Never Less than Three

The old adage ‘never less than three’ was mentioned in another thread. I learned and have usually tried to follow this rule, particularly when planning touring/expeditions in remote cold-water areas.

A problem is often finding three and three equally matched.

I’d like to hear more pros and cons on this topic.

What do you all do?


Good rule of thumb
I think it’s a good rule of thumb, even for experienced paddlers, but not always that easy. There aren’t that many paddlers where I live and a lot of times it’s hard to find just one other person. I paddle alone quite a bit on short, calm water trips, but would rather have company on big water or extended trips. That would mean at least one other person minimum.

Underlying concept good, can hard also

– Last Updated: Nov-04-04 7:49 AM EST –

The problem with rules and platitudes is that they have truth but oversimplify. IT can be very very good to have 3 over two, but sometimes NOT.

To name some of the advantages of having three people over two is that one person helps, the other fetches the paddle and or boat, calls for help, goes for help, holds you up if sick or injured, the other tows, etc. There are quite allot of possibilities for back up and recovery afforded by 3 over two.

On the down side, if the third person is not an asset, i.e., has few skills, poor judment, is not a team player, macho and or anti-authority attitude, scoffs at danger, goes off on own, get him or herself in trouble, not better off with three, actually more dangerous.

Additionally, as we may have discovered in high school, college, and on weekends in small groups, the dynamics of 3 person groups has high potential for agruments. It is way easy for two to be against one and the negative feelings that ensue. If all know this, it can be fine, but still there are moments, both in all guy groups with snarling, and mixed groups where assumptions build into different expectations, small things become big.

One way recently a bunch of us overcame some of this, was to take an evening each week and small groups of us practiced rolling, assisting, and helping each other. The goal was to find out what worked the best for each person, rather than tell each other how to do stuff. Although our skills got better, the main positive is that we learned how each of us reacts to difficulties and how to really help each other. Now, heading out on a trip is more comfortable and predictable.

beaten to death
we’ve hashed and rehashed this a few times. many of us paddle solo nearly all the time and feel very comfortable doing so, in most conditions. others feel very strongly about the supposed safety benefits of group paddling. we usually evolve a concensus that you should do what you are comfortable with, within your own skill level.


Every Thing Is A Rehash…

– Last Updated: Nov-04-04 8:00 AM EST –

except for the discussion of the "latest" boat. I am sure you have enthusiastically participated in a "rehashed" thread in the time you've been here. :)

The fact of the matter is that new folks come through here and the discussion is therefore new for them. The other fact is that "ole hands" may evolved their perspectives over time and experience. These forums are for discussion, sharing and learning. If we don't talk about the same topics, there be very few threads for anyone to read.

With "never less than three", I have never fully subscribed to since the beginning because I found that I like to pick up and got and, a lot of times, I like the solitude of paddling alone. But, my abilities and contingencies have changed, as do the conditions I go out in.


Seconding sing
I know my attitudes, knowledge, and experience are always evolving. I know when I first came onto there were many here long before me who had extensively discussed matters that were new to me. From the beginning, I have been grateful for the patience and generosity of the more expeirenced folks.

Rule of three is a good guideline. However many paddles I embark on are only my wife and me. Also, if I get time when others are busy, I enjoy spending a day or even a few hours paddling alone. I don’t attempt challanging conditions when alone. That is not to say I may not when I feel my skills can readily support it.

Thank you sing,
I had never heard or read of this,and I’m not entirely new to this board (though do not read it every day). I agree on a tour or on cold water that a group is better to be in. It’s best to know what the others capabilities are

so you don’t overtax the weakest link.

fair enough

Usually out on my own
off weekdays, work weekends. I do practice recoveries every time I go out to minimize risk. I also take a swim to test my gear before I go out.

good judgment is an evolving thing

– Last Updated: Nov-04-04 10:43 AM EST –

Each of us in this community finds our own way that works, so any rule is like one size fits none. That said, rehashed yes, OK,
and yet, opportunity to share with you the worth of asking questions for yourself rather than feeling compelled to follow a rule. Although as a novice rules may be much better than thinking one's own judgment is best.

Actually, I saw a really respectful article by the coordinator of Princeton's Outdoor Program about this. His idea was that as we move from novice to experienced it is helpful at first to depend more on others, follow rules of thumb, and depend more on groups, and of course reduced situation risks.

Eventually, one does have both the ability to judge for oneself and it is essential to use one's own critical judgment in decisions more and more.

To that end, any pro's and con's we offer here are helpful for someone trying to educate themselves along that path.

Weirdly enough, it also helps remind me, of the special dangers of being more experienced, like, thinking that skills always mitigate dangers, being lulled into false security by simply not having a bad outcome, by forgetting that nothing stays the same, like my reflexes, balance, ability to roll, etc, as I get older. It is why it is fun to come back even to rehashed stuff at times.

(I hope this sounds respectful and positive not meant any other way)

Too many variables …

– Last Updated: Nov-04-04 11:17 AM EST –

I am of the opinion that a strict "rule of 3" is not always workable. Too often there are not 1 or 2 other paddlers available when I want/am able to go paddling. So, on occasion, I paddle with one other person, or I may paddle solo. The
only option if I follow a strict rule of 3 would be that on a lot of occasions I wouldn't go paddling. Not gonna happen!
There are many variables to consider:
Who will your paddling partner/partners be?
What is the current/predicted weather?
What are the current/predicted water levels?
How far is the farthest you'll be from help?
How experienced a paddler are you/your partners?
What training do you/your partners/partners have?
I "prefer" to have a minimum of 3 paddlers when I paddle whitewater. I prefer the others have skills similiar to my own. I have paddled whitewater on numerous occasions with one partner(high skill level, highly trained, very trustworthy), but feel more relaxed with two. I have paddled whitewater(class 3)solo. Had no problems, but won't do it anymore. In retrospect; I think it was stupid, and I'd never recommend it to anyone. It was not a well reasoned decision. I was personally prepared for the possible natural consequences, but did not fully consider the natural consequences that my actions could have created for my family. I encourage everyone to consider possible natural consequences for themselves & their loved ones, and I also encourage everyone to make well reasoned decisions, whether you paddle solo, with a partner, or with 15 other paddlers. There is not "always" strength/skill/training/experience in large groups.



– Last Updated: Nov-04-04 3:29 PM EST –

and the question is whether these are "variables" one can get a grasp on. With three folks, if you don't know them or their skills well, then you have just compounded the variables you have to deal with.

That's what I like about John Lull's book when he talks about "partners." Are you going out as a "guided group", all looking to the leader for leadership and the skills to bail the group out. Are you going out as a "group" but really are a bunch of different individuals with different skill levels and agenda. Or, are you going out as a "team" where the knowledge and skill base are nearly equivilent. There may be a "nominal" leader but everyone is capable of leading. The members of the team know and trust each other implicitly. I hazard a guess that most of us go out in group defined in the first two categories and rarely the third.


Skill Level?
Three people none of whom could do a rescue, are properly dressed if they go swimming, and/or have poor judgement in emergencies, are probably scarier than a single paddler with two of the above attributes. One person who can handle the above with two who can’t would be challenged to handle simultaneous emergencies.

Creating a “safe” group really is a matter of conditions, preparation and location (like how accessible a beach is etc.)


I often paddle WW “alone” but as the
originator of this thread said, when it’s remote and/or cold (or if it is more than class 2++), then I paddle with others, preferably people whose behavior I know and respect.

Me Too

– Last Updated: Nov-05-04 5:35 AM EST –

only on class IIs that I know. One's never really alone on the popular runs. There're always other folks on the river. You can not expect them to watch for you but you can watch them "play" and have them act as inadvertant scouts on the tricky spots that may be ahead on the river.

Hanging out at a playspot a good stretch of the day is fun and good practice. I sometimes just practice/play several hours at a time at the tail end of the Errol Rapids/Androscoggin River. I can be alone for quite a stretch of time and then all of a sudden have a flotilla of newbies come flying down. Usually, I'll end up helping fish one or two newbies and their equipment out of the long, deep pool before they really get blown down river by the current. Than it's back to playing alone for long stretches of time again.


Group Three
Sing wrote

“going out as a “team” where the knowledge and skill base are nearly equivilent. There may be a “nominal” leader but everyone is capable of leading. The members of the team know and trust each other implicitly.”

That’s my ideal group. I like to challenge myself and I want to paddle with folks who will watch my back. Somewhat surprisingly I’ve found that fairly easy to do.

Even if there is a mix of more and/ or less skilled I look for a core of folks any of whom have the skill to assume leadership should the need arise.

When I’m the official leader of a trip I’ll actively recruit those folks if I think the trip needs more strength.

I’ll rarely paddle with the second group more than once.

OTOH when you are well within your comfort zone there are few things better than just throwing your boat in the water and paddling away.

Cause ya know when I boat alone, I prefer to be by myself. (sorry George)

more dangerous or difficult conditions the more comptent the paddlers I paddle with.


You know you can differentiate pretty quickly, someone’s skill and comfort level on a river run. They have to perform more quickly and evidently then someone on day touring trip. Heck, you can go on many touring trips with some folks before really finding out their skill and comfort level, e.g. like when things deteriorate 8>0!

Surf is like white water. You can see pretty quickly where folks are at, with skills and comfort.


having read all the above
can we now go … just the two of us? to be honest, i think we’d have more fun.