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Paddling in large groups can be stressful and hard to manage. Paddling with teenagers can also be stressful and hard to manage on occasion. At World Class Academy, I frequently got to do both, often on new and unfamiliar runs.

What can make paddling in larger groups manageable and enjoyable is to have consistent structure or system where guidelines and standards are in place and understood by the group as a whole.

One of the most valuable things I took away from paddling with World Class is what we refer to as the “Eight Golden Rules of Kayaking,” a simple but effective set of guidelines the school goes through every day before getting on the water.

Based largely on common sense, the rules breakdown and put into words a few key safety concepts. They are easy to adapt to paddling with any group- no matter what age or size. They are short, sweet, and easy to remember to ensure a safer and more structured paddle.

The Eight Golden Rules

1. Huddle Before You Huck

The concept of Huddle Before You Huck is simple: take the time to check in with your crew before you put on the water, no matter how many times you have paddled a run before. HBYH comes first on the list, as it gives you the opportunity to go through the rest of the rules, and address any additional concerns.

2. Group Gear
Check in with your team to see who is carrying what for group safety gear. At WCA, this usually refers to knowing who has the first aid kit, who has a breakdown paddle, pin kits, and the spot device. Knowing in advance where in the group your safety equipment is can help save time.

3. Throw Rope

The general rule at World Class is that everyone has a throw rope in his or her boat, though exceptions may be made for certain park and play situations. It is also required that everyone carries their throw rope with them when scouting: offenders may earn 50 push-ups! No throw-rope means you don’t go on the water that day. Outside of WCA life, I would rather give someone my throw bag so they can save me if needed- only I have to remember to get it back! (PS.. Whoever in NZ has my NRS Rasta Rope…. I want them both back!)

4. Shoes

Having proper footwear is possibly one of the most important safety items you can have while paddling- whether you have to hike out/in, set safety on a slippery river bank, or portage your boat. Footwear is mandatory while paddling at WCA, and should be for any one in a professional or leader on the water role. Take the time to outfit your boat to accommodate your footwear- as shoes can change how your boat fits/feels.

5. Courtesy, Courtesy, Courtesy

The courtesy rule refers to knowing the rules and customs of the river you are on- for example, is it legal to drop in on a wave from upstream to surf? (On the Ottawa, the rule is no! Upstream paddlers must enter the eddy and make their way to the back of the line.) The courtesy rule also refers to the rules of engagement within your group on the water. Don’t cut people off, and be mindful of spacing. Try to be polite and respectful to other paddlers on the water who may not appreciate a massive crew of 20 + paddlers heading down stream.

6. Buddy System

This is a key rule for large groups! It is easy to lose track of individuals when you are paddling with 15+ people. To hold people accountable, pair off! Have a buddy, and know where that buddy is at all times. On a recent trip down the Jarbridge-Bruneau with 12 friends, all experienced paddlers, we made it about 1 mile before we eddied out and decided to assign official buddies for the day. Buddying up also provides a good way to get to know people in your group if you aren’t all already friends.

7. Unbroken Chain

This is one of my favorite rules for paddling with groups of all sizes on any style of river. The basic concept is that your group should form one unbroken chain of communication. The first person in the group doesn’t need to see the last person, but each person should be able to see the person in front of them, and the person behind them to be able to pass on beta and signals. If not, eddy out and regroup. This also means that you become directly responsible for the safety of three people in the group: yourself, the person in front of you, and the person behind you. If everyone does their part, the whole chain should be able to make it safely downstream with good communication.

8. Dress For The Takeout/Dress For the Swim

Very few people plan on swimming. “Dress for the takeout, dress for the swim” doesn’t necessarily mean dress because you think you might swim, it means dress in case someone else swims and you may need to preform a rescue. I have seen this happen on hot days in cold water runs where everyone feels comfortable, and people decide to not wear gear that means they would be able to go in the water for sustained periods of time if necessary. Though the day may start warm, or the sun is hot at the put-in, is the run in a shaded gorge? Will the sun have set before you reach the take-out? Set yourself up for success, and dress or pack for the day as a whole. If you are cold, you may not paddle well, nor will you be effective if sometime goes wrong.

The Eight Golden Rules usually finish with the unspoken ninth rule of “look good, feel good, paddle good.” So look good, feel good, and paddle safe!