Small groups of experienced paddlers often have no need for a leader as such. Each paddler assumes a position or role they are happy with and, should a decision be necessary or a rescue need dealing with, whoever is in the best position to do so temporarily assumes the role of leader.
Any group that wishes to paddle safely will need to organize to some extent. As a minimum each member needs to know:
Team Members- all members of a team must have the safety and well being of the whole group as their top priority – if our selfish reasons for paddling come before our concern for the safety of the other members we become a liability. All team members need to be honest about what they have to offer and their limitations. It is better to refuse a certain role rather than to accept it and foul up through lack of skill or confidence.
Buddy System - involves every member of the party pairing up with another and, as well as their responsibility to the group, each person is particularly concerned for the welfare of their buddy. This is particularly useful in large groups where someone could “go missing” without anyone realizing.
Lead Paddler – not necessarily the leader, this role is often taken by the more experienced and skilled paddlers or is the person who has paddled the river before. The person out front has these responsibilities; choosing a line, spotting and avoiding hazards, deciding when to bank inspect, getting the group off the water well above any portage.
Back Marker – again usually taken by one of the more experienced paddlers because this person has to pick up the pieces and may therefore have to act as “chase boater”. The back marker may be at extra risk because other team members has their attention downstream, it can be worth having 2 back markers working as a pair with a buddy system operating between them.
Chase Boater – the rescuer of swimmers and kit from the boat rather than the bank – requires skill and confidence, fast reflexes, high quality judgement all on the move.
Team Leader – a multitude of roles including organiser, motivator, risk assessor, communicator, counselor, psychologist, coach, pillar of strength and wisdom. Key role is as safety advisor and may have to veto an individual’s decision if poor judgement could put the welfare of the team at risk.
One at a time: in the simplest form the lead paddler runs the rapid first and then makes a signal. On seeing this, the second paddler runs the rapid, everyone else stays put until the lead paddler signals again, and so on.
On harder rapids, after bank inspection, other members of the team provide bank protection while one member runs the rapid. As soon as the paddler reaches the bottom they change places with one of the bank protectors. It is best to have 2 people out of bank protection duties so that whilst one paddler is running the rapid another is preparing.
It is essential that all members of the group are all well briefed and the leader has clear signals.