Draft Standards for Sea Kayaking Trip Participation
“… an approved model … a grade or level of excellence, achievement, or advancement … a level of quality which is regarded as normal, adequate or acceptable …”
[The Macquarie Dictionary & Thesaurus (New Combined Budget Edition), 1991]
Do what is considered to be safe, responsible & reasonable by the community of experienced A SEA KAYAKING CLUB paddlers.
COMMONSENSE - Do what is considered to be safe, responsible & reasonable by the community of experienced A SEA KAYAKING CLUB paddlers in preparing for and conduct during & after A SEA KAYAKING CLUB trips.
COMMUNICATE - Practice empathetic, constructive & assertive 2-way communication before, during & after trips.
TAKE CARE - Do your best to find a good common ground in taking care of everyone’s needs & aspirations without neglecting your own.
FIND OUT & LEARN - Seek training/education/advice if you are not sure about any of the points above.
… aaand if that isn’t enough, then here’s a lot more … ;-) …
The enjoyment and outcome of sea kayaking trips is influenced by a lot of variables.
‘People dynamics’ is prominent among those, and many tales have been told and written about trips that were most memorable for their ‘people dynamics’. The A SEA KAYAKING CLUB librarian can help anyone interested in this trip dimension with a book or 2 that provide riveting reading. Some of the post-trip debates currently available on the Internet also provide sobering insights.
Based on the assumption that mostly we would prefer to focus on the joys of paddling, being out & about, taking in the awesome sceneries, enjoying each others’ company, etc. … , the purpose of this paper is to provide standards of practice that help us to focus on the things we enjoy most on a trip.
The term ‘standard’ has many meanings. For the purposes of this paper, it is proposed to limit the definition of ‘standard’ to …
‘practice that the A SEA KAYAKING CLUB community considers to be safe and responsible’
The value of having clear standards is that each individual and each paddling group can use them as benchmarks of good practice to evaluate their own activities.
A SEA KAYAKING CLUB considers the standards listed in this document to be common practice for participants in A SEA KAYAKING CLUB and other sea kayaking trips.
These standards apply to all participants on any A SEA KAYAKING CLUB paddling trip including the trip coordinator (where appropriate).
The standards can be altered for the purposes of a trip by either the trip coordinator or by group decision.
Please discuss suggestions for permanent changes to these standards with members of the A SEA KAYAKING CLUB committee.
Sea kayaking trips do occasionally (but regularly) turn into something more than was expected at the launching point.
That is the nature of many group pursuits and of many outdoor pursuits, and even more so of sea kayaking trips because you are playing with some of the most powerful and unpredictable forces known: the sea and the weather.
Often when sea kayaking trips become ‘interesting’ due to ‘people dynamics’, predictable themes are involved. These themes can include but are not limited to:
§ Group speed, breaks & catching up with each other
§ Taking cautious options vs. taking more adventurous options when facing choices / challenging conditions / potential hazards
§ Group unclear or in disagreement about trip objectives, e.g. is it to be a fast paddle or a dawdle?
§ Group staying together or splitting into sub-groups
§ Completeness & functionality of gear & supplies brought to a trip
§ Being ready on time at launch / after breaks / for briefings /…
Mostly these themes are not too much of an issue among small groups of paddlers who know each other well and who are comfortable with each others’ styles. Don’t rely on it though, it has been known to happen that under the pressures of extreme trip conditions (‘extreme’ relative to the expectations / skills / preparation / etc. of participants) even the best of friendships have been sorely tested and sometimes broken.
To give you examples of strongish feelings that can arise, here are brief excerpts from emails received when A SEA KAYAKING CLUB members were invited to make comments about standards for trip participation:
“… The rule of the slowest paddler dictates the pace, if closely adhered to without comment or behavioural feedback, will be the death of a strong club … people will not want to go on club trips for fear of having to be for ever baby sitting. …”
“…You have chosen to be with a group, The rate is that of the slowest. Yes they may lift their act to respond to fast group but how long can this be sustained, this may cause problems later …”
“…unacceptabley slow … they repeat that when ever the occasional wish for an interesting paddle drifts through their busy lives, never seeing the need to get fit and competant in between … slow paddlers who resent the push to paddle beyond their comfort speed need to recognise their dawdling is a very uncomfortable speed for stonger paddlers, the sitting around and back paddling leave one cold and frustrated if one expected a different pace on the trip …”
“… really pisses me off when I’m paddling beyond the edge of what I can comfortably sustain, finally catch up with the group, only to find that they start heading off again before I’ve had a breather…”
“… Some slow paddler behaviours really get up my nose: e.g 1. when you've paddled for 10 minutes and waited another 5 for them to catch up, they don't pull up along side you, they sit several metres behind so you cannot comfortable communicate or look at them. …”
A bit of heat in this, isn’t there?
My personal take on this is that there’s no right or wrong, just different expectations. And if we can be clear about each other’s expectations etc. before a trip, then quite a bit of preventable grief can be by-passed.
Hence the attempt to formulate some standards to assist us … here they are:
Accept that your choice to participate in a group trip requires a continual balancing act between the opposing demands of personal freedom & independence from restraints which we seek on the water, and what it requires to be a member of a group engaging in potentially challenging & dangerous activities. Accept that this balancing act will never be resolved, it is always a moving target.
Accept that as a sea kayaker, it is your own responsibility to find out what you are getting into. Sea kayaking is a great sport to be involved in for all its reasons such as beauty, nature and peace of mind, but it also has the potential for being dangerous and even life threatening. Accept responsibility for yourself. Accept that if all hell breaks loose, you may well be on your own. Be prepared for this as worst-case scenario. Do not rely on a group to get you out of trouble.
Accept your responsibilities to the group. If you want to paddle with a group, be prepared to follow group rules. It is your decision to paddle with a group. By deciding to paddle together you acknowledge a common bond which involves a group decision making process, a concern for the welfare of fellow paddlers, and an acceptance of minimum standards. Ill prepared & selfish paddlers not only endanger themselves but also those around them.
Accept that safety & enjoyment on paddling trips does not just happen. It is the result of awareness, understanding & cooperation by all members of a trip acting as a team. Act accordingly.
Accept that becoming an effective paddler at whatever level you choose to aim for requires commitment. Commitment to learning, commitment to developing fitness appropriate to the trips you want to do, and commitment to acquiring sufficient gear. As a novice within A SEA KAYAKING CLUB you have the opportunity to do this at very low cost and with access to a great range of people to learn from, trips to go on, etc.
Accept the commitment to becoming an effective paddler at the level you choose to aim for after a few trips with A SEA KAYAKING CLUB . Otherwise go on paddling trips with commercial tour operators or others who are willing to take on the responsibility of looking after you.
You are responsible for the soundness and appropriateness of your own gear for any proposed trip.
Accept that sea kayaking trips can bring up strong emotions, that this is normal, and that A SEA KAYAKING CLUB recommends regular briefing/debriefing meetings during and immediately after trips.
Participate honestly, thoughtfully and sensitively in discussion & debriefing - this helps build trust, good practice, better trips and a strong club.
If there are not enough of the sort of trips you like on the program, then discuss this with members and the program coordinator, get involved in facilitating and contributing to provide the sort of trip you would like.
Accept that trip coordinators are members volunteering their time to organise trips. They act voluntarily and without compensation, in the same manner that anyone among a group of peers might agree to act as coordinator for a particular activity or trip. They are not required to be in any way trained, certified, or qualified as kayakers or as coordinators by A SEA KAYAKING CLUB .
Trip coordinators facilitate the coming together of peers for the purpose of enjoying sea kayaking trips. Their main role is to define the trip objectives, set the meeting place & time, assist prospective participants in working out how the trip would suit them, know how to get to the launching point & take out, and to give the group the necessary focus on paddling & conditions as necessary.
Accept that trip coordinators are not responsible for your safety or enjoyment. This is your own responsibility. They are not responsible for carrying safety or first aid equipment on behalf of others, for any mishaps which may occur as part of a trip, for assessing if you have adequate skills, for your safety, or for your well-being or happiness.
Accept that the trip coordinator has the right to determine a range of trip variables including participant experience / skills / fitness, paddling speed, what degree of group cohesion is required, how it will be maintained, etc.
Accept that you have responsibilities to the coordinator. Support the trip coordinator. Have your say, but if things don't go your way, don't complain. Accept the decisions of the trip coordinator and support them.
Re-read & confirm for yourself your acceptance of the ‘Club Philosophy’ which is published as ‘DISCLAIMER’ with each A SEA KAYAKING CLUB program.
Consider what level of risk you are willing to take and what you can do to minimise that risk.
For trips graded other than ‘Novice’ have at least the skill, equipment & level of preparation listed below and as covered at A SEA KAYAKING CLUB Basic Skills Training. It is your responsibility to get up to this minimum standard and to stay there.
Be willing & ensure that you are able to meet trip requirements for the proposed trip (skill, stamina, speed, equipment etc). This may necessitate you paddling under or over your comfortable speed and distance, but if you know the requirements and are on the trip then you make an effort to fit in with the group.
Minimum skills & experience standards (all A SEA KAYAKING CLUB trips except trips graded ‘Novice’)
Boat handling skills & experience
Self & other rescue skills & experience
Check your current experience, skill, gear & fitness against recommended standards for the proposed trip.
Clarify your own trip expectations. What are your parameters?: max sustainable calm water paddling speed, max time in boat without break, max number of hours in boat per day, worst sea & weather conditions you are prepared to go into, … ?
Check the proposed trip on a map. Consider the worst case hazards that you can predict for the trip.
Contact the coordinator as early as possible in advance of the trip.
Confirm with coordinator that your expectations and their expectations are compatible with each other. Offer to discuss your current level of experience, skill, gear & fitness with the co-ordinator and obtain confirmation that this appears sufficient for the proposed trip. Enquire about food and drink, map and other gear requirements. Remember that coordinators are busy volunteers – make it easy for them by offering & asking for all important information.
Accept that you may be quizzed about your experience, skill, gear & fitness before being accepted on a trip by a trip coordinator.
Inform the trip co-ordinator of anything whatsoever that could possibly limit your full participation in the proposed trip before commencement of the trip or as soon as you become aware of it after commencement of the trip.
Double-check meeting time/place & required map(s).
Organise yourself to have a sea worthy boat and fully functional gear at the meeting/launching point before or by the agreed meeting time.
Make sure that you fit comfortably in the boat and the adjustments for footrest, rudder etc are right for you.
Get yourself ready for the trip - maps, weather forecasts, personal equipment and food. Fully pack as much of the gear as possible to avoid last minute packing panic at the launching site. Ensure that everything vital will be waterproof. Talk to more experienced paddlers if you have any doubts.
Accept & act on your responsibility to obtain an up-to-date weather forecast and assess whether the predicted conditions are appropriate for your skills. It is your decision to launch your boat.
Let someone close to you know what you are doing and give them a latish time of expected return, and phone number to contact should they begin to get concerned if you are not in contact by the expected time.
Allow plenty of time to get to the meeting time and place.
Turn up before or at agreed time with all required equipment unless other arrangements have previously been made with the coordinator. Ensure that your equipment is fully functional.
Accept that the coordinator may check your gear.
Accept that participation in a trip may be declined by a trip coordinator at the launching site on account of insufficient gear and/or failure to book for a trip where this was required.
Accept your responsibility to ensure that you are in good enough physical condition.
Understand & ‘own’ any group decisions. Understand & ensure you feel comfortable with agreements on group management (staying together or not, regrouping plans, rest or lunch stops, emergency plans, speed, max time in boat, …).
Assertively & constructively express concerns or queries. Make sure you participate & comprehend - ask questions & raise issues if in doubt.
Know where the group is going.
Understand of the geography, risks and safe options of the trip plan.
Know who’s carrying any group emergency gear.
Know foreseeable hazards (exposed crossings, currents, reefs, surf, busy boat channels, … ).
Know group weak points if any.
Do not encourage any paddler into actions beyond their abilities.
Look after the safety, welfare and enjoyment of all members of the group, without jeopardising your own safety.
Proactively contribute to group cohesion and group communication. Stay in communication with the group.
Clearly & unmistakingly communicate any expectations / concerns / fears to the trip co-ordinator and the group so that these can be taken into account.
Don't leave the group to do your own thing unless this has been agreed on with the trip coordinator.
Be familiar with & observe MISK (minimal impact sea kayaking) guidelines.
Stay within communication distance with the co-ordinator unless previously arranged otherwise.
Maintain awareness of the location of every group member. Check every few minutes that you know where the front and the last person are and that all heads are present.
If you are a beginning paddler or new to the club, maintain a position in the middle of the group.
Do your best to stay ahead of the sweep (experienced paddlers who take it in turns to round up the back of the group).
When catching up with the group at rendezvous points, join the group so that everyone can comfortably make eye & voice contact with you (don’t sit behind).
Make an effort to stay aware of changing conditions - of weather, sea state, participants comfort and confidence.
Assist speedy re-grouping whenever indicated by the coordinator, by other group members or by circumstances (for example: the lee of each headland, hazard ahead, indications that group members may have problems behind or ahead, …).
Let people know how you are faring. If you feel insecure, tired, hungry, sea sick etc others need to know so they can watch out for you. Don't expect mental telepathy from paddlers even a few metres in front of you. Sing out, get level with them - eye to eye contact doubles the information exchange and helps people understand each other. If you are feeling left behind and in need of more obvious supervision, say so. It is much more constructive to deal with this issue in a calm and rational way at the time than to feel insecure and resentful for the whole trip. Keep in mind if this is happening, someone has slipped up - this needs to be debriefed on later too.
You have chosen to be with a group. The rate is that of the slowest. Yes they may lift their act to respond to fast group but how long can this be sustained, this may cause problems later. Where there are differences in paddling speed, faster paddlers need to slow down to stay with the group and slower paddlers need to work at keeping up. Act accordingly.
Never leave a group without informing the coordinator.
Dress for the water temperature, i.e. at all times are dressed in such a way that your body & mind will remain functional after at least 15 minutes of full body immersion.
Participate honestly thoughtfully and sensitively in discussion and debriefing - this helps build trust, good practice, better trips and a strong club. A visit to the pub/bakery on the way home is great for this. We get out of the club in proportion to what we put in.
Constructively discuss any concerns or suggestions with members of A SEA KAYAKING CLUB committee AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
An internet search using the search criterion “sea kayak trip responsibility” at http://vivisimo.com and at http://www.google.com found a lot of useful references. Here are some that were read in preparation of this document:
Be gentle with yourself & each other! Keep paddling.
THE END J .