ACA affiliation advantages

The Wills Creek Paddling Club is a new organization getting off the ground in Eastern Ohio. We have affiliated with the ACA, but some members are still agnostic about whether this was a good or bad idea. The paperwork and regulations seem a bit excessive, and having to charge first-timers ten bucks just to try the sport out doesn’t seem like a policy designed to attract new members. Being required to fill out pre- and post-trip reports for even casual evening paddles at local lakes seems a bit muc, too, and some worry that if a few members of the group go to a bar/restaurant after a paddle event, our ACA coverage is invalidated.

Yes, we live in a litigious, legalistic, bureaucratic age. But some of these regs seem excessive.

What kind of experience have other local groups had with ACA affiliation? what would you say have been its greatest benefits and drawbacks?

Major turn-off
The club I used to belong to became affiliated with ACA. Dues went from $20 individual to $40 or $45, and all that was offered for that was alleged insurance that was invalid by mid-summer. I got the impression that certain club officials became infused with a sense of (false) security, very dangerous.

I was not likely to join the club that year anyway, but the ACA thing put the final nail in the coffin.

Not an agnostic in this debate–more like an atheist.

Unless you want or need the insurance…
…don’t bother. The ACA is such a bush-league organization that they can’t even process their membership applications and get out membership cards in a timely manner (2005 membership cards still haven’t gone out). They make the same B.S. excuses every year. IMO, Paddler magazine is a waste of paper if you’re not into whitewater. Our club has been an ACA affiliate for several years and other than the insurance, there is zero benefit to it, in my estimation. We started investigating insurance alternatives, but went with the ACA again this year instead, for expediency’s sake, which turned out to be a “nailbiter”, since they didn’t get their coverage in place until early spring (March, IIRC). If we can find an alternative insurance provider, I can’t think of a single good reason to stay with the ACA, especially since they raised the dues and fees this year.

Sounds like the lawyers and insurance
companies are ruining everyone’s fun. I don’t know how many liveries in my state have gone under because they can’t pay the insurance. And it seems to me we’ve gotten ourselves into a ridiculous pickle when you can’t simply call together a group of adults to go paddling without having to “protect yourself” from potential lawsuit if someone gets hurt.

Yeah, You Can…
call it a “Sho N Go”, clearly stating that it is leaderless, that folks have to decide whether the conditions are appropriate for the skill level and gear and that they must be ready to take care of themselves.


Is there an alternative?
I belong to an ACA Paddle America club as well as a “Sho and Go” type club whose members coincidentally match the ACA Paddle America club almost exactly. The ACA club focuses primarily on kayaking instruction and they also have a few organized trips a year. The Sho and Go club sponsors many events and weekly paddling outings. Aside from the insurance protection (and to what extent it protects you is pretty questionable), I see absolutely no value in the ACA and our club members are needlessly paying money to a seemingly incompetant organizaiton. However, neither our club or our instructors can afford the risk of being sued and we are clinging to the ACA in hopes it may offer some small measure of protection. Although we have our Sho and Go club, any fairly competent lawyer could easily connect the affiliation of the formal club with the informal club to make a compelling argument in a courtroom setting. Does anyone know of alternative forms of insurance for small kayaking clubs?

I wonder if terminology matters

– Last Updated: Aug-08-05 12:31 PM EST –

What if you dropped the word "club" or "association"?

Does it make any difference if it's a "group of friends" vs. a "club"? How about "Team Such-and-such" instead of the "Such-and-such Club"?

What I'm getting at is removing any suggestion that the participants are not equals. "Club" implies that there could be experienced members and newbies; therefore, greater responsibility for some members is also implied. A team usually is made up of equals. "Group" is noncommittal.

Still, someone looking to blame others for his/her own misjudgment can probably find a way around the terminology. My own philosophy is to never be put in a position of leadership over people I don't know already. Yeah, it's cowardly but it doesn't totally take me out of the picture. And I trust my intuition. I can think of someone in my (former) club whom I would never allow to paddle with me, and it has nothing to do with skill level. The person is a total slimeball. And she is a lawyer.

A curse on all lawyers
It is sad it has come to this. Apologies to any lawyer-paddlers who read this. I’m sure you’re GOOD lawyers and would never sue some poor paddling club.

One of the clubs that I belong to has “Trip coordinators” not “Leaders”. The coordinators duties are to set the time and place and general course of the paddle, beyond that free will prevails. No one is required to follow the coordinator but they are welcome to do so. Difficult trips are so announced and if anyone invites a guest, the guest falls under the members waiver. The mindset being “This is a club trip not a guided tour”. I guess we would fall into an organized show and go…

That sounds like a reasonable

“The person is a total slimeball. And she is a lawyer.”

And this somehow surprises you?

A slightly different view

– Last Updated: Aug-11-05 12:27 PM EST –

This is only my view and not meant to be a preachy thing whatsoever!

For me and me only, I have found after years of being in volunteer organizations, leadership training, medical training, instructing, guiding, etc, etc, that:

IT IS POSSIBLE BUT VERY VERY DIFFICULT to slowly reform an organization by creating fun, excitement, good will, interest, skills, to the extent that there is a:

CULTURE OF COMPETENCE, SAFETY, & ACTUAL INTERDENDENCY in group trips. This method of reducing risks is in part understanding of risk as NOT JUST THE AVOIDANCE of danger, but the

ACTIVE DEVELOPMENT OF EACH and EVERY PADDLER to think like leaders, and develop these skills.

Almost every problem I have seen in clubs comes from the understandable laziness we all can have to fall into the flock and shephard approach to leadership.

IMHO and after countless mistakes and a rubble heap of doing things other ways I know feel that, for me at least, it is far better to only lead trips where others are willing to be my equal, that is learn the skills, have the judgment, be involved in their own self care and mine, etc. Note this does not require all that much in the way of rules, requirements, and restrictions, as these matters FLOW from the above rather than being IMPOSED on paddlers!

This view of risk reduction is sometimes overlooked. This I find is the best insurance. Never the less, the ACA insurance does have an important function and imo will be more and more essential for clubs and instructors.

If interested send me an email and I will share our web site information on our take on these ideas.

Terminology makes a big difference…
…but not in the way you think. Our club recently went through a professional risk/liability assessment, so I’m somewhat familiar with these issues.

Whether you call it a “club”, “group”, “team” or “association” isn’t likely to matter. What matters is what image the entity presents and what claims it makes. If the image is one of casual get-togethers for the purpose of sharing a kayaking experience, it falls under what’s known as the “Common Adventure Model”. In this case, a certain degree of risk is presumed and lawsuits are harder to win unless there is some gross negligence involved.

On the other hand, if there is a “leader” and the trip is more organized, there is significantly greater liability assumed by the leader(s) and the organization. If any claims of proficiency or safety are made, it adds to the risk/liability burden. Outfitters and guides are at greatest risk, as competence is assumed by their clients.

Our club runs organized trips, trip leader training and other activities, but it was originally founded on a “show & go” model. What we were told is that we have to clearly separate the two, so that the club is not liable for anything that happens on a “S&G” trip, since it is not a club event and is not covered under our ACA insurance. The best way to do this would be to not allow S&G trips to be posted on our forums, but this was deemed unacceptable to the club. The next best thing is to clearly differentiate them as “Private Trips” and add a disclaimer stating that they are in no way affiliated with the club and are not covered by club insurance.

The only way to avoid all risk is not to paddle at all. If you want to avoid liability don’t paddle in groups. Obviously, these are not viable or desirable options for most of us. Sadly, the truth is that anyone can be sued and organizations that think that being “informal” protects them are deluding themselves. Whether the suit is successful or not, it’s likely to be painful and expensive.

However, in order for there to be a suit, there has to be an injury or accident of some some sort, which is a pretty rare occurance. If a club makes a good-faith effort to paddle safely, the likelihood of a suit is lower, as the is likelihood of success if a suit is brought. Although our club increases its liability by organizing trips and training trip leaders, our risk of being sued is probably lower since our emphasis on training and safety on the water make an accident less likely.

There’s no clear winner, as either model has it’s advantages and neither is without risk.

It does, but…
…it doesn’t protect you from being sued if someone gets hurt. It may make it less likely that a suit will be successful, but you can still be sued.

As much as I like to bash lawyers…
…they’re not 100% to blame here. If it weren’t for people trying to “cash in” or to “punish” others through the courts, there wouldn’t be lawsuits.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

While one may be tempted to think that “paddlers don’t sue paddlers” and it may even be largely true, there’s no saying what the spouse or family of a paddler may do in the event of a mishap.

Prairie State Canoeists is an ACA club
and has many trips and events. We have instructors who teach on a volunteer basis numerous times a year. Dues are $15 a year plus ACA membership, but we get full day instruction for $10. I’ve participated in other high risk sports and this is the least expensive club/activity that I’ve experienced. The club is also very involved in promoting and protecting water trails. We have regular clean-ups and the concept of being a responsible paddler is instilled in participants.

We also paddle with other folks who aren’t club members who may or may not be ACA members. ACA is going thru some changes, but we want to support their efforts. I was in equestrian organizations that were far more expensive and only existed for tracking points. And we paid high prices for instructors that may or may not have been certified by anyone. I like the fact that I can send someone to an ACA instructor and know that there is a known quantity. I’ve seen non-cert instructors in action and some are excellent, some are not. In our club, the instructors are mentored and reviewed.

High risk sports insurance is hard to get and expensive. ACA tries to provide an opportunity for paddlers to receive instruction and use facilities that would otherwise not be available. Not all folks getting into the sport have friends who can teach them safely or well. I think an ACA club is especially suited to helping newer paddlers and promotion of the sport.

I used to “lead” many trips for the GCA
…the Georgia Canoeing Association. Then, because of the ACA insurance issue, the club lawyers decided that we would have to require each and every trip participant to sign a waiver at the put in, and we would have to send these in to the Cruisemaster.

I told them I would neither sign waivers, nor ask anyone else to sign them, and I have neither led a club trip, nor gone on one, for about 7 years now. I was for 12 years the GCA newsletter editor, so my opinion was duly noted. I believe their waiver program has slowly died, but they pretend it is functional so they can keep that ACA insurance.

Lawsuits agains paddling clubs have been quite uncommon, insurance or not. Personally, I think insurance can act to make you a target for lawsuits, like a badly designed lightning rod system. And to the extent that you admit that you have safety standards, that trip leaders should have certain equipment and skills, etc., you unavoidably attract lawyers. Because, as you all know, there are frequent departures from safety practices on club trips. An incident, a set of standards, an insurance policy, and you’re done.

I told GCA that they should go to the Show and Go model. I guess they’re still thinking about it. Meanwhile I soloed five new (for me) rivers this season, including Dolores Slickrock Canyon. I guess if I drown or something, I will sue myself for all my earthly possessions.