Reflections from the Cockpit
"Utilizing the Group"
February 2002

I once heard someone say "river kayaking is a solo sport that should never be done alone." As a river kayaker and sea kayaker I agree with the underlying philosophy of that statement which is, when the stuff hits the fan (on the river or on the ocean) there is a better than average chance you will be on your own even if you have others with you, so you better know how to handle the situation on you own. However, that being said, if you are paddling with others I suggest you use the resources of the group to everyone's advantage if at all possible.

Many of our traditional capsize recovery techniques are based upon two paddling partners. Some are based on three. When I began teaching sea kayaking I would teach the traditional methods without thinking outside of the box. As I watched my students and other kayakers in action, I realized there was so much more that could be done if there were other paddlers present. Have you ever seen a paddler struggling to get back onto their kayak during a re-entry? Sometimes it may take the person a few tries before they get on. Why didn't you or someone else come over and help after the first failed attempt? I am all for self sufficiency, but there are times reducing exposure time or preventing strains are more important.

There are a number of ways to take maximize the benefits of paddling in a group (See USK Article "Utilize The Group In Capsize Recoveries.) The idea being to reduce immersion time and get the group paddling again, efficiently and without injury. Sometimes staying out of the way is the best thing to do, but not if you can see that extra hand being of use. In addition to being directly involved with the recovery perhaps you can keep the recovery team from drifting into an unsafe situation by attaching a tow rope or ropes to the recovery group and keeping them stationary or possibly even moving them out of harms way. Just keeping a watchful eye for equipment floating away and then getting it is better than taking a rest break while Jane or Bob help Joe back into his kayak.

Another place I see lack of help is during launchings and landings. If there is help I often see the help do a partial job of it. Why don't these helpers get deeper into the water during launchings and landings? Much of the grief experienced in the surf zone happens right near shore. Get out there and help pull them in or give a proper push when needed.

I am happy to say I do see a lot of group help in the parking lot loading and unloading kayaks. Straining your back is not a way to began your day or end it by carrying your own kayak. I do think there are other ways the group can be useful before and after the paddle. Before the paddle if members of the group would walk around and ask "why" and "how" questions and offer their reasons in return, I believe there will be some who will learn new techniques. This is truly taking advantage of group experience and wisdom. The questions could be on: where to store safety equipment, design features, special rigging, types of paddles, styles of PFD's, features on spray skirts, differences in recovery equipment, etc.

Upon return of the trip why not get the group together and ask everyone to share something new that they learned that day that will improve their kayaking. I truly believe we learn something every time we go out on a paddle that will improve our kayaking skills. If you take the time to think about it and discuss it, you will be surprised at what you are learning. If you share these personal learning moments with the rest of the group you have now raised the experience of the group. This is the group utilizing the group.

If you choose to paddle with others then think about the different ways you can utilize the group. I also challenge all you instructors out there to teach the "utilizing the group" concept to your students right from the beginning. At the same time keeping in mind the message in the opening quote of self sufficiency.

I have to add an addendum to this month's reflection as a result of my staff kayak training this morning (2-3-2002.) As I watched my future staff in action I was again reminded of the help that can be provided by the so called "victim" in the water. After a capsize there are many things that can be done by the person in the water. All to often I see the person in the water just floating there. The recoveree can be proactive in helping the group help them. They could be getting into position to help drain water. They could be righting the kayak so they would be ready to climb on when the stabilizer has hold of their kayak. They could help pull of push their kayak closer the person assisting. If they are cold they can jump on their kayak to get their torso out of the cold water until they have assistance. If you wet exit and need assistance getting back into your kayak try to help as much as possible in making that assistance easier for all concerned. Don't just bob around in the water like a buoy.


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