Two important aspects of basic kayaking safety were brought home to me recently. The first is group cohesiveness and the second is making sure everyone is on board with the trip agenda from the get-go. Without the second you will never achieve the first.
On my formally led trips, after everyone is gathered and before we get on the water. I have a little “safety talk”. First, I give an overview of the trip. This is basically a review of the trip description I previously posted in the Meetup group with a bit more detail now that everyone is on site. I go over our basic route, how long they can expect it to take, what they can expect to see, where we will stop for lunch, whether we will take it slow or need to paddle quickly to make it to the takeout on time, etc. Everyone then has the opportunity to question the arrangement one last time or opt out.
Second, I always stress staying within sight and sound of the other members of the group. That does not mean that everyone has to paddle in a little clump, but does mean they need to stay aware of the group as a whole. To me this is simply a sound safety rule. If something happens, major or minor, there is someone to help or at least someone to go for help. For me as the leader, I need to keep track of everyone to ensure their safety. If someone falls way behind I cannot know about any problems they may encounter. If I have someone paddling too far ahead of the group I cannot anticipate problems they may run into or inform them of upcoming situations they need to be aware of – for example, the approaching lunch stop or a shoal area that needs to be negotiated on a certain side. For the participants, being able to see/hear the other members of the group gives them the reassurance that if they do have a problem, someone is there to help. Again, I expect when I state this principle of safety that everyone is buying in on it and will comply. And again, if they do not understand they can ask questions or opt out and do their own thing.
Safety and cohesiveness – watching out for each other and sharing the common goals of the paddle – make for a good paddle trip.