The importance of Communication

Just thought I’d rip up a quite note on the importance of good communication and how it can make your paddling experience more fun and a lot safer. When I’m talking about good communication I mean more than “hey are the cameras ready? Because I don’t want you to miss the shot”. While this may be important as well, it really doesn’t make your boating experience safer.

First off it is always a good idea to review all of your river signals with your crew so that there is absolutely no question about what is going on. All the signals are the same though right? I used to think that when I was first taught the ‘universal’ river signals but later found out that it is far from true. Some examples I’ve witnessed – I was scouting a pretty burly rapid that included a 10 foot boof. After communicating this information to my friend upstream he quickly got out of his boat and hiked down to look for himself. When he got there he laughed and was somewhat relieved because he thought it was a 10 meter boof (30 feet) because that’s the way he always communicates distances, in meters. I’m just glad he wasn’t scouting and gave me the sign for a ‘20’. I would have run it thinking it was feet and would have had a long time to think about that mistake as I ran a blind 60 footer.

Some groups of boaters also develop some of there own signals that might be confusing if you aren’t aware of them ahead of time. My friend tumbled over an ‘unrunnable’ drop (he survived) because the person he was boating with seemed to point him towards it. Afterwards it was discovered that he was using an arm signal to indicate how steep the rapid was. A very small difference that could have had catastrophic results. The crew I boat with a lot has a very special signal indicating that there are strainers up ahead. If you didn’t boat with me and saw me give this signal you would probably think I was being quite obscene!

The last point I’m going to mention on the topic is that good communication needs to be two way. This means that if you get a signal, you reply with a signal. This is just a means of confirming that both parties involved understand each other and they are both ready for the boater to come down. If I give a signal and it isn’t returned I assume that the person doesn’t know what I want them to do and will keep trying to explain it until I see some sort of confirmation.

Probably one of the best exercises you could do with you boating crew is practice relaying messages with only hand signals on easy, low consequence rivers. After the rapid have a mini debrief between the paddler and the scouter and see if the message got communicated properly. Practice this method often so that when you get into harder and higher consequence rapids you can concentrate on the job at hand and know with confidence that you are on your line. Or a least the line your partner thinks you should be on……

Go boat an be safe!

Dan Caldwell

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