Reflections from the Cockpit
"Leaving the Group"
December 2002

During the last month I read a trip report from one of the local paddling clubs. I love reading these reports because there are so many things that can be learned when things don’t go as planned. There were a number of great lessons to be learned from this outing. I want to focus on an action taken by one participant that impressed me.

After the lunch break the group launched through a surf zone into a fog bank. The surf took a toll on some of the participants and equipment. It took a little while for the group to get together after some capsizes. The fog was thick enough so they were unable to see beach once outside the surf zone. To make a long story short one of the paddlers decided not to continue as a result of some surf carnage which resulted in their deck compass getting knocked off the deck of the kayak. This paddler didn’t want to paddle in the fog without a compass (wise decision). What impressed me was how thoughtful this paddler was to the rest of the group. Not having a radio to contact the group the paddler got to a pay phone (had money to make the call) and called the coast guard and asked them to relay a message. The coast guard called on Channel 16 to the kayaking group to inform them the missing paddler was remaining on the beach and to come and get him with the cars when the day trip was over.

The reason this action impressed me was I have all too often seen and heard of times when people have left the group without any communication with the group. I am not concerned about people paddling alone (see November 2002 Reflections "Paddling Alone"). I am concerned when people plan to be paddling with a group and then change their mind. This mind change can be a result of many reasons. Regardless of the reason, has the group established the protocol for an individual(s) to leave the group or the group getting separated? If yes, then those who leave are taking full responsibility for their well being. If no, then those who leave can be causing, at minimum, a hassle to the group and possibly even endangering the group.

Ask yourself, "what would you do if someone in your group was missing and no one in the group was told they were leaving?" Imagine the possible concerns, anxiety and disruption to the group if someone was missing. Of course if there were good awareness amongst the group it would be difficult for someone to slip away without being noticed. How to keep a group together is a larger discussion for another time. For this month's reflections I am more concerned about the responsibility each of us has to the group in communicating our intentions if they deviate from the original group plan. However, there are times when conditions may arise which may cause the group to become separated as in the club trip mentioned above. I suggest there be dialog at the beginning of each trip to discuss communication plans in the event of separation due to conditions or by choice.

Here are some points to consider while having your pre-launching talk.

-Is everyone doing the whole trip?
-What are the rules if someone wants to leave the group?
-Who has the radios and are they left on during the whole trip?
-Who has cell phones and do you all know each other’s numbers?
-What is the radio call name of the group for the day? (Have the group repeat it three times aloud)
-Inform everyone it is their responsibility to get a message to the group if they get separated when they can get to a means of communication. Keep in mind, this is NOT a 911 call unless there is an emergency.
-Review the itinerary so everyone knows what they are getting into for the day.

From my own personal experience, which has been strongly influenced by paddling in a surf zone environment, I consider the final group as those who have made it out through the surf zone and grouped up at the designated staging area. After the group number has been established and everyone has readied himself or herself in the staging area, then the paddling begins. If some cannot make it out through the zone there needs to be explicit communication with those on the beach that they are all right and will not be joining you. Some of that discussion can occur during the pre-launch talk as a "what if you cannot launch" or "what if your kayak gets damaged during launching" contingency plan.
Again, there is so much more that needs to be discussed for any group outing. Today I wanted to focus on the responsibility of those that leave or get separated from the group. I was motivated by a very thoughtful and proactive action taken by a paddler that got separated from the group. This paddler (Don Lucas) is a father and his son (Max Lucas) was in the rest of the paddling group.

I have to admit as I write this I hear my father’s words ringing in my ears. "If you are going to be late call home. You know you are fine but if you alter from the plan we don’t know you are O.K. It is the not knowing that wastes a lot of energy." I can remember what I used to tell my dad, "Oh dad, you worry too much…" I think it was Mark Twain (I may be wrong on the reference) that said, "it is amazing how much smarter my father got as I got older".


Wayne Horodowich


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