unknown mixed group and responsibilities

The question what to undertake with a group of 15 of unknown abilities.

Situation, my wife and I are intermediate paddlers and generally focus on flat water day trips. We try to periodically practice some form of rescue. We typically have a basic kit of extra paddle, a couple of ropes, a float, first aid kit with us. The friends we paddle with mostly don’t worry about such things nor technique. It is a walk in the park with them. We have stopped suggesting things and try not to worry.

They are suggesting we get a group from church and community together of the people we know for a flat water river trip. Perhaps on the lower parts of the Cape Fear/Northeast Cape Fear or Roanoke River from Williamston to Plymouth.

When I list out the group on paper I realize I know very very little about those paddlers other than most are middle aged to late middle aged adults. Some might be intermediate but most seem to be beginners to novices. The goal was to get about 15 -20 together for this. The plan would be to do a 14 -16 hr day with a drive, paddle, visit a river front town place, ferry cars and then back home. Probably plan this for mid May to mid June for here in NC.

It seems that in many trips: paddling, camping, fishing, it seems I become the outfitter, adviser, overseer. So with this beginning, already I am asked to develop a plan. I am leary of this. On the Roanoke there is very little developed access between the put in and take out, and is about 20 miles. The other Castle Hayne to Wilmington will have some more growth around it, but will have some small and larger boat traffic and no really easy bail out/take out points.

Any advice from those that have done groups like this?


Not my idea of fun.
Personally I find that trips with four, or at most six, are the most fun. Things just get really complicated with more than that. Every thing slows down to a crawl. Group dynamic issues arise with great regularity. Safety issues increase. Blah blah blah. Sounds like you are talking about a day paddle which might not be so bad - but if you are doing a multi-day trip I guess it isn’t my cup of tea.

The “go too” guy…
Sounds to me like everyone in this group has abdicated responsibility, and have “set you up” as the “go too” guy. You are responsible for everything, while the rest of the group is out for a fun time. It also sounds as if you may have allowed this to happen to some degree. Why; I have no idea!

It does not sound like you really want the responsibility. I don’t blame you.

Being the “go too” guy for a group of 15 or more paddlers, of varied age, varied physical ability, varied paddling experience, and very different “perceived needs” as opposed to real needs could quickly turn into a cat rodeo. Ever try to roundup 15 cats? If you set yourself up as “the leader”; who do you think will be viewed as “the problem solver” if things go south? That would be you.

You’re just going to do flatwater…

That means zip.

More people drown on flatwater than whitewater.


Sounds really sketchy, over ambitious
for a mixed group of beginners to intermediate to be able to do all that on a day trip.

I base this interpretation not on leading any large group on the water (oh, h*ll no!) but just trying to get competent family member and self on one of these shorter river shuttle trips successfully. With 20 miles you are going to be looking at a very long exertion effort for a beginner, at LEAST 4 to 6 hours of paddling if the water is gentle, perhaps a head wind slowing you down where you didn’t expect it, unscheduled stops, perhaps a meal stop, and then you have to have them finish with enough leftover energy to execute the shuttle distances safely (this ALWAYS takes longer than you think it will, trust me) and successfully when you may be hot and fatigued, but THEY (or you) may be exhausted. Usually the exhaustion is nature’s way of saying get some more drinking water into you with maybe a snack, but sometimes it is heat related, too.

Oh, and I have literally had people come up to me out on the water in the age of the cell phone and ask, say, how many more miles is it to “x” takeout, do you know ? This can be a problem for them if it is dusk because then they might not be able to see as well at the place they wanted to be, when they finally get there. I have also misplaced my own truck on a shoreline. I eventually find it, but this is what happens when you do not park on a visible area, and you thought you knew what it looked like from the water, but, coming from the opposite direction, the land looks a lot different and your line of sight is eclipsed. Or one group of pine trees just looks like another, too much. One time we had to lead back another stray couple who were out, couldn’t find where they put in, and they thought they had overshot, but they actually were not there, yet. I mean, it’s funny when it happens, but still. Oh, don’t forget it IS possible to drop a phone and not be able to find it. I have not, knock on wood, done that yet. I have witnessed a successful ‘dropped key’ retrieval in many feet of water, quite possibly the most clever use of a magnet and a fishing line, ever displayed.

On a river, without the park rangers, sheriff patrol, or the local kayak club/individuals or other boaters or shore side water participants to notice when things may go wrong, you are at the mercy of the elements and the water does not care and does not forgive, it just keeps going. The weather doesn’t care, either. This is no place to have flake people in your group deciding that they are such good swimmers they aren’t going to wear their pfd and they aren’t going to pay attention to whom ever is supposed to be making the decisions, and that it was okay to leave their assigned “paddle buddy” behind because he/she was too slow. People will pay attention to paid professional tour guides/clinic teachers but they will, for unknown reasons, not pay attention or push the limits when with “friends.”

I have seen what kayak clubs do to make their participants safe and to have a fun time, and the people who successfully run these group trips, bless them, are super super super detail oriented, research, plan, train, and practice like crazy, and They Have Rules and Participants Must Follow Them. This includes they make participants make reservations, limiting the size of different paddle excursions based on difficulty, telling participants what items to bring, for example, if cold water immersion clothing is needed, and if they cannot make it, they require warning the group you are canceling “x” hours in advance. Because they spent all this effort planning, made a schedule, and don’t want to screw up their shuttling, and who can blame them?

What I would do, in your situation, is either do a much shorter excursion on a lake with this same group and see how it pans out, then repeat, and see how it pans out again, then plan to do a trip with them using a professional outfitter.

I realize it’s a church group with people you are acquainted with but why not approach it such as a meet up group. I paddle with a meetup group and yes there is a “leader” but that person has no responsibility as to the safety of the group. You may try to find such a waiver on line - I’m sure there is a group close. Basically by going paddling with the group, you accept the terms of the waiver. Good luck

some ideas
NCS - first, good for you for being prepared and practiced in your own paddling. Keep up this good example - the life you save may be your own.

I don’t think I would do anything close to this ambitious a trip as a first trip. Is it possible to schedule something a lot easier risky for the first few trips?

Of course, this assumes you stay as the go-to person and you watch and get a feel for people’s equipment, skills, and ability.

Good luck !!!
just a little while ago over a few margaritas we invited a friend, ( a competent paddler) to join us on a long loop trip Saturday.

Along with the invite, I asked him not to invite his social circle of friends, knowing that they would not be able to complete the trip with out lagging behind and holding us up.

I don’t mind paddling with lilly dippers when we are on a short trip, and usually I am the last one operating as the sweep, but there are times for that and then other times not for that !

So, once again: good luck!

jack L

2 people “guiding” 20 people
Professional guides run a 6:1 client guide ratio at max.

And you and your wife are willing to do a ratio of 10:1.

Be assured that the shuttle will take longer than planned. Someone will forget the keys. Someone will conk out after two miles. The rest will need to pee and eat at unpredictable intervals. Someone will get upset at the lack of a proper bathroom. Some will just quit the river mid stream and try to climb the bank and go home.

Planning too many other things just guarantees that someone will have an accident from being exhausted.

A ten hour day with middle agers is quite enough… Got quite a bit of experience on river sojourns in Pennsylvania. We have some 30 folks some days but have a team of eight safety boaters. The most we try for is eight miles. If the wind comes up, the beginners really balk. The shuttle typically takes as much time as the paddle.

Break out your mob into smaller groups and have a few outings… Not one big headache.

You need at minimum a lead boat that must not ever be passed, two intermediate safety boats with competent rescuers and a sweep boat to make sure all the party is safely past a point. If they group were smaller you could decrease the number of safety boaters.

I’d not take that big a group out unvetted. I used to run trips ten or fifteen times a year and have seen the things that typically happen.

Herding Cats…
When you paddle with a mixed group some will be very slow others will want to go faster and will not wait for the slow ones. At that point you will be herding cats and loose control. You may have to break up into several smaller groups.

Would suggest no

– Last Updated: Jan-27-16 11:32 PM EST –

The ratio stinks for you and your wife - one to ten - if something does start to unravel. Especially since you say this bunch has disregarded your concerns in the past.

That many people can probably fairly cheaply per head hire someone who is certified, either ACA or BCU/PNA. I would suggest you take yourself out of the planning now and tell them you think this trip needs a guide who knows the area and possible bailout points better than any of you do. They probably won't like it, but what you are describing is not sounding great for you and your wife.

My guess is that, like folks above, any experienced guide will also tell this they should consider a less ambitious trip. This trip is unlikely to work out as planned for the bunch you are talking about unless they catch a really decent downstream flow, which could also be a fairly bad idea given the levels you describe.

Echoing the others…
I wouldn’t assume this responsibility. It’s ok to be a stick in the mud. Tell them that it’s not safe to have that many paddlers together without proper rescue training. If they want to pay to do a guided day trip, they can go that route!

Yup – very ambitious …
My local club does a lot of flatwater trips, but nothing that long. Even for our sea kayak group, a 20-mile trip would be limited to more advanced paddlers. An easy day-trip (at least for our club) is 4 to 5 miles. More advanced trips are 8 to 12 miles, with a break for lunch. The longer the trip, the more likely it is that the group will spread out, and the more experienced paddlers you need to help lead. Someone said herding cats, and that is about what it becomes.

As others have said, go for something short and easy. People will enjoy it more if the focus is on community and fellowship rather than pounding out miles.

I also like the comment you made…
one day just prior to crossing the intercoastal waterway:

“OK everyone; get close together, we make a better target!”

Jack L

lead, follow or get out of the way
You and wife have the skills and knowledge to lead. And your group respects that and will take advantage if you allow. If you are willing to lead this trip, or any other trip, as safely as possible, then you as leaders set the parameters for group size, expectations for distance, bail-out points, shuttles and minimum paddler skills, food, etc. Get the group together and discuss your concerns and how that contrasts their expectations. Set limits you and wife can comply with and stick to it. Do not be bullied into making poor choices.

Been there, done that - don’t do it!
I organize as part of my job, and it seems that gets me the job every time with hobbies too. OK, so for some of us it’s the nature of things.

But one thing I’ve learned from bad experience is that with certain activities this kind of inexperienced, large mixed group that is unprepared is dangerous!

Break this activity down first, if you’re determined to hold up that leader role. Start with a few people on safe easy water whose abilities you might know. Or test folks out in smaller groups to see who is ready for what. And find at least one other better paddler who is willing to help you shepherd the group on the outings, so that you have experienced eyes at the front and back of the pack.

People can drown easily in even shallow water, and most have not a clue about self-rescue, much more rescue of others. This is NOT a jaunt to take lightly, even if others think it’s a walk in the park.

Thanks for the affirmation
Thanks folks for your quick responses.

Your sentiments are pretty much what I was feeling as well. Too big of a group without enough good experience mixed in, too long of a paddle, too much inexperience for an endeavor where the folks wanted to go, too many logistics, too little eye towards safeness, too ambitious overall. So I will be a stick in the mud.

There was just too many warning bells clanging at this idea and I needed y’all just to verify that the bells were real and not just the loose things jangling around in my head. I, like some of you, pay attention to details in planning something. I will have several alternative plans ready to amend a situation to allow for some freedom of ideas across the day and thoughts of “what if” played out. While the idea presented was romantic (a day with friends on visually nice and isolated feeling water, paddling and floating with the current, ending with visiting historic waterfront and eating) it was unsettling when I viewed not only the logistics, the simple things of launching and landing, car ferrying, and even landing at a place where you would walk to eat but also the dramatic things that could happen without a good plan of response.

So I will sit back and not offer a plan for this to happen. If others come up with a walk in the park thought of still doing it, we most likely will not participate and offer words of concern. I will see if I can find some in this possible group who might enjoy an afternoon on some still narrow water in the upper parts of nearby lakes with a picnic/rafting up time. That would be a simple out and back with folks doing the time they would like to commit to. Still an eye to safety but much more of, we are going for a relaxing, easy paddling and floating and talking, here, time and if you want to join us for a few hours, come, bring a snack.

So just call me Stick or Muddy,

Thanks for your thoughts and ideas.



Good decision
- the folks you are working with probably have no clue about the issues we all see. Part of our responsibility as more experienced paddlers is to bring people into the sport in a way that is fun and relaxing so that they have good experiences and want to come back. A meet up at a local lake in warm dry weather and a paddle to a picnic spot and back makes a lot more sense.

I will volunteer to help you.
Should the dates work out, and you wanted to do the Cape Fear/NE Cape Fear, I would be happy to help.

The last week in May, I’m putting together plans to be in Cornucopia, WI doing an ACA L4 instructor certification. I’ve been kayaking for years, but last year finally decided to look into the ACA, and went through and earned the ACA L3 instructor certification. And so this looked like a fun opportunity to keep moving forward in the ACA world. The ACA has an interesting approach, but I think solid in a lot of ways. And a great bunch of people who aren’t just safety crazed, but encourage folks to push their abilities in the safest ways everyone can figure out.

I’ve got some experience on these sections of rivers paddling with large inexperienced groups. You will want to keep the distance short, thinking more in terms of a 3 - 5 mile float. You need to consider tidal influence as you get nearer to Wilmington. 15 knots of headwind would probably be pushing the limit of inexperienced paddlers, and fighting current is typically not possible for this type of group.

I’m a fairly in shape 44 year old, lucky enough to have no disabilities. I’ve got a fair amount of rough water experience, so no conditions that would be advisable for this group would present me with any personal challenges as far as conditions are concerned.

It just seemed what you’re needing here is assistance. There are always reasons not to do something. Here may be an instance where we can help you to do something.

If it’s something you really want to work with, and you have people that would be willing to commit $20 for a year membership to Carolina Kayak Club, we can set up the event through the club, along with liability waivers as people individually register, and you cover that piece as well. Plus everyone has access to more paddling opportunities. And you continue to have this venue to set up other paddling events throughout the year.

If y’all really want a fun experience, bring up June 10th through 12th, and make a weekend of it at Jordan Lake. I’m also occupied this weekend. This has a bit more cost - $65 per person. It is Carolina Kayak Club’s annual symposium. The price includes 2 nights camping, supper Saturday night, and 2 days of ACA instruction. I’ll be one of the instructors again, along with many others from North and South Carolina, both ACA training and BCU training backgrounds, flatwater, whitewater, and coastal experience throughout the Carolinas. This would be a great opportunity for some or all of you to come out, learn, and practice paddling, rescue, towing techniques, etc. A great opportunity to grow the experience of members of your group. This way you won’t feel like the lone organizers. And it’s a great weekend both socially and for paddling.

If this group would like a nice salt marsh paddle out to an ocean beach, all sound-side paddling of course, we could figure that out too with the tides. You just would need some people committed to rising early for early morning parking for that once June rolls around.

Anyway, I hate to see folks write off fun adventures. So here I am playing the role of an instigator. I’m willing to help. This should be something that P-Net is good for, shouldn’t it?

Yr not a stick in the mud
You’re ensuring yours and others safety as well as enjoyment.

I participated in a few open ocean club trips and anything that big automatically breaks down into sub groups. Trip “facilitators” , not leaders, would alienate some folks asking specific questions about their skills but the trip isn’t the place to found out someone has a trick shoulder, medical condition, no rescue skills, can’t swim, etc.

Later while taking ACA instructor courses I was also taking Wilderness First Aid courses and that’s when I stepped back from leading trips and stuck to instruction near a road and emergency services.

Good luck with your cert.
They are actually fun!(level 3 ACA FreeStyle instructor).

But IMO you need more assistance…you need more than you. Maybe with the kayak club you can find another.

I don’t think the emphasis was on don’t do it but rather be realistic of what can happen. Without experience/training you just don’t know what that is.