Liability and Paddling?

Some of the messages in another thread discussed liability issues and kayaking, but I wanted to ask them directly to get more feedback.

  1. In an informal kayaking group where we set guidelines (ie, noone can join the Lake Superior paddles without pfds, wetsuits, sprayskirts, rescue and wet exit practices, etc), do people who come on a trip bear any liability if something goes wrong? We operate more on a ‘show and go’ model, but we do pick one leader when we have more than 3 people along.

  2. Do volunteers assume liability on trips? I’ve been asked to serve as a volunteer with a group of disabled kayakers, and I’m waiting to hear back from the leader about my safety questions before I decide whether to help out. As a volunteer (no BCU or ACA certification), would I bear any liability? I’m probably the most safety conscious member of the group who would be going, and unfortunately I have more kayaking experience than the group leader. But since I’m not certified or insured for guiding, I don’t want to be the ‘leader’.

Sometimes, organized trip leaders will have a waiver each paddler needs to sign before going out - basically saying that you know what you’re doing and release the trip leader from any liability in the event of an accident.

of what answers you receive. If someone is not happy with a trip, or if something happens and someone believes you as a volenteer leader are responsible then they can sue. We have all read about product liability and personal performance suits that we thought should have been laughed out of court only to find that they wound up actually being litigated and winning.

We have more lawyers per capita than any other country on the face of the planet.


Volunteers can be liable. I’d say that waivers are a must, but lawyers may find a way to get around them if a law suit were to happen. Sad that it has to work this way when you’re just trying to help out, but that’s life - in the US, anyway.

You’re walking a fine line
Waivers? Depending on the state you’re paddling in, waivers aren’t worth the paper they are written on, but they can’t HURT, so why not get one from everyone.

No matter what you do, there is really no way of avoiding getting sued, and little way to protect against a judgement against you if someone gets hurt or killed. They are going to think “why me” and some sleazy lawyer is going to capitalize on that.

A lot of people think that requiring certain safety gear, or only taking people of known experience will protect them, and I can’t blame them for thinking that, but paradoxically these precautions may open you up to more exposure if you go to court. By mandating certain safety gear and a minimum amount of experience, you are actually taking on responsibility for the safety of the group, and so if anything goes wrong a lawyer could say that you were acting in a guide capacity and therefore were remiss in your duties. If you keep it more informal sort of a “I am going on this trip and wouldn’t mind if people happened to be going the same way at the same time” you have less liability.

For my job, when we are onsite with subcontractors, our company policy (mandated by our lawyers) says that we are not even to suggest to a subcontractor that they put on safety glasses or a hardhat, as this implies taking responsibility for their safety.

See if your state has a “Good Samaritan” law and if you don’t represent yourself as anything more than a paddler just going along to help out you should be OK… but no guarantee.

Best to keep your informal group just that and not call it a “club”.

Reefmonkey has pretty much nailed it
If you mandate anything by way of equipment, training or experience, you have probably assumed a legal duty and could be held liable if something goes wrong.

Even a requirement to wear a PFD should probably be couched in terms of YOUR protection and not that of the wearer (you know, a drowning person may take you down with them).

Go totally informal or insured club event. In between those two is precarious legal territory.

Years back in our CT paddling club (ConnYak) we went nuts over this and paid for legal advice.

Anybody can sue anybody for anything. A waiver will help but not make you imune in any way. If a lawyer gets a hold of it, the person with the most worth gets the attention. If you check our site ( and go to join us on the left you can see what we wrote.

We finally agreed that you can’t live your life in a cave and do nothing, ever in fear of being sued. There would be no clubs or groups.

If you meet with three friends and one cuts their toe on glass on the beach and needs stitches, he can sue the others for the medical attention needed and win.

Have them sign a waiver, don’t do anything stupid, wear pfd’s and enjoy yourself. Sounds like a nice learning experience. Don’t let the lawers and insurance companies turn the world into neurotics. If your read simple spiritual stuff -Be good to people and they will be good to you.

It blows me away that as soon as you start giving safety advice, you assume liability. Our informal group doesn’t have waivers, but maybe I’ll change our minimum requirements (ie, “paddlers must havex, y, and z”) to “I’m not going out with anyone who doesn’t have x, y, and z”. They can go out if they want to, but they’re not with me. Seriously, I’m not paddling on the big lake with someone who has never done a wet exit.

Apples And Oranges
Your personal requirments are practical and based on your experience. The legal junk has no basis in anything other than greed.

Happy Paddling,


People can and will
sue other folks for anything. Now we are suggesting waviers for an afternoon paddle? This world is truly in a sad state when there is no such thing as personal responsibility. It must always be someone else’s fault.

A wavier if you’re teaching.
I don’t mean to mislead anyone. Our club in CT which has over 375 members, uses no waivers. We just meet and paddle and that’s how it should be.

I meant for the person posting the subject - if he’s assisting in teaching, a waiver will probably be collected by the head instructor anyhow.

We don’t worry about it. That’s the bottom line.

My Experience
The only legal actions I’ve heard of in my bike club involve a hired lawyer trying to get some settlement from a motorcyclist who hit a bicyclist.

My kayak and I were just invited to help with the swim portion of a local triathlon. My job will be to mark an edge of the course and to provide flotation for anyone who gets in trouble.

I’m no lifeguard but I can throw a spare pfd to someone… give them the bow of my boat.

Personal Liability Insurance Policy

– Last Updated: Jul-17-06 5:22 PM EST –

Get a Personal Liability Insurance Policy/Umbrella. Costs about $150/yr for 1 million dollars of coverage. Not only does this give you good insurance coverage, but it also gives you good lawyers to defend you in case of a lawsuit.

For some great information on group outdoor activities read the paper on the "Common Adventure Model" at:

I doubt it
"If you meet with three friends and one cuts their toe on glass on the beach and needs stitches, he can sue the others for the medical attention needed and win."

Sounds rather hysterical to me and suspect simply repeating nonsense from those claiming there is a tort crisis in the USA. Might you have a docket number for the case where this has in fact occurred? A plaintiff’s verdict from injuries suffered during non-instructional, club trip? Not likely. To my knowledge it is extemely rare for lawsuits to even be brought under those circumstances.

On the lighter side - -
Make sure at least one of your party is a lawyer. That way he can do all the countersueing as he will have the most money.

If that doesn’t work, he’s also a good fixed anchor point - - prefferably at the bottom.