Discussion - sticking together...

Discussion in 'Paddling Safety' started by SheilaP, Sep 27, 2011.

  1. SheilaP

    SheilaP Paddler

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    I borrowed this line from another forum: :wink:
    I brought it in here to open a discussion on the topic because I am constantly curious about this very issue! I am trying to engage with this so I can understand better, not to be critical of others. I really would love it if we could engage in a discussion that considers all levels of paddling ability.

    When paddling with friends, clubs, and even guided trips this issue can be such a challenge. I respect there are different paddling ablities, styles, and certainly speeds. But why do we choose to paddle with others then leave them behind when they don't keep up, or take off to explore without taking the others along? Why Santy-Clause, why? Why not go out with one or two people who paddles at the same rate and same style?

    Better yet, why do we continue to paddle with the same people and keep leaving them behind? This really confounds me. I doubt that people change their paddling ambitions much in a season or so, therefore, I don't expect that people will be drastically different paddlers the next time I go out with them. When I was a novice paddler there were some people that paddled with me just once; I imagine they didn't feel like they had skills, goals, and/or speed in common (or maybe they just plain didn't like me :yikes: ). Either way, none of these people left me behind (much). :)

    Yet, I see groups challenged with this regularly. I sometimes struggle with this as a leader as well. So maybe I can gather some insight and advice from WCPaddlers. :?
     
  2. camshaft

    camshaft Paddler

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    Nothing new Sheila

    Well wait till you start hiking and they invite a new member out and leave him in the dust. The icing on the cake was this was a complete bushwhack hike in the snow. The fast group did this a total of 5 times over 2 days :(
    I had to babysit the poor guy or who knows what would have happen to him. Kicker was on the way out I had to dig him out of a tree well

    Personally myself I have learned the hard way Sheila and that is be prepared to lead yourself. Which has served me well on every trip I was prepared and GPS was loaded with way points etc. On trips where I was lazy and was counting on the leader for guidance we ended up off course.
    But back to your point...
    Every trip that went sideways the fault came down to fast group leaving the slow group behind. With the fast group or slow group not knowing exactly where they where headed.

    Any how it depends on who is leading the group and in the pretrip make sure everyone knows where they are going. If not then everyone has to agree to wait for the slower members before going out of sight.
     
  3. CRPaddler

    CRPaddler Paddler

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    I'll take the opposite point of view.

    While I do believe that a club lead trip or a group with weaker paddlers should stick together, I believe it is okay for a group of stronger paddlers to split up and head their own way - provided they communicate about this spliting up. The last phrase is obviously key. One should never lead a group to head out on your own or in a different direction without first communicating about it first, making sure it's clearly understood, and the group is happy with it. But if you do communicate, then why not?

    My paddling partner and I will quite often split up, depending on each other's work schedule one may have to get back earlier than the other. I know quite a few accomplished paddlers who like to take part of the morning to themselves while on a trip to head out and explore a bit ... or maybe one just wants to laze around at the camp site and leave later, while others feel like doing a little more exploring and a longer paddle?
     
  4. ken_vandeburgt

    ken_vandeburgt Paddler

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    This is my experince too. And if there are physical difficulties there is (usually) no way to communicate between the groups.

    I am a fast hiker. I bring up the rear of just about any group I hike with so that I don't get ahead. I try to do the same on the water.

    The worst instance is where people leave a trip because they have other commitments. If they get into trouble on their way home no one will know till it is much too late.

    We are struggling with the issue in my paddling club. I'm finding larger groups tend to stretch out with the lead not paying too much attention to what is going on behind and the stragglers inevitably getting into difficulties.

    How do we make a club paddling experience that everyone can enjoy? We've implemented a rubrick of skills and equipment to assign categories (somewhat arbitrarily) to club trips with the aim of getting people to think about whether they are equipped properly and are physically fit enough to not slow the group. We still get people who don't have enough experience on the water to have the sense that the trip might not be for them. Of course once on the water its too late.

    We've had a number of people show up with the River Kayaks and expect to go on trips with people equipped with Sea Kayak. River Kayaks are not suited for going out to sea in any sea conditions but how do you explain that to someone who is the proud owner of a new 10 foot long kayak.
     
  5. jcbikeski

    jcbikeski New Member

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    Communicating is by far the most important thing with this. It _may_ be okay for some to take off but only after a little discussion. In very mellow conditions I at least want those in the very front to be able to see those in the very back. On crossings or in rougher conditions I want the front folks to hear (maybe not understand) those in the back talking. And when very rough I want everyone close with no more a couple boat lengths between people.

    If some want to split off, you talk. One thing you talk about is whether the split groups each have enough capable people to handle what might pop up -- if not you don't split up. We sometimes have one group staying closer to rocks and surf having fun while others that may be slower with less skill keep trucking along a bit further out. But we do that with discussion and when the condition and group allows.

    I am always amazed at some 'epic' trip reports about rough weather where folks didn't know if the other part of the group survived or not. If staying together is too hard in those conditions then consider tow lines or making sure the strongest paddler is in sweep position.

    One problem sometimes is the size of the group being so large that ones in the front look back and see plenty of paddlers but doesn't realize there are a few stragglers way back. You really need some folks to step up and specifically look for this situation and signal for the front folks to hold up. For such groups radios help but things shouldn't degrade to the point where you really need them.
     
  6. Jurfie

    Jurfie Paddler

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    My opinion is if you plan a group paddle, then the group sticks together. The leader should always pay attention to how his/her group is doing behind them, and intermittedly stop and wait for stragglers (giving the last of the group a moment to rest before paddling on). I also think there should be a co-leader who performs the position of sweep, to give slower/weaker paddlers a sense of security.

    An example I had was a on guided tour. There was one lead guide and 6 or so "tourist" paddlers (of which I was one). When we hit the water, the guide was not paying enough attention to the group (i.e. not looking over her shoulder enough), and some of the group were struggling in a bit of a current. I figured out that I was probably the strongest paddler of the "tourists", so I fell into a sweep position to assist one lady who was fighting the current and heading towards the rocks. It wasn't a heroic move by any means (the current wasn't that bad, but enough to raise anxiety in the weaker paddlers); I just stayed with her for encouragement and the occasional nudge forward. Her husband later thanked me and said he felt helpless since he wasn't any more experienced than her, and had enough on his plate to keep himself off the rocks. In my opinion, the tour company should have provided another guide to perform as a sweep, or at least do a better job figuring out if anyone was able (and willing) to do it.

    Now what I say above is suited for daytrips with new/weaker paddlers. Longer trips should be planned with people of the same skill level, or else if a stronger paddler agrees to take a weaker one, then they stick together. If a part of the group wants to split up (to explore, start early, etc.), then that should be communicated and agreed upon before leaving on the trip, and the remaining group should have someone skilled enough to lead them. Or, communicate before leaving for the trip that it is "every paddler for themselves", so there are no misconceptions.
     
  7. marc

    marc Paddler

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    I'm of the opinion that groups should stay together, that if you want to spend time paddling alone or with people of comparable skill level then arrange your trips that way.
    If you sign up for a group paddle, hike, etc. then part of the things you should be willing to accept is that you'll only be travelling at the speed of the slowest group member. If you're faster/stronger than everyone else, this just means you'll get to rest more and take more pictures.
    I've done lots of trips (backpacking mainly) with groups, both as the organizer and as a member. Those people who take off and leave me aren't people I trip with again, plain and simple. I do try to ensure that we're all on the "same page" in regards to this being a group trip but there are always those who just don't think about anyone besides themselves and their own desires. It's disheartening for those people in the back, they never get to catch up, or if they do they get a very short break while everyone else has had the time to rest for longer. So they never get a chance to even regain some strength.
    Like I said, if you don't want to travel with the slowest/weakest people on the trip, don't sign up or organize a group trip.
     
  8. ken_vandeburgt

    ken_vandeburgt Paddler

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    This is an interesting discussion.

    Partly because what we are thinking whilst behind the keyboard doesnt always translate into what happens on the water.

    Its a leadership question and pertains to everyone even if you are never nought but a follower.

    Sushi had some interesting discussion on this subject earlier this year following an incident where conditions got rough.

    One major thing I should point out is that we are citing examples from hiking. Things in hiking usually happen in slow time while things can happen much more quickly on the water.
     
  9. SheilaP

    SheilaP Paddler

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    I am really appreciating the input so far and the willingness to engage in the discussion. I am just mulling over what I have read before asking any questions. Thank you everyone for your words of wisdom. :)
     
  10. Stumpy

    Stumpy Paddler

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    The key issues I see here are both valid. First is the concept of a group paddle, and second is communication. In a small group (under 10 paddlers) it should be paramount to stay together, if only for the basic rule that, when things go south, they tend to go way south all at once, no matter what your experience level is.
    I consider myself a fairly strong paddler, and will often take a sweep position when one is needed. I often find myself leading the last paddler, and telling them to stay right in my wake (reduces their effort by as much as 30%, without making them feel embarrassed by towing them) If there is more than one slow paddler, I often suggest another strong paddler to do the same, which has the added benefit of teaching another paddling skill to both people.
    With larger groups, a split is usually going to occur whether everyone agrees to it or not. In that case, the trip organizer should plan to equip the fast group AND the slow group with radios, so communication can continue, if needed, and, if the fast group is not willing to occasionally backtrack, or keep the separation minimal, I generally invite them to organize their own trips in the future... yes, there are some people I refuse to paddle with when planning a group paddle, and some I have refused to allow to paddle with my groups... if they are offended by my behavior, tough... I'm still friendly to them at club picnics, but, if I want to deal with morons, I'll go to work.
     
  11. Doug_Lloyd

    Doug_Lloyd Paddler

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    Shelia,

    Gathering insight and advice about an issue that is perhaps already as inherently incongruent as when two paddlers attempt to move through water with safety and synergy, let alone with larger groups, is indeed a noble undertaking.

    I was running sweep back in August for Don for the Victoria Kayak For A Cure. We had a fairly novice female paddler in a short rec boat and I just knew there would be a disparity. Fortunately the route wasn’t taxing and with adequate stops a lead guide on point slowing the action down at key intervals, the situation remained well under control.

    Unlike above, I figure the dynamics with an intermediate to advanced trip, whether it be a club paddle or a pre-organized group of friends, are such that most of the problems that arise (and they don’t necessarily have to) are due to poor communication, poor leadership, general etiquette ignorance, unrealistic expectations, or environmental factors that weren’t accounted for. It is the measure of a group how well they cope. For an organized commercial trip, failure to cope with emergent inconsistencies is inexcusable.

    Once we get past the poor optics of groups stringing out and slower paddlers getting behind (for indeed, as some have pointed out, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, smaller pods being okay, as long as stragglers are accounted for) then the issue is one of safety and addressing the concerns of the slower paddlers. Poor early experiences can leave the novice paddler frustrated and disillusioned. They often resort to even more arm muscling, getting tense and generating even more inefficiencies and slowing even more.

    In the case of the rec boat paddler, I was making observations, looking for good torso rotation, checking that she didn’t have overly large paddle blades for body size (something that is even worse in a low-efficiency hull design), and that she was efficiently keeping the boat tracking true given the manoeuvrable hull-profile and the need for some preventative vigilance As it turned out another considerate paddler moved up beside her and went through the paddling 101 drill so I could continue my head counts and navigational awareness duties.

    Anyone who has spent enough time on the water with other paddlers comes to realize that it is the group’s responsibility to ensure no one is left behind. And this CAN be frustration itself. My ability to maintain distance and even sometimes warmth is based on preferred cadence and stroke speed for conditions. But as Matt Broze observed in the Storm Island Rescue article in the August Sea Kayaker issue, “Paddlers in the lead may want to set a faster pace for the group. They may be more comfortable paddling at a higher speed, taking breaks to wait for the others to catch up. While this sounds okay in theory (if you stay within hailing distance), the strong paddlers are the only ones who get to rest.”

    Various propositions are put forth, including setting the slowest paddler in the lead, asking the slower paddlers to turn back (with escort), letting the paddlers with excess energy tow the slower paddlers, letting the slower paddlers wake-ride, having the faster, larger paddlers run blocking to windward, having the fast paddlers run shepherding patterns amongst the group, or permitting the fast paddlers to make the destination earlier (with safety/communication provisions), or maybe just letting the leader enforce whatever disciplinary actions or attempts at détente that are called for.

    There are days when even an experienced paddler can arrive at the put-in and just not have the energy or fitness levels needed that day. It is incumbent on the paddler to share these concerns before the trip gets underway. For more advanced trips where the stakes are higher, if one is being ignored it is especially important to let your companions know before attempting especially challenging transits that you are not up to expectations. Paddlers lagging behind can get exhausted and hypothermic very rapidly or even sometimes more subtlety and insidiously to the point their thinking isn’t right anymore and a critical mass has been reached. Exhaustion and hypothermia is a chicken and egg thing. I found this happens easily enough on winter group trips and especially on the crossing on the Storm Island trip where we eventually needed rescue. But the failure still remains with the group, not the individual, no matter how you rationalize things. There are always red flags. Always.

    I don’t know why fast paddlers insist on their modus operandi in the context of repeated offences being noted by other paddlers and leaders where the pace of the trip had been pre-established and compliance lacking. Some will fly past the next break stop and it is annoying, with no regrouping/communication possible or easy. I can understand the frustration if the lagging paddlers didn`t do their homework or brings inadequate equipment or hull profiles and a posted trip had certain expectations, but a trip that normally falls into the 2.5 – 3.5 knot pace isn`t going to benefit from 2-knot and 5-knot paddlers. The math is simple.

    Certainly if we take safely as the primary concern, then any large group (ten or more) better have a damn good plan in place as to how to keep cohesion and proximity, both latitudinal and longitudinal. With good leadership or a properly organized trip with a specific paddling plan or tacit rules of engagement everyone buys in to, dealing with fast paddlers can be easy if you place them in the sweep responsibility position(s). For less formal or organized paddles, one does take their chances it seems, though ``chance`` is relative terminology and sometimes is more annoying that unsafe. And sometimes it isn`t.

    Doug Lloyd
     
  12. reanne

    reanne Paddler

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    I think it is acceptable for groups to split up (with communication) as long as it is NOT leaving anyone behind. The group going on ahead and leaving a straggler is NOT acceptable. I practice this in all of my outdoor activities-even if we are on trails that we've been on many times before. As suggested, wait intermittently for slower paddlers (hikers/bikers/etc). I do not have "strong" paddling skills so I can't offer an experienced position on that, but it sounds reasonable that a group of experienced paddlers might agree to split up, and stay within communication, hopefully with some kind of contingency plan.

    In all sports, I think that going out in a group means taking care of one another, but you should certainly be prepared to take care of yourself.
     
  13. Roy222

    Roy222 Paddler

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    Kayaking differs from other sports because of lack of speed. It will take a fast paddler( 5 mph) 3 minutes to cover 1/4 mile. So if the group is strung out over a half mile ( about a Kilometer) it will take the lead paddler over 6 minutes to return to the rear.
    Conditions will probably determine how long an over turned paddler can survive unassisted.


    Roy
     
  14. rider

    rider Paddler

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    Theory is nice, human factor is a bitch.
    I experienced splitting up of the group a couple times,with any size group. With bigger groups of paddlers where even the leader doesn't know everyone, the biggest problem is 'will they actually listen'? I think the only way to try and ensure some sort of group cohesion in this case is firmly establish staying together during pre-trip briefing. Stronger paddlers can also run circles around the group,if the group is slow and trip relatively short, this accomplishes 3 things : Communication when needed, Staying short distance apart, and Letting faster paddlers go fast without getting separated from the rest.
    The whitewater rule of thumb is a good one to adapt : A paddler who can take care of themselves on the given run is 0, a paddler who will be able to provide assistance to others is +1, local knowlege +ability to assist +2, and someone who may need rescue is -1. A trip should only start if the sum of the numbers is positive.
     
  15. canoecat

    canoecat Paddler

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    Great discussion! And thank all of you for that.

    For club type trips, seems that the minimum size group is usually three boats, for several reasons. But maximum desirable size is still another difficult issue. Six boats seems OK, with relatively easy communication. I said relatively easy. Get to 10 or so boats and it's like herding cats anyway. It's almost essential to split the group and then absolutely necessary to make sure that the less experienced or able paddlers have a couple of stronger paddlers to "babysit".

    Group meeting at the put in is, I think, an essential club routine. Canoe groups, on a river use it to communicate/review river signals, both with paddles and whistles. Easier flatwater trips are for the same reasons others have stated: assessing skills and experience, readiness, boat and equipment suitability, mandatory pfd use, as well as acceptable communication, etc. Obviously, informal trips present many more challenges to these problems. Difficulty there, as rider pointed out above, is will they listen. It is not just for large groups with strangers in their midst, sometimes it is the same person, again and again.

    If it is a non commercial trip, we all need to remember that the person who has taken on the task of "leading" or coordinating the trip is a volunteer, the trip is for FUN and that means fun for the trip leader as well. Not to make their trip a miserable experience.

    For me, there is no easy answer. I led some club canoe trips, many years ago and some were ones I would never want to repeat, even if there were no emergencies. Group trips are often social, and leaving others behind to mix with one or two other boats could be considered rude and require the leader to act as sweep. Flatwater canoe trips almost always involve a huge difference in ability, rarely unsuitable equipment or boats, but often arguments over e.g., pfd use.

    Crossings: travel in a relatively tight group, with an experienced sweep.
    Pfd's: wear it or don't paddle with us.
    Unsuitable boats or equipment: please do not use it, perhaps another trip.
    Faster paddlers: as rider says, run circles around the group, or perhaps practice paddling backwards, sculling sideways, coaching struggling paddlers.
    These are the easy ones.

    I don't want to believe that I have answers, just that I would never want to lead a trip, even if I had good kayaking experience.
     
  16. smeyn

    smeyn Paddler

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    Here is another take on splitting up.
    http://mattbezzina.blogspot.com/2011/09 ... t-sea.html
    It's not about weaker vs stronger paddlers but 3 strong paddlers who thought they were in control of the conditions. Turns out that even in strong groups some group discipline is beneficial.
     
  17. Doug_Lloyd

    Doug_Lloyd Paddler

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  18. mick_allen

    mick_allen Paddler & Moderator

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    What a fine looking, enthusiastic paddler. What a waste.
    How unfortunate that that viewpoint is still held.
    Water sucks heat 30x faster than air. Say with those "isolated" air conditions (wind & splashing) 10x, but shortly would have been in the general "moderate conditions" of much greater ratios. If he could have been alive 1/2 hr in water - for the equivalent cross boat situation he'd have had hours and hours of survival and possible opportunity.
     
  19. Alana

    Alana Wave Seeker

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    So sad and very tragic...
     
  20. rider

    rider Paddler

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    Out of the many variables,decisions and contributing factors, I would honestly not second-guess that one. Sounds like there could have well been 2 dead people if they stayed together and decision to split up at least saved one. It's a tragedy and I'd hate to be one of the people involved that will have to live with it till the rest of their life.