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Group Paddling - LONG


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Group Paddling - LONG

I was spurred to post this after talking with Suzanne and others about last Saturday’s SNG to see Queen Mary II and Peaks, and beyond. We had such a wide variety of paddling levels and interests that day, with 21 kayaks, it was not surprising - after we split into 3 groups of 7 - when a variety of things happened. :)) I would like to hear what options people see for this type of situation.

“You are responsible for your own safety.”

I keep thinking about the relationship between the individual and the group. Those words, which we often say to one another, seem to me to fall short of what really happens when people paddle together.

So I turned, as I often do, to John (Tsunami Ranger) Lull’s book “Sea Kayaking Safety & Rescue.” In Chapter 15 he talks about group safety through teamwork and relates that concept to “kayak teams,” “guided trips,” “club trips,” and “private groups.” I’ll skip the part about guided trips.


Lull’s description of a kayaking team seems to fit some of our members who have found paddling buddies they go out with regularly, like Rick S. and Ciro:

“… each team member is fully competent for the task at hand, is entirely self-sufficient, and knows the strengths and weaknesses of the other members. Each member can also fill any necessary role but may specialize in one or two roles, such as lead paddler or navigator. There must also be shared awareness, good communication, and a common mission. Each paddler knows where the others are and what the overall plan is. The paddlers might not always be within sight of one another, but they know whether someone is behind or up ahead.”

So, when a “team” gets ready to leave the beach, only a quick update is required: “my shoulder is feeling sore,” “my radio is in the shop,” or “I forgot my tow belt,” etc. to let your teammates know about anything out of the ordinary. A more detailed beach briefing is not required because everyone already has the necessary information.


Lull’s description of “Club Trips” sounds like us:

“… in most cases, the group will be a mix of paddlers (some of whom may be new to the club) with varying skill levels. This mix of paddling skills will make it impossible to implement all the teamwork concepts. … On a club trip, the group will usually require a slightly more rigid structure than the experienced team, stronger paddlers must be prepared to look after weaker paddlers. However, the more a kayak club uses the team concept and promotes personal responsibility, the safer and more enjoyable its trips will be.”

On official club trips the leaders do the planning and set the trip level, although paddlers will still have varying skill levels. There is a float plan left with a responsible person, a beach briefing to cover communication issues and more, see below, and methods of keeping the group together, like the "lead" and "sweep" paddlers Lull talks about.


This sounds a lot like our show ‘n goes, but we add elements of greater numbers and some people who do not know one another:

“Private kayaking trips with two or three friends probably allow the most freedom on the water and provide the optimal opportunity for applying the team concept. This is especially true if you are all at about the same skill level and know one another well. … Although private groups enjoy a great deal of freedom, problems can occur when they are too loosely organized. Teamwork is effective only if you use it. When you go out with a group of friends on an “unofficial” trip, there is a tendency to toss the kayaks on the water and take off, without any real plan. Most of the time you can get away with this, especially if everyone is an experienced paddler. However, if you all go your separate ways, you are essentially paddling solo. If you want to paddle as a group, everyone should know the general plan and pay attention to the others in the group.”

People posting show 'n goes, and doing private paddles, do varying amounts of planning and communicating.


Boy did those words leap off the page at me. How many times have I just wanted to do just that? Skip all the gear and talk and just GO.

After re-reading Lull, I realize once again that only a true “team” has that luxury. For everyone else, we need to take the time - with our paddling mates of the day - to pause on the beach and cover the items every group on the water needs to know: about each other and the plans for the day. And, have enough respect for the ocean to be fully prepared - as individual paddlers - every time we launch.

So, take a look at this list. How much do people do for show ‘n goes?

Briefing on the Beach

1. Introductions

a. Name and paddling background

b. Goals for the trip

2. Location and Conditions

a. Route

1) Show route on chart and discuss risks

2) Backup plans and escape routes

3) Bailout procedure

b. Conditions

1) Weather forecast

2) Wind and waves

3) Tides and currents

4) Boat traffic

5) Hazards

c. Features (optional)

1) Flora and fauna

2) Geology

3) Human history

3. Risks

a. Hypothermia and clothing

b. Skill levels: review, question, screen, observe

c. Personal limitations: contact leader (privately if preferred)

d. Physical requirements: hydrate, food, fatigue

4. Safety and Group Procedures

a. Leadership roles

b. Expectations of participants

c. Importance of staying with the group

d. Conditions and procedure for leaving the trip

e. Importance of communication with trip leader

f. Speaking up (let us know if you are having a problem)

g. Paddle formations to be used

h. On the water signals

i. Emergency routine

j. Review wet exit

k. Human Wastes

5. Trip Administration

a. Responsibilities of individuals

b. Trip Leader roles

c. Liabilities and waivers

d. Emergency contacts

Liz N.

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Liz brings up many good points in her post. I would like to address another aspect. Most of my kayaking of late has been with a really close group of friends. We are all aware of each other’s skills; it makes for safe enjoyable paddling most of the time. Let me be the first to admit that with them I have pushed my limits many times and they were always there to bail me out but at times endangering themselves. (Special note to ADLV mea culpa... I will try and do better.)

SNG’s (show n go’s) are the other end of the spectrum. You post and then end up paddling with whomever shows. That’s not a bad thing and can be a lot of fun. I find that the few times that I have done SNG’s this year, all but one had someone out of their element or unprepared for the EXPECTED conditions.

One point that Liz didn’t address was individual preparedness for a trip. People need to review the trip levels and understand the implications. [http://www.nspn.org/play-trip-levels.html]

Here are level 3 conditions:

Wind- 15 knots

Waves/Chop-2 feet

Surf- 2 feet

Current- 2 knots

Distance- 15 miles

Paddle-Level 2 skills.Correcting and boat handling strokes. Solid bracing.

Rescue- Wet exit, paddle float self rescue, partner rescue (THIS SHOULD SAY IN LEVEL 3 CONDITIONS - THAT IS ASSUMED BUT NEEDS STATING)

Pace- 2-3 knots

Desirable Experience: Level 2 trips or equivalent. Class in rescues and tows

Saturday’s conditions fell well within the boundaries of a level 3 trip. But not all of the 22 paddlers were comfortable in level 3 conditions. That might be fine if you are paddling with friends who are aware of your skill level and you theirs and both are prepared for the potential consequences. I don’t think that a SNG is the place for people to stretch their limits. You are dealing with too many unknowns.

Consider this scenario:

One paddler who is comfortable in level 3 conditions decides to post a SNG. Seven people show up but they all decide this is when they are going to push themselves and try paddling in level 3 conditions. How about an unexpected storm blows in with thunder and lightning and off-shore winds start blowing, waves pick up to 2’, winds up to 15 kts and the group of eight are now trying to paddle against a current that there were originally planning on riding with. The situation is a recipe for disaster.

I originally felt that if I am comfortable with the possible outcome/risk, why shouldn't the people I am with be OK with that? Here is what they told me... They don't want to be the one to tell Ashley that they left her mother in the rocks, floating to Portugal so, no matter what, they would risk themselves to try and bring me home safely. Are we being fair putting others in that position?

So, here are questions that should be addressed:

How do we get trips on the calendar so that with planning, a group can be organized that ends up taking one or two people that are stretching their limits rather than a whole group stretching their limits with someone not much stronger than them (yes - that would be me)?

What are other ways that individuals can ramp up their skills so that they can prepare themselves for conditions?


(Note that I am unable to respond until I get back from Georgia)

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The concerns about SnG's are right on the mark, IMHO. That's why I personally don't run them any more. I want to know who is showing up and what their skill level is, and have a chance to talk with them in advance about what to expect.

So, when I propose an unofficial trip, I leave it at just that -- an unofficial trip, not a show-n-go. I ask everybody to contact me, and if I don't know them, I ask for a brief paddling "resume". As a bit of insurance, I don't post the exact launch place and time on the message board, but tell people by e-mail after the fact.

It's a bit of extra trouble (though nowhere nearly as much as an official trip) but has worked quite well. A couple of times I have indeed dissuaded someone from coming on a trip that they might find beyond their skill level. And apart from one odd case (not my fault!) haven't had anybody on a trip that didn't feel pretty comfortable. Sometimes there are one or two people stretching a bit, but not a huge amount, and they know in advance what they are getting into.


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Show 'n Goes were how NSPN was founded and are, I believe, fabulous.

I just think people - including me - need to be mindful of doing for show 'n go trips of doing what we do without fail on "official" trips.

For example, last Saturday, well into the day, I realized that for the group I was with I did not know:

1 - who had tow equipment (and the knowledge to use it for things like a stabilizing tow while a rescue is performed in waves),

2 - who had communication equipment (radios or cell phones),

3 - whether everyone had done a wet exit in the kayak they were paddling (with that spray skirt) and

4 - if anyone had any medical issues (like asthma triggered by carrying kayaks over rocks).

I never would have left the beach on an official trip - lead by me or anyone else - like that. The next time I am on a show 'n go I'll make sure I take responsibility for my safety by communicating much better with the group about all those things. I encourage each of us to do likewise.

Lull talks about bringing paddlers along through "mentorship." I think that should be a key component of NSPN's programming in 2005.

Liz N.

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My preferred technique for a show & go:

Call it at the last minute (i.e. a few hours before you head out)...this serves two purposes. One, it keeps the numbers down (sometimes nobody shows up and you paddle solo, sometimes one or two, rarely more). Second, you have a very good handle on the weather this close to the paddle.

Next, pick a place with many options. This allows a wide choice of adventures, depending on who shows up and what the on-the-spot conditions turn out to be. Be flexible. Sometimes it will turn into a rip-roaring long paddle with fun conditions...sometimes it will be fundamental stroke and rescue practice a few yards offshore.

For those of us with few opportunities to get out on the water, last minute flexibility is often the only way to get in any paddling at all.

All the fine comments on safety considerations others have made in this thread are doubly important when you aren't sure who is showing up -- and I agree with them fully. This is just my way of coping with the safety and logistics issues.

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I don't disagree... what we call SnG's are great. But as Suzanne noted, is that you don't know until you hit the beach for launch who is going to show. That's a problem on both ends of the spectrum -- you don't know if everyone will have the skill and comfort level for the trip; you also don't know, as Liz notes, whether there will be enough people with skills and equipment to anchor the group in case of trouble (or better yet, keep it out of trouble).

So, just let me point out, there are really ~four~ types of club trips, based on two variables...

Official -- sign up in advance (usual official trips)

Unofficial -- sign up in advance (what I'm moving toward)

Official -- just show up (less common, but not unheard of

Unofficial -- just show up (what we usually call SnG)

Actually, all four exist (and I've organized instances of all four types). What I'm proposing, and I think both Liz and Suzanne presented some evidence for, is cutting down on all "just show up". That cuts the spontaneity somewhat -- you can't just decide on that morning of the trip that you are going -- but not that much. But it improves the safety and enjoyment for everybody who does go.


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whatever we call them, all these trips have to start with the same background info....where are we going? how do we propose to get there and can we comfortably do it given the conditions we are likely to encounter? how do we cope with an emergency? what are our bail outs, options, strengths and risks?

just some basic, really necessary questions that can be vital to your well being and the well being of the folks you share the water with.

regardless of the kind of trip we are on, these questions have to get asked every time you leave the beach. questions every one of us has to ask, either the participants or the shlub that posted the trip.

practice makes permanent....it's true. do the homework and examine your on water goals repeatedly each time....

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This is a very good discussion. When I first joined NSPN a few years ago, I was intimidated and also slightly angered by some of the SNG post on the board. They seemed "cliquish" and were point blank about not wanting people who did not have the requisite skills.

I've since learned the value of such postings and the intent behind them. I now strongly support them. In my opinion, many NSPN members seriously over rate their own paddling capabilities. (paddling in 3 ft swell didn't look very hard in the video....LOL) This not only endangers them, but the group they are with. There is really no need for group safety to be jeopardized if each member would truly do an honest assessment of themselves. But that is only part of the problem as I see it.

The second part of this problem is the types of opportunities for real paddling on the ocean. This year, the number of "official" club trips seems way down. (although I have not kept a tally) It seems we've moved to SNGs as the primary means of doing group paddles. For new and inexperienced paddlers who are anxious to get out there, it seems SNGs have been one of their best options this year. On many weekends, the choice has been SNG or paddle alone.

I don't have a solution to the issue. However, I believe Liz is on the right track. Better communication, better planning, and sometimes, a bit of brutal honesty when necessary. I think David has adopted a system much like Boston Sea Kayak Club uses. Trip leaders or organizers of any group trip do phone interviews with each participant to determine some type of skill level before they ever get to the beach. It's a bit more work for the organizers, but probably well worth the effort. I think this approach also avoids hurting someone's feelings on the beach, if it was determined they should not go.

The better paddlers in this club continue to offer opportunities for new or inexperienced paddlers (I still consider myself in that inexperienced group) to come out and learn, and push themselves to the next level. Summer skill sessions, pool sessions and ocean clinics are readly available as a starting point.

And my final thought...it's good we have members like Liz, who will take the time to address issues like this. It's even better that we get a healthy dialogue going to educate ourselves. And even better, we have the members like Rick S, Rick C, Adam B and so many others who are willing to share their experience and skills on the water.

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"endnagering ourselves"? huh? what? we walk on the tops babe...on the tops! (HA!)

besides which, hell cookie...we'd rather die than let the cook get hurt!

have a great time this week! you and the many other folks we all know (paula, alex, cooopah...who else) will do great and i don't know if you will be reading the board or not, but i think we've all always admired and loved your complete lack of that "oh $hit" gene! oh, yeah....triangle here she comes....

have a great time in georgia and tell tom and shawna and leone that "the big corn fed american boys" say hi! whatever you do, don't let shawna talk about medical emergencies and by all means ask her about that guy she though she stove the ribs in on the penwryn mawr a few weeks back! tell her we are all going to come to the west coast and she and leon can show us around!


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