I am a social sea kayaker. I enjoy the company of other paddlers.
Paddling in groups has a great social aspect and the benefit of the safety to be paddling with others.
Paddling in a pod usually means that you have the support from your mates if something should happen on the water.
While in some other outdoor activities the help factor is not as critical, in sea kayaking, a quick response from members of your pod is much more drastic.
It really does not take that long that, if in serious trouble, you could drown.
By serious I don’t mean anything catastrophic; it can be as simple as just fainting.
The water is not forgiving and drowning even in rather mild conditions is always a possibility.
With this in mind I wanted to minimize my risks and paddle with others.
I wanted to paddle in the safety of a knowledgeable and skilled group that would offer me that support if something had to happen to me.
I joined a Club and undertook several instruction courses to achieve the standard of being able to rescue myself and others.
The Club follows set guidelines to ensure that all paddlers are safe on the water.
One of the areas that is recognized as potential danger factor is group size.
A historical incident with NSWSKC where a group of about 50 paddlers run into serious trouble and had to be rescued by authorities lead to the recognition of maximum group size that should paddle together.
The highly esteemed sea kayaker Laurie Ford says:
".... 10 or 12 should be an absolute maximum number of paddlers on any one trip (see my Philosophy on canoeing). It is absolutely impossible to keep an eye on more than that. The leader should be constantly looking round every few minutes and counting them all, so that at any one minute he/she knows exactly where everyone is. And with that number of paddlers, you can tell when some of them may be starting to get tired, or seasick etc. ..." *1
Some Clubs are however still promoting much larger pods of paddlers (I have seen some as large as 20).
Joining and leaving the group at different stages of the outing is also apparently OK.
As Laurie Ford suggests, I ask myself: how can a leader keep an eye on such large number of participants?
And if the paddlers are then leaving and joining at different stages, who is there to know if somebody has actually been left behind?
A few years ago Laurie Ford observed :
"...Over the past few years there have been numerous articles in their (ed. NSWSKC ) magazine, from paddlers who felt they were left behind on trips - and generally given a hard time. The same magazine always had an answering letter from the ‘leader’ concerned, basically telling the novice that if they can’t keep up they shouldn’t be out there spoiling the leaders enjoyment..." *1
I observed the same on a recent outing.
One of the older paddlers was left behind.
When he later on arrived on the beach he said that the pod left him behind and did not wait for him.
I was concerned. If for some reason he would have capsized, most likely he would have not be able to self rescue (I know the guy and I have never seen him be able to get back in the kayak without great assistance).
While some informal paddling groups advocate for self reliance and involve paddlers that take the responsibility to look after themselves, a Club usually also caters for paddlers that need assistance.
The Club outings of low skill level/grading are aimed for beginners/non skilled paddlers.
Is it not the imperative responsibility of the Leader of that pod to have a watchful eye on all participants and make sure that at no time they should be left at their own devices?
An experienced Club Leader once said: " Everything is OK until it goes wrong "
Lets hope that his prediction never happens.
I now wonder what is the view of other paddlers and instructors on group size.
*1 http://www.laurieford.net/sadnsw.htm FEB01
6 NSWSKC separate pods congregate at a common destination
At Umina's Rock&Roll 2009 it was interesting to see that despite large number of paddlers participating in on-water activities, strict pod numbers were always observed.
If the pod was too large to paddle safely it was divided in two and two certified leaders appointed.
The briefing was separate and independent form each other, the route taken was independent and separate, the only thing common was the destination.
Pod group ratio was observed at all times as per Australian Canoeing guidelines.