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Group Kayaking: A Fun and Exciting Way to Explore the Water

10 Suggestions For Group Kayaking

10 Suggestions For Group Kayaking

Updated on 5/20/2024
Abigail ScottBy Abigail Scott
Hi, I'm Abigail 👋 Since embarking on my kayaking and boarding adventures in 2010, I've navigated rivers and lakes across North America and beyond. With over a decade of experience and countless waterways explored, I'm here to help enthusiasts like you embark on unforgettable water adventures!
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    As I paddled with different groups, I found the following ten tips helpful.

    The dynamics of paddling groups vary from one group to another, and they're very interesting to observe. As I discovered how each group got along and enjoyed being on the water, I thought I'd compile some tips that have worked for me in the past.

    How do you paddle?

    It is always nice and appreciated if there is a defined definition of what the paddle will consist of, whether I am the group leader or someone else is. How long will the paddle last? Do you plan to paddle for a short period of time? Will we be training in rough weather?

    Everyone in the group will have an idea of what to expect before they show up to paddle. As far as dressing, food, and water are concerned, they know who to call if they wish to invite anyone else. It also depends on your level of experience paddling.

    In many cases, groups will tell you that to join this group you have to know this, this, and that, or you have to be able to do these sorts of rescues, or this is a training session. The trip should be defined before it takes place.

    Make sure everyone's skirt pull tabs are in place

    The next one goes for groups that use spray skirts. It's easy to make the mistake of not checking around before setting off that everyone in your group has their pull tabs outside of their cockpits, but this is something I do constantly and like to pass along to newer paddlers as well.

    We often make the mistake of keeping it tucked in. Ensure that everyone's tab is out so you can easily pull out the skirt. It's not crucial for safety since you can remove a skirt without the pull tab, but going for the pull tab upside-down and not finding it could be a frightening experience.

    The fact that it's easy to do makes me feel reassured. Before I set off, I just check to see that everyone's tabs are out.

    Make sure everyone's hatches are closed

    The same goes for hatch covers as well as skirts and pull tabs. As we were getting trained and certified, our instructors would pop our hatches whenever we were taking a break or eating lunch so that we wouldn't notice, get back on the water, do a rescue, capsize or do an exercise, only to find that our hatches were full of water when we got back on the water. We got used to checking all of our hatches every time we went back on the water.

    There is a very high chance of missing them. I still miss them occasionally. You forget to seal your hatches completely when you're on the water, when you're taking a sandwich or sun block, or when you're on the beach and forget to change the battery on your camera. There are many kayaks nowadays with sealed hatches, so I think this applies if you are paddling with a group. It's just so much easier to look around and check your hatches than to empty out a hatch full of water if you're on the water doing a rescue. Make sure everyone is okay before setting off. While you're on the water, it's also a good idea to check out other people's hatches.

    (Technological and Visual) Communication

    Communication is the next one I found very important, and it changes from group to group so much. Devices for communicating by hand. All these things need to be discussed as soon as you join a new group. Hand signals vary from person to person. There are a few signals that are kind of universal. Often people will say that if you tap your head that means “are you okay?” Then you tap again to say “yes, I'm okay”, or that holding a paddle straight up means usually come to me, and holding it overhead across usually means stop.

    In order to avoid having to figure out what people are saying when something happens on the water, it is always a good idea to figure out what the signals are ahead of time. A whistle on your PFD is one of the easiest ways to communicate, so everyone should have one, even if they're a little bit further away from you and they can't hear you, but if something happens to you or someone close to you, you can easily blow the whistle to draw attention to it and then get assistance. There is also a step further depending on what type of paddling you're doing.

    I always carry VHF radios with me while sea kayaking, and most groups I join have them as well. The leisure channels seem to be used by every group, but you need to decide which one to use ahead of time. You should always discuss the radio beforehand, even if you are not planning on using it all day. What is the channel number? ” or whatever leisure channel is in your particular area. Discuss it ahead, put that into your radio, put it away and you're good to go.

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    Understanding the health conditions of different groups

    Next, I think there's a very important topic that could be a little touchy. This refers to any health concerns you may have. What I'm referring to is that a lot of us want to keep health concerns private, but when you paddle, depending on the level of paddling you're doing, you're effectively having a group that will take care of you if you were to get hurt while on a remote location, on the water, or if you were surfing or in rough conditions. Keeping them informed about your health concerns will help them to help you if something happens. Are there any injuries on your body? Has there been any recent injury to you? Do you suffer from diabetes? Are you asthmatic? Have you ever had an allergy to peanuts, for example? What if something happens on the water and you need an EpiPen? If so, where is it?


    Often, if there is a group leader, you can share those things privately with them, and they can determine when to share the information with whoever is caring for you at that time, if needed, so that it can still remain private. That is taken into account by whoever is responsible for group safety. Decision-making may be influenced by that. When a storm is approaching, they need to make a decision: should they cross the river or not? Are we going to turn around at this point? Similarly, someone might be unable to be out for that long, and if you don't share that information, they might make the wrong decision and not be able to assist you.

    You don't have to worry about knowing something like this if you're out on the water with friends, since we're all just taking care of each other.

    The Delegation of Responsibilities

    The next tip will trickle down into the next two, and those will all lead to a common theme: delegating responsibilities. When we were training to become instructors, we did this all the time, because if you have a group of people to look after, you cannot be everywhere at once. When you're out on the water, either with a group or just with friends, you can't remember to do everything, so I've been delegating things whenever I'm on the water. This way, you are able to keep an eye on what's happening without having one person do everything.

    Count of people

    I always do the first one, which is headcount. With a large group, it's very easy to lose track of one or two paddlers. Especially if there's wind, or if there are waves, or if you're pushing to get through, or if they're swell and people are coming into and out of view, it's so quick, especially if it's swell and people are coming in and out of view. When you don't look back for a few minutes, don't look to the sides, or someone goes behind something and then you don't see them.

    Keeping track of headcount is really important, so it's always good to have someone in the team say "alright, who's keeping track of headcount today?" and then get out on the water, keep track of the numbers.

    Maintaining time

    Another tip that should be delegated is timekeeping. It could be for safety, or it could be to keep track of tides and currents, since you know that certain areas can only be crossed, or certain currents can only be used in your favor. A member of your group should be responsible for keeping track of the time throughout the day in order to keep things on track.

    That's great if you're navigating somewhere and you have certain times that you need to get to certain places, but that also spills into common courtesy where if you're planning a paddle and you say “okay, let's go out on the water for two hours” and then you're not keeping track of the time but people have to go, it's nice if paddlers have those kinds of limitations for that day to have someone that's keeping an eye on the clock so that it's a little bit easier for people to speak up within a group. It's really time to wrap up this lunch and get going because some of us have to be back by a certain time."

    Extra gear/supplies should be brought

    There may also be a chance that this one falls under delegation, but it depends on the group with whom you paddle. This is the act of bringing extra items to a group. Whatever you need, from food to water to gear to clothing. We know who's going to bring extra stuff in my group because they always bring extra stuff. He's always showing up with extra everything, my buddy Felix. Warm tea will always be on hand for him. All the time, he brings stuff for making coffee on the spot. The way Felix is, that's just who he is.

    If anyone goes in the water, I always bring extra clothes in extra-large size so I know that I have something to put on them in case they go in the water.

    I also think it is very important to bring extra water, especially on hot days. The same applies to food. A little bit of extra food is always in my bag. In the car, it is very easy to forget to pack lunch or breakfast. Keep the energy of the group up by doing it, not only because it is something nice to do.

    Additionally, in the context of group paddling dynamics, many people will just shrug it off and say "no, it's OK, I'll wait until later" or "no, it's okay, I'm not that hungry" because they might be embarrassed that they forgot food or water. Therefore, we want you to stay hydrated and nourished. If someone forgets something back at the car or at home, they won't be able to paddle, and we don't want them to be unwell. This is where. Has everyone eaten, has everyone been refreshed? Let's get started.

    The ability to check in

    Having some kind of system so your group members can check in and let you know that they're safe is the last item on this list that is very important to me. They will send a note or an email as soon as they return, or they will check in with the VHF radio if they are still in distance to let you know they are safe. Knowing when people will turn around and go back. Turning around and heading back without telling the group is not an option. That information is always needed so we know what's going on with everyone. Are you sure about the count? A couple of people within the group turning back without letting the rest of the group know is the last thing you want. All of this should be sorted out beforehand so that everyone is aware of what's going on, and of course, that people can keep track of what's happening.

    Those are ten tips I've found useful when paddling with different groups. Group dynamics take into account all of these factors. 



    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is group kayaking?

    Group kayaking refers to the activity of kayaking with a group of people, typically in a guided tour setting.

    How many people can participate in a group kayaking tour?

    It depends on the tour operator, but most group kayaking tours can accommodate between 8-12 people.

    What type of kayak should I use for group kayaking?

    Most group kayaking tours use sit-in kayaks, which are designed for stability and ease of use.

    Is previous kayaking experience necessary for group kayaking?

    It depends on the level of difficulty of the tour. Some tours are designed for beginners, while others may require prior experience. It's best to check with the tour operator before booking.

    What should I bring on a group kayaking tour?

    Typically, you should bring a change of clothes, a hat, sunscreen, water, and snacks. The tour operator may also provide a list of recommended items to bring.

    What are the safety guidelines for group kayaking?

    Safety guidelines for group kayaking may include wearing personal flotation devices, staying within a designated area, and following the instructions of the tour guide at all times. It's important to review and follow all safety guidelines provided by the tour operator before participating in a group kayaking tour.