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Kayak Leadership

By Adam Harmer


Are you a paddler that often finds yourself leading groups or taking responsibility for weaker paddlers amongst friends or club trips. Here are Adam's top ten tips on how to get these folk down rivers!!!


Tip One

Ask Questions, don't be afraid, you need to know as much about these people as possible. Are they ill? Do they know the river ? Have they read the guidebook?  Do they know what to do in the event of a swim?


Tip Two

Assumption is the mother of all F*%K ups. Don't assume the group will always make the eddy. There are leadership and .last chance. eddies, but these are very different to the large group eddy, with a spare one below, ready for when the group miss the first one.


Tip Three

Try and start your river trip on the flat or, at the very least not straight into raging rapids with no warm up.


Tip Four

Kayak Leadership

The following points 4-8, I remember as CLAP (Communication, Line of Sight, Avoidance, Position), a useful acronym  that I often refer to when leading.

Communication is the key. Try and get a system amongst yourselves, so that if it goes wrong you all end up singing from the same hymm sheet. It is really important to keep signals simple and clear, and if you can, away from the body avoiding dark colours and overhanging foliage.

Photo 1

For direction I use a hand pointing where I want someone to go






Photo 2

A hand on my head means come to me






Photo 3

Eddy out is the circling motion above my head, sometimes followed by a pointing hand if its a specific eddy






Photo 4 & 5

One person down is a raised straight arm, multiple people is a pumping arm motion (like a choo choo train)






As you start to become familiar you might add stop, or gesture a fisherman signal, maybe a walking fingers, meaning portage, or pointing at your eyes might mean have a look or get out and have a look. Signals are endless, but what is important is everyone knows them. Finally remember NO SIGNAL NO MOVE! Stay where you are until someone comes to find you!!


Tip Five

Line of Sight. If you cant see your group, they cant see you, you therefore cant communicate.


Tip Six

Line of Sight. You also need to see the river, if you cant see whats below you then that shopping trolley or tree stuck in the drop might just ruin your day, NEVER RUN THINGS BLIND.


Tip Seven

Avoidance. Well its simply really, if you use the 6 tips above you should avoid too many incidents and hence have less issues. It also applies to avoiding hazards, these might be overhanging trees, or sticky holes when other easier lines are available.


Tip Eight

Position of Maximum Usefulness. Where are you when it all goes wrong? Are you best placed to deal with the swimmer? Can you still see the group?. Would you be better upstream if there is a risk of getting pinned?


Tip Nine

Its OK to say No. If you feel your clients or friends aren't up to the river, then it might be sensible to suggest it is a little too low, too hard, too boney, too many blind bends etc etc. If you let this moment slip away it will be yourself dealing with the consequences as the nights draw in and the group starts to get cold.


Tip Ten




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