Alligators and Club Insurance

I am the leader of a 300 member (and growing) canoe & kayak club in a very active retirement community in central Fl. My generation is retiring sooner and with great desires to be active in our sport. Two issues here I need help with:

  1. Alligators. I have done extensive research and talked to numerous outfitters and other like clubs and am doing my best to educate club members, especially newer ones, that while alligators are to be respected for their potential danger, they usually do not pose a threat to paddlers. We do plan trip with awareness of mating season and areas known for aggresive gators. Is anyone factually knowledge (not urban legend) of gators attacking canoe/kayakers. Also confirm or argue something I was told, that should a gator appear aggesive and charge a boat that tapping the paddle against the side of the boat (not in or on the water) should scare them away. Obviously, it’s best to keep an eye on them and avoid paddling too near.

    Question 2. Members are concerned with the potential for lawsuit should a member get injured on a trip. All club officers are volunteers and we do have members sign a club liability waiver. I’ve checked insurance coverage with ACA and found it to be cost prohibitive. Any help on this would be appreciated esp names/numbers of insurance agents/companies.

    Do visit our club’s great website @

    Thanks Milestogo

You will probably end up relying on a GOOD waiver.

I’ve been taught that the signer HAS TO READ IT then ask if they understand it and have any questions about it, all in front of another witness or two BEFORE they sign it.

With 300 paddlers I doubt you have any problems with gators.

Try talking to Matt…
at Aardvark’s in Crystal River. He may give you tips on composing a waiver, or let you use his as a template. Very nice fellow, very nice shop.

As for 'gators, they don’t seem to bother with paddlers. I’ve asked several old timers who have a lot of paddling miles, and only one had seen the evidence of a kayak with teeth marks. He did not witness the attack, nor did he know what provoked it. Just treat them with the respect that a large carinvore deserves.

On that subject, the local folks I’ve met here have told me that slapping a paddle hard on the surface of the water sends them away.

National Geographic had an article on the aligators sensory mechanisms, and it seems the little bumps on the surface of the flesh on the lower jaw posess the ability to detect even the most minute vibration in the water.

I guess whacking the paddle on the surface is the equivelant of someone screaming in your ear.

For what it’s worth.


ACA insurance through the Paddle America
Club program is cheap, but requires that every person in the club be an ACA member. $30 per year per person for an ACA membership is pretty cheap insurance given we are engaging in a sport in which people can and do die. Even the best liability waiver won’t stop someone’s family from suing. It may protect you from ultimate liability, but the legal costs to defend the suit would be way more than the cost of the insurance. Our club has looked into it quite a bit and found the ACA Paddle America Club program is the best way to go. Their paper work is a pain, but in the end, I think it’s worth it.

Concerning gators…

– Last Updated: Jan-31-07 12:40 AM EST –

I've been around many a gator and some of them quite big. I never tried scaring a agressive bull gator by slapping a paddle on the water surface, It might antagonize him since the bulls challenge each other with a snapping of their jaws at surface level and those two sounds may not be that distinguishable to a bull gator willing to fight for territory. When I paddle into some true Florida wilderness where even the big bulls have had little contact with humans I've had big ones come close. That's when I thump (rather loudly) the side of my canoe with my paddle. Since the sound is foreign to them they tend to back away.
I've had more challenges from females guarding their nests. Not really a problem though as long as you stay close to the bank opposite of the one she lauched from (her nest will be real close from where she launched). She'll usually stop in the middle of whatever body of water she's in and watch you float on by.

urban myth?
I’ve been told on many occasions that unless it is the rut or the gator feels it is confined or threatened that it will not attack anything larger that it is…so little acadias and pungos are snacks and 17 foot sea kayaks are left alone

urban myth…
It’s just someone trying to sell you a larger boat :slight_smile:

Club Insurance
Thanks for your reply, will check with ACA again on rates. Miles

In our own large club, the ACA insurance
was obtained only so the club could have coverage while running the Southeastern whitewater races once a year. But the ACA insurance people insisted that we had to get a waiver from every person on every club trip.

I had been a VERY frequent trip leader, but I immediately refused to lead any more trips, and I refused to go on any trips where I had to sign waivers.

I still go on informal trips with friends. Now, if I neglect to turn around and check to see that the sweep boater is OK, and he pins and drowns, is his family going to sue me? Be honest, now…you know what the answer is. I have never heard of a lawsuit in such a case.

But if that is a club trip, everyone has signed waivers, and the victim’s widow, now impoverished, finds out that the club has liability of insurance, what will happen? The degree of negligence is the same in both cases. But in the second, the fact that it is a “club” trip can be taken to imply that the club can somehow keep participants safe, and the use of a waiver makes it WORSE by suggesting that the club is competent to know what the risks are in advance and to provide for them. And if the trip leader fails to round up everyone and go through an adequate consent ritual, then the omitted person has grounds to sue.

I am familiar with consent forms and liability, both as one who experimented with human subjects, and as one who treated thousands of patients in a state psychiatric hospital. No matter how carefully a waiver is designed and explained, no subject, and no paddler, can EVER sign away the right to sue for negligent action. The waiver does NOT protect anyone against action for negligence. It just makes it a little easier for the insurance company to resist a lawsuit.

In my opinion, the best way for a club to avoid risk is to avoid presenting a target, and to avoid pretending that they are caretakers for their members. If you have club insurance, you present a target for lawsuits. If you use waivers, you imply that there are both unavoidable risks (the ones covered by waivers) and avoidable risks. You CAN avoid losing sight of someone and having them die. Your inattentiveness is not something covered by the waiver. So you, and the club are still vulnerable. I feel (though I cannot prove) that offering waivers does not protect me at all. If someone is bitter and angry enough to sue me for a few thousand in savings and my house and cars, they are going to do it, waiver or not.

My suggestion to my club was that they end “club” trips, and only serve as a clearinghouse for members and others who might choose to participate. Stop pretending, in this litiginous age, that one can take responsibility for others without being eaten by lawyers when something goes wrong.

Hmmm, a great excuse
to get a new Valley Nordcapp.

they are a good starter boat aren’t they???