Over the years I have read a number of articles about Group Paddling covering an array of topics from basic safety through to etiquette.
As I have been encouraging paddlers to create their own little groups I felt that it was time to just add a few words in an attempt to open everyones eyes to their responsibilities and perhaps tactfully mention of few of those irritating habits we develop on the water.
Here is a synopsis of a longer article and I am inviting you to email me your comments, moans and additions so that we can all be better companions on the water.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE
You are responsible for your own safety on the water. We travel in groups for safety but you cannot hold anyone else accountable for your well being. It is up to you to decide whether the weather, both present and predicted, and the route, is within your capabilities. If you have any doubts at all it is very important that you voice your concerns to the rest of the group or better still, don't go. If you have a paddle buddy you trust, you can ask them to stick with you and be prepared to turn back if you really do feel out of your depth, but it is dangerous for you to take to the water under uncertain circumstances and very bad manners to expect the group to look after you or turn back.
That said, you usually find that there is at least one paddler who is prepared to forgo their paddle and turn back with you, or even find another route that may be easier. We all had to start somewhere although some people seem to have forgotten they were once the "reason" we took the easy route.
Here is the start of a list of guidelines that we all should consider.
• Make sure you have all the appropriate safety gear and that you are cabable of self rescue.
• If you are invited to a 9.30 paddle - be there well before. The time given is usually an "on the water" start and you have to discuss route, weather and do all your safety checks.
• Check who has their cell phones or radios with. Swap cell phone numbers.
• The "Host" will normally brief everyone about the route - any get-out points, and any quirks or places of special interest on the route. Please listen.
• If you are far ahead of everyone else - take a look back every so often. Question why you are forging ahead and everyone else seems to be going a different way? If the group has mixed abilities STOP, discuss the options and make a plan.
• Be prepared to "Buddy Up" in the event of sickness, bad weather or loss of confidence. It is wise to buddy up and stay with your buddy throughout the paddle even if conditions are fine. This way if one person has a problem someone will always be there to assist.
• If you are struggling, sick, hurt - tell someone in the group. If necessary tell a person who is obviously struggling to make their way back if distance conditions allow a safe lone return.
• Watch your course. Be aware. The sea and clouds are constantly giving us information - if you are not looking you can easily run into trouble.
• If you are going ahead or deviating off the route - tell the nearest person so that we don't all stop or follow when you really want to be alone - that is your choice.
• Make use of your cell phone if the group is getting away from you - or you away from it.
• Do make use of Assisted Rescue Techniques in the event of a capsize IF the individual needs or requests help. Don't panic. Don't blame. Don't criticise. Reassure.
• Don't tell scare stories on the water - leave them for dry land
• Above all, enjoy yourself.