Trip Leadership

Discussion in 'Paddling Safety' started by jamonte, Jan 31, 2019.

  1. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Leadership (specifically, leading kayak trips) is one of my favorite subjects. You could study it (and practice it) your whole life, and still not come close to mastering it. Why? Well, for one thing, what makes a “good” trip leader in one situation might fail miserably in another situation. For example, barking out orders like you’re leading a group of Boy Scouts might work well when you’re actually leading a group of Boy Scouts, but it is bound to cause problems when you’re leading a group of paddlers who might exceed your own age, or experience, or skill level. Among a typical group of adult kayakers, I have found that “good” leadership is almost invisible: Things just work smoothly, group dynamics are good, and whatever problems arise get solved. When leadership is that good, it looks easy, but it isn’t. Just go on a trip where leadership is poor or lacking and the difference will jump right out at you.

    A few weeks ago, our club hosted Wayne Horodowich for a presentation on leadership. I’d never seen him speak before, so I had no idea what to expect. But right off the bat I had a good impression when he said something to the effect that the “hard” skills of leadership (paddling skills and techniques for rescues, towing, etc.) are easy to learn while the “soft” skills (i.e.; people skills) are the hard part. That certainly jives with my own experience leading WW and sea kayaking trips.

    As Wayne mentioned in his talk, most of us get started as trip leaders almost by accident. We get a taste for kayaking and then we decide to share it with someone we know… a significant other or a friend or a family member, and before we have a single clue about what it means to lead a kayak trip, we’re off to the tidal races! That was certainly my own experience back in the early nineties, and thank God it all turned out okay. After you’ve racked up a few hundred (or a few thousand) days on the water, most paddlers learn that things are not so simple, but in the beginning, leading a trip just doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

    I’ve seen some crazy stuff happen on trips and I know there have been circumstances where my leadership skills were lacking. But I am curious: what is your own experience leading trips? Is leadership something you think about when you organize a trip or invite others to join you on a private paddle? Do you feel prepared for the job? If so, what makes you feel that way? Classes? Paddling experience? Other life experiences? What things have you seen other trip leaders do that you agreed with or disagreed with and what have you learned when you’ve been the leader?
     
  2. Man in qajaq

    Man in qajaq Paddler

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    I tend to stay away from trip leading with folks I don't know well. I've been on day trips with others who are lacking the adequate skills for the conditions and/or their personalities are 'wild' and I'm always grateful that I'm not the trip leader.
    It really does take a lot of experience, both hard and soft, to master the role of leadership. I always make the effort to thank the trip leader for their service and try to learn from the trip leaders example the set forth.
     
  3. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Yeah, I don't think you can go wrong thanking a trip leader after a trip. It takes a lot of work to organize a trip, especially when you've opened it up to people you don't know, like on a club trip. On the other hand, it's a great way to meet new people that you might want to invite on future private trips.

    Here's an example of club trip I was on (many, many years ago!), where I thought the trip leader did some things right, some not. The group size was seven and the trip was just a short overnighter in the San Juans. On the day we returned, there was a stiff tail wind that created some nice following waves suitable for surfing. There was no discussion whatsoever before we left the beach and four of us starting catching long, joyful rides which quickly spread out the group. The two paddlers in the front never looked back and were out of contact in no time. Another paddler and I noticed that we were outpacing the slower paddlers, so we stopped paddling and waited for them. Except they didn't try to join us, instead they started hugging the shore of the island. The group in the rear included the trip leader, who (I learned later) was leading the two weakest paddlers to the ferry terminal so they could ride a ferry back because they didn't have the skills to handle following seas.

    So I think the trip leader did a great job keeping the weakest paddlers safe that day, but there should have been some discussion before we left the beach about keeping the group together... or letting the strongest paddlers surf back in one group while the others hugged the shore back to the ferry terminal. Whatever. No one swam and nobody ended up paddling solo, but just a tiny bit of discussion before we left the beach would have resulted in some sort of plan about the return paddle.

    BTW: I started this thread in "Gear Talk" by accident. If anybody can move it to "Safety" or "General Discussions" that would be great. Thanks!
     
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  4. AM

    AM Paddler

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    Wow, big questions. Leadership is like alchemy: a mysterious process of transformation.

    I work with high school age kids, so when I'm taking them on trips the leadership role I play is pretty clearly defined. Guiding in a professional capacity is much easier than leading in a club environment, where everyone is an adult and no one is paying anyone else to take a leadership position.

    My general style for leading kids is to give them options, usually two, for what we are doing on any given day or at any given moment. That way, they have a real but limited choice to make and thus feel in control of their trip. But I maintain ultimate control, because I have defined their options. Here is a typical example:

    "Option 1: we could stay on this cool island for another day and do some exploring. Option 2 is to make use of this awesome weather and paddle to the next island, which has a great sandy beach with fantastic views."

    You can tell by the way I have phrased the choice that I am leading them to vote for option 2, which they generally do. But I am fine with option 1, so either way I know that our day is totally manageable.

    The other thing I do is delegate leadership to kids so that they take turns leading either a leg or a day of a trip. I give them the parameters and let them guide the discussions and decisions, stepping in to help as needed. That way I get to fade into the background, though I still control the situation.

    Finally, in emergencies, all of the above goes out the window and the hierarchy becomes rigid. I am Trip Leader; my colleague is First Aid Leader. No questions allowed. Orders are given. Obedience is required. That is extremely rare and when it does happen, everyone falls into line quite naturally.

    Would this approach work with a club group? I'd be interested in hearing others' opinions.

    Cheers,
    Andrew
     
  5. designer

    designer Paddler

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    "You're not the boss of me ...." Maybe it would help if there was a discussion before/during the trip planning that there would be a "leader" and maybe delegate some responsibilities communications (who carries the radio [Yes, I know we should ALL have one]; i.e knows how to use it, protocols, etc.), first aid, site selection. The idea is to give people an understanding that there are decisions to be made, responsibilities to take on.

    For many paddlers who are used to lessons and guided trips, they are unaware of any "burden of responsibility". So when they just go out with friends, someone else will take care of things. They are willing to let someone else "lead" until a decision is made that isn't in their liking.

    The dynamic comes up when paddling with friends. I've found that the party is more than happy to have someone other then themselves plan the trip (research weather/tides/currents/ferry schedules), carry the communications and be the only one who knows how to use it (and do a daily check on the weather), select the camp site (after researching water source availability), etc.

    But if that "leader" suggests that people make sure their camping gear is all intact and working before hand - that's intrusive.

    I had one situation where a person brought and experimental hammock that could have easily been tested before the trip. It failed and the person didn't have another option. I use a hammock but I always have a go-t0-ground option. So my tent was lent out.

    I've had people, who arrived in their own car, decide that they are going to return a day early. But that meant allowing them to make a crossing solo. And they can't roll and have limited self rescue experience. So no, if they want to leave they should at least have a escort (by someone skilled enough to paddle back alone) or the whole group goes to.

    I was taught that "the rescuer is in charge" when someone is in the water but I was paddling with one person who said if he tipped over in a certain area, he would just swim to shore (of course the boat he would be abandoning was my loaner). Or when in the water, he starts dictating what he want's the rescuer to do. I saw him try a self rescue and he had trouble getting out if his kayak because he hadn't burped his drysuit and it had so much air in it the flotation was sort of pinning him inside. But in later trips he wouldn't burp his drysuit because I suggested he do it.

    The leadership presentations I've experienced seem to be a lot like my first aid classes. In those classes, someone would be the caregiver and someone would be the injured party. The injured party ALWAYS cooperated with the caregiver. Held their knee/hand/arm the best way to be bandaged, Laid down and allowed their feet to be elevated, etc. But in real life, the times I've come across someone in need, they insisted they were alright and didn't need any help.

    I left for work one day and saw my neighbor on the ground with his motorcycle pinning him. I got the bike off and offered to wrap his ankle or drive him to immediate care. "No, I'm okay." he said as he hopped on one foot back to his house. Another time a woman hurt her ankle xc skiing. I followed her back as the group went ahead. She wouldn't wait for a snowmobile to return and give her a ride. All I could get her to do was give me her two quart water bottles to takes some weight off the foot. She drove herself home and had her fractured ankle taken care of later.

    So all that first aid theory is based on cooperation. And many of the "leadership" guidelines seem oriented to social situation where the structure clearly indicates a leadership hierarchy (instructor/student). In other words, there's some kind of agreement of obedience ahead of time.

    In part of one class with Body, Boat, Blade, they presented a laminated bullseye with different color rings representing complete comfort/agreement to fear. Each person, without needing to justify their decision, indicated their degree of agreement by making a grease pencil mark on one of the target rings. Once all have "voted" we could see where the group was leaning and bring up any discussion, if necessary.

    That's pretty structured - more suited for On Shore decisions of a daily activity to follow and not so much on the water if you are going to make a surf landing as the sun goes down.

    The problem is, there are several personality types that deal with decisions - they all have merit and they all have weaknesses. And people aren't aware of their "type". In some situations it is good to stop and consider alternatives before acting. In other situations it is important to "do something" immediately and each step more clearly suggests what the next step will be. In those, "act now" situations, it is important for the "analyzers" to relinquish and go with the directed action. And similarly, in other situations, it's important for those, "Let's just go" types to stop and hash out more alternatives so the the best choice can bubble up from the stew. But that requires more self awareness than is usually present.

    It seems the crux is, how do you get friends, independent by nature, to acknowledge and follow a leadership situation, either in pre-trip agreements or, more importantly when on the water and underway - and still keep those friends.

    For me, the idea of "changing people" from their personality type is not going to work. Just like those first aid classes work when the injured party cooperates, so it seems the best chance of success lies in picking the right paddling partners to begin with.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2019
  6. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Great input from all! So many complex issues to discuss...

    Re: Training. Twenty years ago, I took a 10-day Sea Kayak Guide Class through Malaspina University College on Vancouver Island. The course was taught by John Dawson (one of John Dowd's paddling partners) and it was a great introduction to outdoor leadership. We spent the first three days near Tofino (currents, surf, etc.) and then embarked on a 6-day "tour" up to Hot Springs Cove and back down around the outside. Each day, two students were the co-leaders for the day and were responsible for basically everything: meal prep, navigation, leadership, camp selection, etc. And, as if that wasn't enough, Dawson would throw curve balls at you throughout the day... a missing boat in the morning, a missing paddler during the day, sea sickness, argumentative customers, swims, entrapped paddlers, landing an injured paddler in surf, etc., etc. I've received better instruction about specific paddling skills, but I've never had a better class in leadership.

    I've taken several Swiftwater Rescue Classes over the years (you have to recertify every three years) and while the instruction has been great, no one ever really talks about leadership. I guess they figure that the leader in an emergency will just emerge from the group, and for the most part, that is true. But if you want to take a course in trip leadership, then you have to take a class designed to train commercial guides. (Much like the sea kayak guide class I took.) Last summer I took a 2-day Wilderness First Aid Class and scenarios involving non-cooperative (make that combative!) victims were definitely part of it. Taking control of an emergency medical situation was part of the training, but it wasn't really leadership training.

    For club trips, my sense is that most clubs now push for more active leadership on club trips, which is great. And some clubs (like Washington Kayak Club in Seattle) even offer some inhouse training to help people become more comfortable leading trips.

    On multi-day river trips that require a permit (from the Forest Service or National Park Service, for example), the permit holder will either act as the trip leader or will name someone in the group as the formal trip leader. This is necessary since the permit holder has to sign the permit and is legally and financially responsible if the group violates the rules. Because the permit system requires a trip leader, the concept of trip leadership is entirely accepted on these trips. But if you go on a day paddle with the very same group of paddlers, there is often no expectation for leadership at all!

    So for club trips and for permitted trips, there is an expectation (if not an actual requirement) for leadership, but private trips among friends and trips that come together on forums or Facebook pages are still a no-man's land for leadership. Is the person who posted or organized the trip the leader? In some cases, yes, they will take on that role, but often not. Unless someone explicitly creates the expectation of leadership before the trip, there won't be any.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2019
  7. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    And, herein lies the rub. I would wager that the bulk of the incidents detailed in Deep Trouble could have been avoided if "adequate leadership" had been present and functional. For the casual groups I have paddled with, the de facto leader was whoever was the most bossy. And none of those folks had any formal training.

    Many of us are on the water for a sense of individual freedom and avoid clubs and guided ventures partly for that reason. Or, because club trips often have some paddlers who depend heavily on the decisions of others because their skill set and/or judgment maturity have not evolved enough that they feel safe on their own or in nonclub groups. Some, novices; others, simply not cut out to be leaders.

    So, should it be mandatory for each group of paddlers to have a trained leader?
     
  8. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Dave, thanks for bringing up Deep Trouble... that was the book that made me realize back in 1998 that I needed to get some leadership training! (Side note: during Wayne's talk, he brought up the book and asked, "If you could name one overriding lesson from that group of stories, what would it be?" His answer, which I agreed with, was "sticking to your itinerary after conditions have changed often leads to disaster." Newer paddlers (including intermediates) often create very aggressive itineraries on the assumption that everything will go perfectly, which, of course, is a very dangerous assumption to make! Then they find themselves trapped on a surf beach or facing a rough crossing and they launch anyway because they've got to get back to work on Monday or catch a flight or a ferry or whatever. They put themselves in a no-win situation and rather than accepting their predicament, they make it worse.)

    Anyhow, I think trip leadership is only going to be mandatory on guided or instructional trips, club trips, and trips requiring a permit. Otherwise, definitely not. But that doesn't mean leadership doesn't or shouldn't exist on private trips. I started this thread because I'm always trying to improve my own leadership skills and part of that means learning what other paddlers think/feel about being leaders or being led. Several people on this forum have now said that their solution for private trips is to only paddle with people they know, but my guess is that the reason this works is because the group has already established a leadership structure. Not formally, not explicitly, but everyone knows the other paddlers' skill sets, which creates something of a hierarchy which allows for better decision-making.

    When I'm in a group of paddlers I don't know, the first thing I do is evaluate each person's ability using whatever clues are available: Do they look calm and relaxed or stiff and terrified? Are they stable in their boat? Did they do a practice roll? Was it a good roll? Do they have a good forward stroke? Good paddling posture? Etc., etc. Then I keep a watchful eye on the person(s) who set off the most red flags. To me, being a leader doesn't necessarily mean "taking charge." It means that I'm always thinking about the group's safety and well-being, and putting the group first.

    I agree that there is a strong individualistic streak among kayakers and some paddlers bristle at the idea of being "led," especially on a private trip. But leadership doesn't have to feel like a threat to individuality or a straight jacket on the group. Often times, it's just making sure there is good communication about expectations and responsibilities. Twenty years ago, I led a club trip out to Sucia, Patos, and Matia and because of the crossings, I was a bit strict about what I expected from each participant and I suspect that caused someone who didn't want to be "led" to drop out before the trip. Now this same person is an experienced trip leader for the club and when you read his expectations for joining one of his trips it's like being read the riot act! What goes around, comes around, I guess.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2019
  9. Man in qajaq

    Man in qajaq Paddler

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    Many thoughtful points to contemplate from all the posts.
    May we all be safe on the water and not let ego be the leader.
    Happy paddling
     
  10. designer

    designer Paddler

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    As we are all friends here, I am going to disagree, slightly, with the cause/prevention of most the accidents in Deep Trouble to be lack of leadership. I read it (or half of the sequel cause it's twice as big) at the beginning of each paddle season to "...get my mind right." (Cool Hand Luke, circa 1967).

    It seems to me that many of the instances involve a single paddler or only a few. As such, leadership doesn't seem come into play as much as personal judgement/assessment. And though I am not one to rely entirely on technology, I do believe in embracing the available tools (would you want your dentist to work on you with last centuries techniques). We now have devices that, with the push of a button, will alert someone that you need help and provide that lat/long location and a pinpoint on Google Earth type map.

    After I read about one of the accidents I think, how would the have turned out differently if they could have alerted someone that they were in trouble along with their location. Even during the winter months we have situations like that ever year where someone takes a shortcut and gets their jeep stuck in the snow. Or they hole up to die in a snow cave and have just enough juice in phone to call their wife but no way to pass on their unkown location.

    In, "Deep Trouble", many times people are lost or landed somewhere with no way to let other know where they are.

    It's a shame when we have off the self tools to cover that situation.

    Again, I wouldn't completely rely on electronics; but I wouldn't turn them down either. But as it seems to me that most of the reported accidents involve individuals, I'd put assessment/judgement issues above leadership skills.
     
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  11. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Yeah, I agree that modern electronics could have prevented many of the scenarios that are described in Deep Trouble, as those incidents originally occurred in the eighties and nineties. However, given the limits of the tools and information available at the time, nearly all of those accidents still boil down to flawed decision-making, not a lack of electronic gizmos.

    I think much of the distaste about the idea of leadership on private trips goes back to all the times we (royal we) have had to deal with a lousy trip leader. As Dave said, the de facto leader is often whoever is the most bossy. That's an unfortunate truth, but it doesn't have to be that way. As I explained in my previous post, my idea of good leadership is more about thinking about the group as a whole and facilitating communication. There is a lot of knowledge within a group but it takes good communication to harness that knowledge and turn it into good decision-making. It's not just about safety in numbers.

    Anyhow, the game's about to start, but later on I hope to post some thoughts about what I think it means to be part of a group. If you're not the leader, what are you? Just a follower? That's not my experience!
     
  12. AM

    AM Paddler

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    When I'm not guiding kids, my trips are either solo or with a couple of close friends, whose paddling abilities I know really well and whose personalities jive with mine. I avoid trips with people I don't know and I have avoided the club scene for reasons that others have articulated eloquently above.

    However, one tool my friends and I used when we first started tripping together was a trip contract. This was a written document that put in black and white all the major issues: our equipment, our backgrounds, our paddling resumes, our health issues, whether we would use alcohol, etc. etc. It all got written down during the winter before our summer trip (Cape Scott). We spent a lot of time on the document.

    By the time the trip started, we had pretty much figured out all the major issues. We knew who was a keen surfer (he naturally became our surf leader), who loved interpreting cloud patterns (she became our weather guru), and who was most talented in the kitchen (he kept our morale up with some great meals). Leadership was distributed across multiple domains according to expertise and competence.

    So when the time comes that I have to find new tripping partners, I will try to do the same or similar process. A written contract works (with Google Docs it becomes a fun collaborative experience), but so would a series of coffee chats or shared dinners in the months before the trip.

    Cheers,
    Andrew
     
  13. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Many years ago, I did quite a bit of climbing/mountaineering. I came to sea kayaking much later, and I find some common kayaker attitudes and behaviours hard to understand.

    Isn't keeping people safe the responsibility of everybody in the group - i.e. 'we are all in this together' ?

    I don't see the 'caretaker' role as the responsibility of only the leader.

    And, the people who get into trouble are not necessarily the weakest paddlers in the group; I've seen strong paddlers get into 'situations' paddling into rocky areas while 'weaker' paddlers chose safer routes.

    If I'd been the leader of the group that split, leaving me to shepherd the weaker paddlers home, I have no doubt about the people I wouldn't paddle with again.
     
  14. designer

    designer Paddler

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    With my mountain buddies, there was an understanding that we were capable of taking care of ourselves (knew how to self arrest, build a snow shelter, bring responsible gear, etc.) and we had some skills to assist others (knew the Z-pulley system to get someone out of a crevasse, basic first aid, alert to the signs of hypothermia, etc.

    The dynamic wasn't so much a team - in the sense that specific members were needed for success. It was more cooperation in that we could all solo the mountain if we wanted - but it was easier to split the load (tent to one, rainfly/poles/stakes to another; cook stove to one, food to another) and enjoy the camaraderie.

    Maybe that's because no one could afford guided trips. There was also a culture where you would learn from your elders or more experienced. The environment was never as benign as a sunny day and flat water.

    These days we tell kids they can do anything but seem to leave out the "homework" part. So I have friends who paddle or xc ski and they, "don't need no stinking lessons." As a result, that can move the boat or move on skis but not very efficiently. And they have very little ability, if any, to take care of someone else.

    It's great if one lives around Seattle or other water-near locations where there are numerous paddling clubs and skilled population. Sometimes our choice is to paddle alone or paddle with people who have minimal skills.

    I think with many, the idea of a "contract" would be viewed as way too formal. So one does what they can within their limits, their skill set and sensitivities of the group. For example, no distance more than three miles and the camp site has to have a compost toilet. But at least you're on the water.

    However, in one seminar, a couple presented their, "How to paddle together and keep the marriage intact" method. They had a questionnaire that wasn't so much a contract as answers to "what do you want to do". It could cover daily paddling distances, campsite facilities, time in town or visits to Saturday Markets (not to be missed on SaltSpring) and maybe, if presented gently enough, what responsibilities the person would be willing to undertake - like weather, tides/currents, first aid, meals, clean up, camp site selection, etc. I think I'll try to put something like that together for this summer.

    Fortunately I have one paddling buddy in Seattle who has the same "together" attitude of my old mountain friends. We've both put in the time/money to learn a skill base, and we know each is looking out for the other. There is a spirit of cooperation more than competition (though I was finally able to pack my gear and get my boat in the water first - but that was more of a courtesy because all the times he had to wait for me.).

    I agree that most the Deep Trouble issues have to do with personal decisions - and that was my point; they weren't so much (but certainly some were) issues of leadership.

    The challenge is, how do you set up learning situations were a person will experience enough of the consequences of her/his decision to burn in the lesson; but be benign enough that the person isn't in any real danger.

    It seems many of the "courses" are designed to show people how to do things and not so much how to decide things. But described in this tread are "leadership" classes that do put a person in a situation were they can see the result of their decisions and also put them in "No Win" situations where the only right choice is to make a choice and go forward.

    The signaling/locations devices wouldn't stop the flawed decisions, but they could increase the chance of survival after the problem appears.

    Not to pollute this tread, I'll post another were I was the subject of a Missing Person event BECAUSE of using the device.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  15. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    I carry a PLB when I paddle, but I don't think it would get help to me very quickly if I were in the water.
    And, from what I read, the SPOT /InReach are slower still. VHF 'Mayday' will get action if there's anybody around who is listening.
    There are plenty of on-shore emergencies (bad cut, broken leg, appendicitis, heart attack, etc..) that could warrant calling for help, so it's still a good idea to have several ways to call.

    The InReach can help prevent bad decisions based on the 'gotta get home by Monday' rationale. Friends were windbound (at a road) and via InReach a contact person 'back home' arranged a helicopter to fly the drivers back to the cars.
     
  16. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    designer's detailed summary of how leadership is handled on land, versus on point to point paddling trips, is worth a careful read. I also came to paddling after many years of mountaineering, primarily on Cascade volcanos and on shorter alpine stuff. (No multipitch high angle rock climbing.) As designer relates, the "culture" surrounding staying safe in the mountains is very different from the culture among paddlers who enjoy coastal waters. And for a fundamental reason: sea kayaking is more dangerous than it looks; climbing looks more dangerous than it is.

    Few novices attempt mountain climbing without extensive training. The terrain for most roped climbs is scary as hell to novices: horrible exposure off precipices; chasms to fall into; gawdawful slippery icy slopes to slide off into oblivion ... the list goes on. Consequently, almost all climber wannabees seek formal training, and use gear to safeguard themselves from a fatal fall. Arrested falls rarely result in more than a scrape, and recoveries are usually routine (excluding multipitch high angle climbing).

    In contrast, paddling nonsurf zones looks simple, is simple, and is usually a gentle, nonstressful activity. Almost any decent swimmer can enjoy it without training. With a PFD, swamping is usually just a wetting, the places most novices go, with recovery only sometimes problematical. But, as paddlers work up to longer ventures, over more exposed waters, through waters with aggressive currents, and in areas isolated by long crossings, where weather can change over a few hours, the risks can quickly increase, in ways very subtle to the untrained, inexperienced paddler. In short, it is easy to put yourself into a risky situation demanding skills (and sometimes gear) you do not have. While a rocky moderately demanding cliff climb does not morph into a difficult high angle pitch, open waters easy to paddle can change into very rough, demanding stuff with changes in wave and current action.

    Further, a climber who realizes he/she is in trouble can stop, anchor to the terrain, or find protection from adverse weather, and quit. In contrast, paddlers unexpectedly beset by overfalls, chaotic tide rips, or unmanageable following seas must keep paddling to remove themselves from the hazard -- they cannot just quit. In fact, anticipating the difficulty of paddling conditions over a paddling day may require integrating aspects of weather changes, wind shifts, tidal swings, and depth features. All demanding experience.

    Practice in paddling techniques can be acquired by controlled forays into conditions beyond your competence ... hopefully in the company of others, perhaps via formal training. Or, in the case of learning how to anticipate when and where difficult conditions will develop, by standing at the shoulders of those more experienced while they describe what to expect in the waters ahead.
     
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  17. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Dave-
    All wise words...thanks.
    Paddling off to surf and leaving novices with the leader to shepherd home is, in my mind, equivalent to untying from the rope in the middle of a big snow/ice face (leaving the care of novices to somebody else) and soloing on ahead because it is more pleasant to do that.
    Did that ever happen when you were climbing?
    It didn't to me.
    When I was still quite inexperienced, I did one of the 'classics' in a party of 4. My partner and me, and an older and more competent duo. My partner and I were moving (too) slowly, and were the reason for an unplanned bivouac just below the summit. The more competent climbers could have left us behind, but they didn't.
    As it turned out, on the descent my partner saved the life of one of the more experienced guys.
     
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  18. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2015
    Messages:
    74
    Dave, good comment about the "safety culture" of climbing compared to that of sea kayaking. Backcountry skiers and whitewater paddlers also have similar "safety cultures." There are differences from sport to sport, of course, but there is a similar emphasis on risk assessment and team work.

    My experience as a WW paddler has taught me that everyone in the group has an important role to play; you're not just a bunch of ducklings playing Follow the Leader. For example, let's say you're in a group of four on a Class IV wilderness run that no one in your group has run before. The lead paddler is in "read and run" mode most of the time and will try to set a good line for others to follow. The lead also has to decide when to get out and scout. It's really important not to crowd the boater in front of you (especially the lead, who needs time to make decisions), but there are times when the lead paddler will boat-scout a drop and then disappear over a horizon line or around the corner. When that happens, the second paddler's job is to close the gap and get eyes on the lead to make sure they aren't in trouble. The third paddler does the same thing for the second paddler, and the fourth paddler is sweep. Everyone contributes to the group's safety throughout the day; not just during an emergency.

    As you noted, the dangers of sea kayaking are much more deceptive. There are days so calm a newbie in an open rec kayak could round Cape Scott and other days when a team of 5* paddlers wouldn't leave the beach. Without apparent danger, it is a lot harder to create a culture of safety, but I think Deep Trouble (and the recurring safety articles in Sea Kayaker Magazine where those stories were first told) helped awaken a lot of paddlers. But that was published decades ago. Is there something similar to that available now? The only thing remotely similar I've seen is the Accident Database managed by American Whitewater, which includes sea kayaker fatalities on inland waterways, but I'm pretty sure they don't track sea kayaker fatalities in the salt.
     
  19. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2015
    Messages:
    74
    John A, I appreciate your outrage at the idea of some paddlers surfing off while the leader shepherds a pair of novices back to safety, but just for the record, the situation was in no way analogous to abandoning slower climbers in the middle of an exposed route. The protected route the leader took along the lee of the island was akin to hiking a well-worn trail and the danger was essentially the same. Still, the group splintered and that was completely unacceptable. Apparently, you and I both expect a group to stick together, but you can't assume everyone thinks the same way. My point in telling the story was that the tiniest bit of communication from the trip leader could have made the expectation known to all.
     
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  20. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2011
    Messages:
    1,703
    Location:
    Victoria, BC
    It probably sounds like I'm criticizing you,but that wasn't my intention at all. You did stop, after all.
    It's so much more pleasant for me, and I assume for you as well, when everybody in the group is looking out for each other. On occasion, I've been the one who was 'dragging at the back' or more intimidated by conditions than more skilled paddlers, so I try to keep those memories in the back of my mind when paddling in a group.

    Here's a "leadership" anecdote:
    Some years ago I was in a 'Rough Water Paddling' class with a well known/semi-famous (been in kayaking movies, runs symposia, etc. ) instructor. The day before I'd been 'approved' for the 'Rough Water' class after the instructor observed me in a different class he ran.
    The morning of the class was miserable weather - cold windy rain. Just before we launched we got 'the talk' which included this line: "I've got a wife and family, so if you get into trouble, don't expect me to come and rescue you."
    Later in the day I was one of several who voted to stay out of Race Passage in what sounded like 20 knot conditions, and I watched 'from the sidelines' as more skilled paddlers played near the rocks. :)