100 members, Mary Kay Rhodes, the wife of the late Richard Rhodes, one of the organizations founders, said the organization truly is what her husband envisioned 34 years ago.
Completely a volunteer organization, every member of NCSP is certified in first aid, CPR and emergency rescue. Anyone can participate in the organization, with some members being as young as five-years-old. Members do not have to have emergency rescue backgrounds, as there are members who are educators, real estate investors and engineers. Members need to provide their own equipment, which includes an array of gear like their own canoes, helmets and more.
As a National Park, there are law enforcement and interpretative staff who cover the Upper Delaware, but with the assistance of NCSP members, there is a greater coverage of the river as different access points tend to need more attention than others. Troy Bystrom, the marketing director for NCSP, said members of NCSP are not law enforcement, but rather, "basically customer service folks on the river."
Two years ago, a water safety campaign was started because five people drowned in the Upper Delaware and five drowned in the Delaware Water Gap, which Bystrom said, made the park the most dangerous in the nation. Together, the organizations created a water safety program and last year, there were zero deaths.
For the volunteers, a day typically starts between 9 and 10 in the morning and may not end until 7 at night. Some members may be stationed at riskier areas like Skinners Falls, while others will paddle the river, ensuring everyone is safe and suggesting that people wear life vests. Children 12 and younger, by law, are required to wear life jackets. Adults have to have them readily accessible in their vessels. There are times, depending on water conditions, where adults are also required, but NCSP greatly suggests people always wear them.
NCSP’s training for the 2013 season, took place last weekend, where experienced members guided the new ones with discussions, setting up scenarios, which would later be played out, as the new members trained in various areas of the river. Bystrom said, the training curriculum is specific to the Delaware River, but the skills are general enough to be used on any river. Water mobility techniques like the "crab walk" and "combat swimming," were taught to better prepare the volunteers who will eventually help park visitors.
Combat swimming, Bystrom explained, is a modified swimming technique where swimmers roll their bodies towards the rocks, while keeping the core elements of their body protected by pushing off on the side, using one's arms to navigate through the rapids. The body is angled, so swimmers can maintain a certain direction, to specifically be positioned in the river.
As for the crab walk, Bystrom said people interlock their arms, using each other as support. With their arms interlocked, one person moves at a time while the other persons act as anchors. He added that, the crab walk is a technique that gives people stability as they are in the water.
Dejay Branch, the vice commodore, said the training gives people the rescue mentality, as people talk about the mechanics and never putting oneself in harm’s way because rescuers don’t want to become victims too. The training, he said, is scenario based so people are learning hands-on; to see what really happens on the river. Branch called it, "practical," because everything is experienced on the river.
The NSCP Training Director, Bill Walters has been paddling since Jimmy Carter was president and a member of NSCP since 1999. For Walters, the hardest part of the job is that people aren’t prepared for what the river really is. He said, "Disney kind of parks have really numbed us down to the safety and the perspective," so people don’t realize that the Delaware River is, "truly wilderness." But, there is also the continuous issue of people who are unwilling to wear a life jacket. Of the struggle, he added that it’s an, "area of obvious need and simple solution."
Following a lunch break at Saturday’s training, Rhodes spoke of the evolution of the organization and how it has become like a family. But, to be a member, she said it takes people who, "believe in service, has a great love of the environment, has a passion for people and wanting to work with the community and help the community."
Although training was last weekend, NCSP is always looking for new volunteers. For information, visit