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HomeNL-2017-08 River Courtesy

River Courtesy
Reprinted from August 1987
by Martha & Leonard Hulsebosch

The newsletter section of this web site contains 40 years of Houston Canoe Club newsletters. Amidst those many publications are buried a lot of gems of wisdom, that are still just as valid today as when they first appeared. The following article from 30-years ago is one of those gems.  

One of the greatest areas of neglect by all boaters, while on the river, is common courtesy to other boaters as well as themselves. If one wishes to have true "freedom on the water", then go run rivers by yourself or with one or two other like-minded paddlers. However, if you have joined a group because of support, shuttle, safety, or whatever reason - co-operate with the other people in the group and the trip leader.

If you are the trip leader, then make a rough plan for the trip and state it so that all paddlers know what they are committing to. Never assure people that they can handle the river - let them decide. For a trip leader to allow a poorly skilled paddler on a too-demanding river is unthinkable, dangerous and unsafe. Under these circumstances, if allowed, all suffer the consequences. The less skilled paddler, in frustration; the group, in placing themselves and their gear in danger to continually rescue the novice; the trip leader, in having a paddle that nobody can enjoy. So be sure you have the skill level to paddle on any given trip. Try not to burden the group by your in-eptness, non-preparation, and inadequate gear.

If you join a trip, make sure you understand the leader's plan and that you agree with it. River-running is not a sport for people who tend to depend on others. It is bad form to expect or demand any sort of services from volunteer trip leaders. You should be responsible for your own gear, welfare and skills - not your trip leader.

If you are riding up to the river in someone else's car, at least pay them for all the gas involved. If you go in one car and back in another - don't forget to pay the owner of
the first car.

While on the river, never - ever - ever pass the first or "lead" boat. If they go to shore, go with them, If they stop, you stop. Always keep the boat behind you in your eyeball. By so doing, you can visually see if they need help and the pace of the whole group is automatically regulated, thus preventing an "accordion effect" of the group, i.e., preventing the group from being spread out and bunched up over a very wide length of river.

Do not get behind the last or "sweep" boat without informing the sweep boaters. If some want to stop it is better that all stop, or split the group into two - each with a leader - and knowing who is in which group.

EDDY'S. Don't pull into an eddy and ram another boat. The first boater into an eddy should stay at the top of it and later arrivals should pull in below him, Always look upstream before "peeling out" of an eddy. Yield to others coming through or toward the eddy. 

Don't be a "wave hog". When the party stops to surf waves, give others their turn, Be alert to get out onto the wave when it is your turn so that others don't have to wait unnecessarily.

On rapids - each boater should decide for himself whether or not to run that particular rapid after getting to the rapid, scouting it, and noting how he feels at that moment. Don't allow yourself to be pressured to do something you don't want to do! There is no stigma in portaging a rapid. In fact, it usually turns out to be the smart thing to do at the time. We have portaged many rapids that earlier in the year we have run successfully, simply because one or the other of us "did not feel right" at that moment.

When scouting a rapid, if you are among the more capable boaters, make sure that the less capable paddlers know where to run it, or have started their portage. Quickly jumping into your boat to run the rapid does not show how brave you are, but rather suggests you need to hurry before you lose your nerve.

After running a rapid, eddy out and wait in the water at the end, watching other people come through, ready to help if needed. If this is burdensome, the trip leader will make agreement about rescue responsibilities - but don't just quit unilaterally.

If you are one of the less skillful paddlers, don't dawdle about taking your time to get back into your boat after scouting while rescuers are waiting in the water to help you if need be. If you decide to portage, do so quickly, signal others to inform them what you are up to. If you are not immediately confident about running a rapid. just start portaging - do not meditate on whether you should or should not run it - you shouldn't!

Many a capable boater will run their own boat through a rapid, then walk back up to run other people's boats through - thus saving a portage. But, do not implore people to do this for you, rather suggest it, as many paddlers may have difficulty running a rapid in a strange boat.

We could go on and on - talking about spacing between boats, running rapids too close together, forming dissent groups to splinter off the paddle, unilaterally leaving the group and much more. Usually the trip leader will or should go over his plan at the beginning of the paddle, answer all questions, and then put-in. As the group proceeds down the river, using courtesy and discipline, it will become apparent that the leader is coordinating the group without being a dictator, and that all are proceeding smoothly, safely and happily, as opposed to crowding, ramming and jamming each other on one hand or leaving others stranded behind on the other.

Next month: "Increase Your Enjoyment"

The authors, Martha & Leonard Hulsebosch
 (Photos courtesy of Ann Derby)