More river evaluation stuff.....

Boredsomebody asked some good questions in his recent post about evaluating his local river. He got some good replies from Pnetters. But this got me thinking—and rather than cloud up his post, I decided to start a separate thread.

What requirements are there for canoe/kayak rental outfits to provide training—or at least information to their clients?

Many years ago I took a group of children [and a few adults] on a canoe outing—[I cringe now at how naïve I was back then]. In those days I had almost no paddling experience and zero knowledge of the stretch of river we traveled. The guy at the rental place cheerfully put us in some canoes, supplied us with paddles and PFDs, and sent us downstream. To be fair, this was in summertime and the river was at or below normal pool, so he probably did not foresee any problems. As it turned out, we did not have any problems. It was a very pleasant, sunny day in the summertime on the water. However, I have since paddled this section of water many times—sometimes solo and sometimes tandem—and I know where the dangerous spots are. There are some serious strainers out there and there are some bends in the river where a paddler needs to know to set the boat to one side or the other to avoid being driven into the banks. I would never put a rookie on this section of water and turn him loose. People have asked me to loan my canoe[s] and paddles to them. I refuse to do that, but have instead taken them with me when conditions are good.

Last year I wanted to try paddling a kayak. I and a friend of mine rented 2 kayaks from a local “outfitter”. He put us in a couple of kayaks and picked us up 8 miles downstream. This wasn’t a problem because both of us knew the area we paddled and were able to transpose our canoe experience to the unfamiliar feel of the kayaks and double-bladed paddles. But the guy who rented the boats did not know that.

I’m not pointing fingers. I’m not naming names. I’m not even expecting any solid answers. I’m just curious what experiences you folks have had. What legal responsibilities are “outfitters” held to?

Maybe some of you folks are “outfitters”. How do you handle rookie paddlers who want to rent your services?


same thing
my first shuttle I took with Aaron on my local river some years back was from a local outfitter. I’d never done any cl.2 before, and as there was some cl.3 due to flooding, we ended up capsizing twice, but became addicted to whitewater. The “interview” consisted of me, my at the time 6 year old son, a 15’ Dagger Reflection(now Aarons poling canoe), and the store owner. He said he wasn’t going to have his driver bring us all the way up due to the cl.3 sections and the flooding. I didn’t argue, and I guess since I showed some respect for his judgement, he changed his mind and we ended “all the way up.” My instructions were "4 bridges and we’re on the right. We went down narrow chutes with downed trees, froze our tails off, flipped twice, had no idea where the takeout was, and didn’t see the 2 college kids who sank their renta-disco from the same place. Nowadays I paddle/pole this river all the time and see rental tandem rec-yaks swamping in the cl.2, drunk college kids pinning renta-disco’s,we recover paddles, perform rescues, and pray for sept. thru april when all the renters are at the bar or mall.

It couldn’t have been too bad
you lived to tell about it.

To answer your question; I don’t know, I’m not an outfitter and I expect there will be legal and moral issues posted.

but this looks like a witch hunt to blame someone.

I feel this liability should be the responsibility of the rentee considering surfboards, roller blades and snow skiis fall under the same reasoning.

I seem to remember signing a release when I rafted down the Ocoee many moons ago. Basically said if I get hurt, lost, or die, it isn’t their fault.

Of course if there was blatant negligence or something, I bet it wouldn’t matter that much. The outfitters probably know this now and just play the odds.

I think with any potentially dangerous sport, there is a general understanding that you are taking some risks. If the outfitter gives you a boat that is not seaworthy or sends folks down anything above class II rapids, they may be taking some serious risks.



– Last Updated: Dec-13-07 1:34 AM EST –

You buy yourself a new Mustang GT; who trains you for the high speeds that the vehicle is capable of attaining? Nobody.

You buy yourself a new .44 magnum handgun; who trains you how to use it? Nobody.

You buy yourself a new chain saw; who trains you how to operate it? Nobody.

You buy yourself a new Yamaha YZF-R1; who trains you to ride it? Nobody.

You buy yourself a new jetski; who trains you how to use it? Nobody.

A responsible adult will make a well reasoned decision about what "they" need to do to become knowledgeable in the safe operation of those things.

If they don't; they should be prepared to accept the natural consequences.

I encourage all politicians & lawyers to try class V whitewater without a boat, pfd, or helmet.


If they rent both
canoes and chainsaws (to cut out the strainers), then they are in some serious trouble…


Legal resposibilities are probably
the last thing any outfitter/rental operation wants to think about (and if I ran such a business, me too). Most (smart?)operations these days are Limited Liability Corporations or companies. Meaning? You sign a waiver or release for rental, you absolve them of most, if not all the risks inherent with outdoor recreation. (I was an outdoor hiking guide for a number of years. When my business started to grow, my attorney put together a waiver-release for my charges to sign that made sure I didn’t get blamed for things I couldn’t control like bee stings and poison ivy or a bear attack.)

I paddle a nearby creek where the water temps are sometimes well below 55 degrees F, well after Memorial Day. There are a few tube rental outfits on this same river. I’ve regularly helped tubers on the verge of hypothermic breakdown out of this water(also a Class II-III). Most (of the city people, anyway)had no idea the recreational trip they’d embarked on, would have water so cold or rapids so high.

They meet their shuttle bus, turn in their tubes and go home (if lucky) in frozen disillusion. The outfitters bring one bus load after another. The only safety precautions the tubers get are a PFD and told they must get out where the signs say to. You place your bets, you takes your chances. And because we now live in such a litigious society, I wouldn’t have it any other way if it meant limiting our public access.

the answer is always "Depends"
if you rent from an outfitter in town and take the boat to a stretch of water of your chosing, would he be liable? Can’t control that or the skill of the paddler…

If the outfitter is on a river and launches from his shop and picks you up downstream maybe…but he still can’t know the actual skill of the paddlers, although he may be familiar with the river…

it always depends…

Here on the Upper Delaware River
we get tens of thousands of first time paddlers and have a dozen or more outfitters. Anybody who’s standing can rent any kind of equipment they want in any kind of conditions. It’s amazing to watch as the totally clueless set out in a raft for class III+ with no PFDs on and paddles too short to reach the water. Or they start out on a 20 mile trip when the water is less than an inch just a mile downriver. Some outfitters are better than others but it’s just a money grab with little to no instruction or intrest in promoting the sport. People die every year and yes, they do rent to those who are under the influence.

I am going to disagree
With The Bob on this one.

A few years ago we there were the Amish ladies in full length cotton dresses and clunky shoes that put in on the Current in high flood conditions. The outfitter should have never allowed them out on the river. Most of the time it should be up to the individual, but in unusual circumstances the outfitters should take some responsibility.

I never dreamed they would be putting on that day. If I had I would have said something. Luckily the ranger found them before they died of hypothermia.

lawyers and outfitters
I have a somwhat unique perspective on this issue. I was a practicing personal injury defense lawyer for 18 years and also have a partime job guiding people on seakayak trips. The outfitter I work for does rent kayaks for unguided use (as well as sailboats and canoes) All renters sign a waiver form acknowleding the hazards of the activity, all are given pfds and a chart so they won’t get lost, a safty lecture on what do do if they fall out of the boat and an opportunity to take a two hour introductory lesson and/or go on a guided trip with a licensed guide.

Very few of the customers chose the two hour lesson—some more do opt for the guided trip but a suprising number with little or no experience actually rent the kayak. They are given suggested routes that would be relatively safe and the company will not rent kayaks in iffy weather or to someone obviously unfit to paddle(drunk, too feeble, too young etc). So far there have been no incidents—in the 8 year history of the company.

The issue here becomes a philosophical one with possible legal consequences. Any good (and some not so good) lawyer knows how to get beyond the waiver. And obviously renting to people with no experience is riskier than requiring either proof of experience(BCU or ACA certification or the equivilent) or requiring them to go with a guide or take a two hour lesson. And outfitters are in business to make a profit—not to be the guardians of everybody elses safty.

It really comes down to do you want adults to bear the responsibilty of their own decisions or do you accept the notion that there is always somebody else to blame (and pay) for our own mistakes. After all the dangers of sea kayaking are obvious–you could drown or die from hypothermia as a result of going into the water, either from your own ineptitude or from sudden change in the weather. And even if you disagree that this is an obvious danger, after you read the release and hear the safty lecture you will be aware of it. So if you are looking to blame the outfitter for your failure to take responsibilty for your own choice, our legal system and society will allow you to do that–but it ultimatly comes down to a jury and if I’m sitting on that jury there will be one vote for a defense judgement.

The key words…

– Last Updated: Dec-13-07 11:43 AM EST –


The key words in my stated opinion were "responsible adults" & "well reasoned decisions".

In the case you mentioned; the young (Amish/Mennonite?)ladies were not, in my opinion, responsbile adults, and certainly did not make well reasoned decisions.

I agree with you that the outfitter did "not" make a well reasoned decision. The outfitter was probably more concerned with making money than those girl's safety. Unfortunately, that is too often the case.

If outfitters on the Current River did "not" rent canoes to persons who were intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, lacked paddling skills, lacked common sense, and lacked the ability to make well reasoned decisions...... they would be out of business after one season.

Wouldn't bother me if there were no outfitters available to rent boats to the "river dorks".
Matter of fact, I'd be real happy about it; the river would be safer, quieter, less polluted, and less crowded. The outfitters could seek other employment, and the "river dorks" could stay at home & get drunk.


not all outfitters are unprincipled…

– Last Updated: Dec-13-07 12:33 PM EST –

On my recent Colorado River trip, we used Howell's Canoe Livery for shuttle service. It was our first experience with this company. I'll be the first to say, that though I'm not a drinker, I don't mind if other people drink responsibly. However, I detest the drunken hordes that seem to permeate popular rivers in the summertime.

I was still a bit surprised to see Howell's no-alcohol policy. Whether I completely agree with him or not is beside the question, I admire him for following his conscience and principles, even when it may cost him business.

this is posted on his website...

"All participants are required to listen to a pre-launch briefing. Afterwards, any participation in the water sports activity will be contingent upon completion of a participant agreement."

"Since we promote safety and family fun, we have adopted a "NO ALCOHOL" policy on the river. If we determine that you are under the influence and/or are taking alcohol on the trip, we will not rent equipment to you."

We were not renting equipment from him, and he showed no interest in what we had with us. I'm guessing he would only be concerned if it was blatant, but it's nice to know that there are people who will forfeit profit in order to follow their principles.

Responsible adults
I’ll agree that a responsible adult should be able to figure out that if they fall out they’ll get wet, that falling out is more likely in rougher/faster water, that cold water is cold, that it’s easier to float with a PFD, and that you’re dumber when you’re drunk. That should be “obvious” even to a non-paddler. It’s the less obvious hazards, like strainers and low-head dams, that I think the outfitter has an obligation to warn the clients about. They look a lot less scary than “whitewater” until it’s too late.

Very true!
Two fatalities in the past five years on the river I mentioned above: 1). An experienced but intoxicated livery staffer who got pinned in a strainer while running it alone during early evening hours. (Stupidity phases itself out.) And 2). A kayaker, out of his boat, who seemed to have underestimated the power of a low head dam.


There are two steps: 1) getting sued, and 2) winning or loosing the case.

You are screwed at the first step regardless of whether you prevail at the second.

Ay-yi-yi, caramba!
I’d rather be paddling.

It’s not that much stuff and it’s well written. Some people might be interested in the reference.

Anyway, sometimes you might need to get to sleep.

Wasn’t the amount of reading but
the content. Litigation is no way to go through life (unless your a lawyer being paid for it.)

Don’t think I’ll ever rent again.