Monday, March 03, 2008

Our Brothers' Keepers?
A recent issue of Sea Kayaker Magazine (do you know that spell check does not recognize the word kayaker?...but I digress) reported on the loss of a California paddler. A well known and well liked man in his area, he apparently was not able to get on the water in time to paddle with his group. You also need to know that he was not the most skilled paddler nor did he have excellent self rescue skills. In any event, tragedy ensued, and the man, who chose to go out later and alone, drowned.

In the current issue of the magazine, a reader writes to say that someone in the group should have waited and paddled with the man who eventually was lost. The writer acknowledges the need for us each to have self-sufficient skills but that we also need to act like a group and take care of one another. I agree...and part of me doesn't.

First of all, I don't like to should anyone. Yes, it would have been best if someone had, in fact, waited to paddle with the ill fated man. Yes, we make a habit of looking over one another's gear to check that PFD's are zipped and skirts and hatches sealed. Often, we even suggest to less skilled paddlers that the conditions might not be safe for them. When all is said and done, however, each of us must evaluate our skills, the conditions, the risk to reward ratio and make a go-no-go decision on our own. That's what happened in California. That time, the decision was fatal.

If you want to get into pop psychology and control issues, I suppose you could say that a "needy" paddler, or one that is chronically late and/or ill equipped, can hold a group hostage by making them paddle on his or her terms and times and force the group to accept responsibility for the not-ready-for-prime-time paddler (I, in no way, suggest that this was the case in California).

One of our local instructors once commented on how she felt an onus of responsibility during our informal Sunday morning paddles because there were so few other instructors in the group. It seemed, to her, that there was an unspoken and subtle feeling that those of us who were instructors would assume the lead and be responsible for all the others.

Sadly, the man chose to paddle alone and without adequate skills. Sadly, he was lost. That's really the bottom line, and that's going to continue to happen as long as so many people take to the water in small crafts.

Paddle safe...



derrick said...

Hey Dick, welcome back!

You know that conversation well. As a coach you are always in a strange situation in groups. Often that's why coaches often don't join groups and just paddle with other coaches or alone.

First and foremost paddlers must be responsible for themselves. simple. However, that in no way absolves others from doing the right thing either.

Paddlers not only may not always have good judgment, but they may lack the education for good judgment. Sometimes they cannot have good judgment. Beyond stupidity, there are also psychological conditions that people can help either, that may cause them to make bad choices. When people take off on their own and do dumb things, it's their problem. There I think everyone agrees. However, when a group does not take responsibility for it's members, it's not a group. It's just a bunch of individuals paddling at the same time.

The thing that really irritates me is that those guys who argue that they don't have to worry about others in their group or paddling around them, always have completely stupid, over-simplified and self-serving answers. The bottom line is, if you know another person needs your help or guidance and you do nothing, then you are just a bad person. Sorry but that's my spin.

Silbs said...

Well put, Derrick...and I agree. Unique to this situation is the fact that the paddler, by being late, chose not to paddle with the group. The grey area comes around the issue of someone voluntering to let the group go ahead and wait for the late man (who, if I recall correctly, told them not to wait).

DaveO said...

I've seen some serious anti social behavior in groups. People that paddle off on their own, are focused on fishing, are faster than the others and don't care, or spend an hour screwing with sonar, flares, and reflective tape for a two hour day paddle are problematic. At some point, being part of a group paddle means you need to adhere to the mores of the group. If you choose to consistently be self centered Mr Darwin is going to bite you in the ass sooner rather than later. You really aren't part of any group at that point. Accidents like this always make me think of the tragic waste that could have been avoided.

Russ said...

I hold no one else responsible for my well-being and I hope everyone else would do the same.

On the other hand, I will take reasonable measures to protect myself and my paddling partners from harm.

steve said...

I agree with russ, kayaking is a solo sport and you depend on your own skills for survival. If you dont have those skills its your responsibility to make sure that you are in a group that will look after you.Over confidence and arrogance on the water will be your downfall if your skills are inadequate.

Eric J. said...

Wayne Horodowich puts it nicely in his post Group Paddling Creed.
In the instance related in Silbs' post, no one in the group was truly culpable. The late paddler made his decision to paddle without the group.
Once you decide to paddle with a group, however, you become responsible for the welfare of the group as a whole. Sometimes, I have to lookout for lesser experienced paddlers. Sometimes, a more experienced paddler has to lookout for me. Sometime, I have to put up with idiots that were allowed to join the group. Sometimes, I'm the idiot.
You do need to be responsible for your individual judgment and safety when with the group, but there is a shared responsibility. The solo paddler becomes part of a whole once they choose to paddle in a group. The group becomes a collective of sorts. Any incident that crops up impacts the whole group, not just the subset of the group involved.
If your of the mindset that paddling is a solo activity, then do not choose to paddle with others. You become a detriment to the rest of the group because you are not likely to be mindful of the whole.

Silbs said...

I believe there is a consensus, and I thank you for all the good comments. We assume risk for ourselves, especially if we choose to paddle solo. Once part of a group, however, we take care of one another as best we can. Cool.