What's your top 3 list for kayak leader?

Got into quite a discussion with friends about what they think is and is not important in a kayak outing leader. I realized that some of my ideas were kind of fuzzy.

What are the top 3 things you look for and the top 3 you don’t want to find? Imagine headed out into some big water where the stakes are higher.

What I Ask First…

– Last Updated: Nov-23-04 12:04 PM EST –

1. Do I have the skills for this?
2. Do I have the stamina for this?
3. Do I have the right gear for this?

Implied above are expectations and contigencies I have for a trip/outing. After this, then I think about others who I don't look to be "leaders" but partners in an outing.

Are they comparable in terms of what they are trying to do, with the same questions as the above. Also, regardless of skills, are they the "company" I want to keep and trust.


I’ll bite
Top 3 must-haves:

  • Common sense
  • Good judgment (which implies having common sense AND paddling experience)
  • Ability to communicate well with other people

    Top 3 watch-out! items:

  • Dogmatic or strongly authoritarian personality (“my way or the highway”)
  • Illogical thinking, or, (oddly enough) thinking too much while ignoring intuition/6th sense
  • Lack of experience appropriate for the likely conditions

    BTW, as sing noted, the characteristics apply whether it’s for a “leader” or a peer. Also, they apply not just to paddling trips but any similar group activity.

thanks, I am clueless for once
Thanks, and I hope as many others will share also. I have had some reallly not great experiences this year that have left me wondering what to look for and just what others look for. Seems like some of my old ideas are out of touch with whatever is happening as kayaking is becoming more popular.

Thanks again!

top and bottom three

– Last Updated: Nov-23-04 1:22 PM EST –

The required

1. Knowledge - of the location, possible paddling conditions, required boat type, rescue skills, first aid
2. Personality - a favorable one, capable of leadership, capable of listening to others, respectful, honest, interested in others
3. Physical ability - capable of any planned paddle, capable of recuing others, capable of helping others in an emergency

Not desired:

1. Bad safety decision-making - allowing unprepared paddlers without PFDs to paddle
2. bad personality - control freak, purposely ignoring those who the leader has fault with
3. Lack of experience in paddling conditions

well now…

– Last Updated: Nov-23-04 2:06 PM EST –

1. certification
2. certification
3. certification

long as they have some form of certification I'm happy.


I couldn't resist.

actually what other's have said:
experience with the choosen conditions and experience in leading rank high. proper kit is a given. communication and group comradery is a must.

on all coastal/ gorge (level 4 and 5)) missions I participate in we choose a leader and co-leader at the putin. It's agreed they will lead and call the shots. all safety kit, radios, 1st aid, etc. are identified and if there are paddlers who may need extra help someone (usually besides the leaders) is assigned. some may call it 'anal', we call it 'official'.


There You Go, Again…
Spoken like a “professional guide…” :slight_smile:

But, I would hire you if I were to make a run the down the Columbia. Just for your guitar playing if nothing else.


You could compromise…

… and call it “orificial” L


Sensible system, and I’d imagine fairly easy to implement when all involved are self sufficient and capable of taking the lead in those conditions.

I would have not any problem with following that, when and if I ever get to that level.

On the other hand, I have no tolerance for whistle blowing duck herders on flat water paddles.

I rarely do any sort of group paddles or “trips” locally. To boring, too slow (except the occasional race). Hard to get a good group mix - if you can get a group at all. Either that or I’m just asocial (not anti-social, just don’t feel compelled to have company along all the time. Sometimes is good enough).

top three bottom three
1. overall professional experience:guiding,skills knowledge of the area

2. personality: humility, humor, not too chatty

3. are his/her goals to make the trip good for the group or good for him/her.


  1. ego
  2. cutting corners
  3. inadequate checking on clients well being.

i gots to tell you that there’s enough certified people,and ITs that getting picky about other attributes is worth it.

The group of guys that I paddle with
are all about equal in skills. There are a few who are quite a bit better, but most of us are pretty much the same. We think we are all intermediate paddlers, but a lot of the club members think we are advanced. Personally, I don’t think the labels mean anything.

We have all taken several guiding classes as well as rescue classes, and general kayaking instruction and we practice our skills every time we go out.

When we invite other club members to join us, we use the following in our emails.

“Participants should have bracing skills, be able to self rescue and assist in the rescue of others. We will not paddle with those who do not have and properly wear a PFD and who do not have and properly affix a splash skirt to their closed deck boats. A whistle or other signal device is required.

Disclaimer: This is not a club sponsored paddle. We will have experienced paddlers on this trip, but they will not be responsible for telling you what is or is not safe for you to do. We watch out for one another and assist one another, but all individuals are responsible for, and manage their own safety. This responsibility includes assessing your gear, skill level, and physical conditioning relative to conditions and location, as well a making decisions about what you will or will not do. Participants acknowledge that kayaking on the open sea is inherently dangerous and can lead to physical injury including death as well as property damage. Participants, their heirs and assignees, agree to hold the announcers and other participants blameless in the event of such injury, damage or death. Please join us if you want to mildly stretch your capabilities, but please stay home if you would be wildly stretching them.”

We stress that we paddle using a group consensus style of leadership with no one leader. If we have paddled with you before and we don’t think your skills are up to the trip, we’ll tell you.

If you haven’t paddled with us before, we’ll be looking at your boat to see if it has bulkheads or float bags -if not, we won’t paddle with you. We’ll ask about your skill level and what classes you’ve taken.

Finally, we’ll be watching as you launch and paddle for a while. If your skills aren’t what you told us they were, we’ll escort you back.

#1 Group awareness
I’ll second previous posters requirements for adequate skills and proper equipment.

A good trip leader must be able to screen trip participants to insure that they are prepared for expected conditions.

Often you are going to have folks who want to sign up but are marginal skillwise. A good trip leader MAY be able to group stronger and weaker paddlers or even recruit stronger paddlers into the trip. OTOH a good leader needs to recognize that without those stronger paddlers, the marginal paddlers may need to be screened out or the trip adjusted to accomodate them.

On the club sponsored whitewater trips that I occasionaly lead it’s pretty common to divide a large group into smaller “river groups”, with a “river leader” or two. It’s a lot easier to keep a small group together than a mob.

I really try to stress the team aspect in my river groups.

After paddling with some Sea Kayaking clubs I decided not try to lead because of the difficulty in keeping a group together. I don’t know why creating smaller “pods” would not work but I never saw any attempt to do so.

Finally a good trip leader needs to be aware of the group on the water. Folks get tired, conditions change, gear breaks, stuff happens. Sometimes the difference between a good trip and a mess is those little on the fly adjustments by a good leader.

One skill which may be labeled as ‘communication skill’ relates to correcting anti-group behaviours before they cause real trouble.

It seems to me that no matter how good the trip leader is, it still takes cooperation and positive thinking from the participants to get a good trip.

But when should the trip leader step up and comment on the behaviour of one or more participants without causing more conflicts? And how does one tell someone at the age of your parents to ‘pull it together’?

This I still find very hard.


My first, second and third…
…is not having a leader.

If I am paddling with others, and I am showing them a new place, that is the only thing I will do.

There paddling habits, wants, and desires is strictly up to them.

If I am with someone else and they are showing me a new place, they better not tell me what to do and how to do it, or it will be the first and last time I paddle with them.

If I am with a group, and it is a new place to all of us, then I would expect a meeting of the minds as to which direction we go, etc.

I have been on three guided trips to Alaska, and on two of them I was treated as an equal except all the decisions were naturally made by the leader.

On the third the leader in my estimation was not qualified to be a leader, and later found out that this was his first trip leading. I still followed his directions, but would refuse to go with him again. He didn’t even know how to read eddy lines, which can be disastrous.

On the first, the leader was a guy who has climbed Denali three times, and I had to pry it out of him. He was a gentleman, a true outdoorsman, and treated everyone as an equal , including the experienced as well as the novices.



Trying to learn here

If I may ask, what level of paddlers do you hang with, does it matter, what level do you see yourself as, and what kind of fellow paddlers puts you most at ease? I am trying to see how decisions are made among folks at different levels in a way that does not create the very stuff you talk about as less than great.

Thanks for considering my questions! I am really starting to get a handle on what I need to begin to do differently from these posts.

I don’t really hang with any regular…
paddlers except my wife who is also my best friend.

But I will paddle with any and all paddlers if the opportunity presents itself.

I consider myself a middle of the road paddler, but I like being the master of my own fate.

I think if it was not for my wife, I would be a complete loner, and would probably be in the wilderness more than out of it.

I don’t want someone telling me I should have my PFD on when I am in three feet of water, but then I don’t want to be with someone who does not have theirs on when they are in a high risk situation.

A high risk situation can be different strokes for differnet folks.