Leading a Trip

by Buck Buchanan

This discussion is geared to multiple day trips, of moderate duration, such as the Main Salmon or Desolation/Gray. When you take on the responsibilities and risks of trip leadership, you complete the whole package of personal growth. The confidence that you'll gain in your own abilities will help in other endeavors that you undertake.
Prior planning prevents poor performance on the river
1. Once you have the permit in hand, it is your responsibility to maintain records and communicate with the managing agency.
2. Begin developing a crew list (this is generally required by the governing agency, in advance) Determine whether your boatmen are qualified for the river and water conditions that you expect. Ask questions about their skills and experience. Don't assume anything. Thouroughly research the river you plan to run.
A Make a trip roster, listing the names and telephone numbers of all the participants. Give each member pertinent phone numbers (County Sheriff) in case there is a family emergency.
B Make a note of each member's experience level and any medical history that may be pertinent. (I have a sample health questionaire, developed by Jim and Bev Heumann, that would provide the needed information. It would be wise for all participants to have had a recent physical so that health problems could be minimized.)
C Determine the highest and lowest skill level of the crew.
D In an emergency situation, the people with the most river rescue or first aid experience need to take charge. This may not always be the trip leader. Determine, ahead of time, who has the skills and judgement to take over in an emergency. It's also wise to have a back-up in case the primary person is the victim of an accident. Find out where the nearest hospital or first aid is and proceedures for evacuation. (HIKING CARD?)
3. Have a meeting to go over put-in and take-out points. Remember you may have rookies and everyone may not be as familiar with the river a you are. This is a good time to start delegating duties typically encounted on a multiple day trip.
A. Estimate the cost of the trip and designate a person to handle the finances. It's important that the principal of cost sharing be maintained, so that you're not running a pirate trip.
B. Plan food, menus, shopping, packing, and who's boat will carry what.
C Minimize garbage, and make sure requirements are met for carrying out waste and disposing of it.
D Decide who will be taking vehicles, trucks, or towing trailers, and how will this be costed out.
E Assign cook teams and meals to be prepared. By doing this ahead, crew members will know when to contribute and when they can lay back, minimizing "guilt trips".
F. Prepare a chart of expected camps, miles per day, crew list, and give one to each member.
4. Discuss safety issues, what bugs people (like boom boxes), how much booze, what about drugs, smoking, and if some of the crew wants to go naked. These are just some of the issues that may test a trip leader's communication and management skills.
5. Be certain that safety gear, rescue equipment, and sufficient first aid are in good condition and packed on several boats.
1. Be early, set the example.
2. Get the shuttle arranged and going.
3. Check the crews equipment.
4. Give a trip briefing. Ask for questions.
5. Be resposible. Cancell the trip if conditions are not totally acceptable. Remember, for most folks this is their vacation and macho is not the operating word.
6. Assign lead and sweep boats.
7. Ensure the crew stays together on the river.
1. Go over maps, know where you are, communicate to the whole crew what you expect to happen the next day.
2. The river generally takes care of itself. It's what happens at the campsite that makes life real interesting.
A. People going on short hikes and getting lost
B. Burning your fingers while cooking.
C. Being careless about sanitation and getting sick - and transmitting disease to the rest of the crew.
D. Getting too drunk and not being able to perform the next day.
E. Encountering another group, while on the water, usually involves a friendly exchange. If conflicts arise, let the trip leader be the spokesperson.
Personal note: My way of saying thanks for making this trip memorable, before the crew disbands, is to meet at a Dairy Queen for a nice cold milk shake.
Remember, the most dangerous part of a trip can be traveling to and from the river. Drive safely and stop, camp, or check into a motel if you feel tired.
I know that I've not covered the whole subject, and hope this discussion will continue with other trip leaders sharing their experiences and passing tips on to new trip leaders.
* Outdoor Action Guide to Planning A Safe River Trip
* Outdoor Action Paddling Decision Tree
* American Whitewater Affliilation
* Colorado Rivers
* River Network
* Colorado Department of Natural Resources
* Idaho River Flows
AWA River Safety Cards
American Whitewater Afflilation, Co-authored by Rick Curtis
River Rescue by Les Bechdel and Slim Ray
Appalachian Mountain Book Club, Boston,1989, ISBN 0-910146-76-4
The Best of the River Safety Task Force Newsletter
First and second edition, edited by Charlie Walbridge
Whitewater River Rescue by Wayne Sundermacher and Charlie Walbridge
Ragged Mountain Press, Camden, 1995, ISBNO-07-067790-5
River Rescue - The Video (VHS 55 minutes)
Anne Ford & Les Bechdel, Gravity Sports Films, Jersey City, NJ
Heads Up! - River Rescue for River Runners (VHS 30 minutes)
Russ Nichols, distributed by the American Canoe Association Lorton V
* I would also recommend watching the video/movie The White Mile showing the group dynamics that caused a terrible rafting accident, in British Columbia, that could have been avoided.

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