Thursday, July 30, 2009

Leadership and Rescues class

Practicing T-rescues in the Chester River.

On Sunday, we taught a class called Leadership and Rescues. This five-hour workshop was designed to cover the essential assisted and self rescues, including variations appropriate for specific conditions, as well as basic towing techniques. But we also wanted to help students explore each paddler’s role in avoiding an incident, and how we can prevent things from spinning out of control.
Most of the time, we try to get our classes on the water as quickly as possible. After all, students sign up for a kayaking class because they want to paddle, not because they want to stand on the shore listening to us talk about paddling. But in this case, we deliberately spent the first 45 minutes on land, going over some of the basic leadership concepts we’ve learned and the safety and communication issues of which anyone paddling in a group should be aware.
We promised our students that we’d post a synopsis of what we covered during that class—a virtual handout—so this blog entry will do double duty, sharing that material with them as well as with anyone else who’s interested in it.
We bagan with two BCU acronyms we find especially helpful: CLAP and SAFE.
CLAP stands for Communication, Line of sight, Avoidance is better than a cure, and Position of maximum effectiveness. These are considerations group leaders must address before and during and after any paddle. Communication is a huge category that includes everything from whether or not the plan and expectations are clear and agreed upon, to how the group will communicate on the water. Line of sight refers to the need to the leader to keep all members of the group in view at all times. Avoidance is better than a cure is a British way of saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And Position of maximum effectiveness refers to the need for the leader to be where he or she can best control and direct the group.
SAFE stands for Stop, Assess, Formulate, Execute. This helps avoid rash reactions to situations by reminding us to size up the situation and think through our options before acting.
(We have to thank Jeff Allen for introducing these concepts to us. For more in-depth explanations, see the BCU coaching handbook.)
After that, we talked about other essential pre-trip checklist items:
- Appropriate “kit” for the conditions, which should include food and water, first-aid for yourself and your boat, spare clothing, and communication, safety and signaling equipment.
- A medical talk (and how to help others feel comfortable talking about issues that you ought to know about).
- Filing a float plan (and with whom).
On the water, we practiced the basic T-rescue and several variations, including the heel-hook and scramble reentries and the crab. We also worked on several self-rescues: traditional paddle float, cowboy (scramble), and paddle float-assisted reenter and roll.

During the towing segment, we introduced the “psychological tow,” a term Robert Schrack coined for something we do all the time without recognizing that it falls into the towing category. (More on that in the next entry.) We also worked on using tow belts with lines of various lengths, using short tows with the casualty in various positions on the rescuers boat, and contact tows.
Leadership is an enormous topic. In this class, we barely scratched the surface of it. But in the end, we came to feel that communication is the torso rotation of leadership. In other words, it’s the foundation of leadership and successful group paddling, and the earlier in our paddling careers we begin to think about it and act on it, the better.
Before launching, we have to communicate about where we plan to go, at what pace and with what group structure. We also have to communicate about what we’re bringing, how we’re feeling and what the weather and water conditions are. On the water we have to communicate about how we’ll negotiate boat traffic, changes in weather conditions, changes in the plan and surprises that arise. And afterwards, we have to communicate about how things went, what we learned and what we’d change the next time. Communication at the end of a trip helps transform experience into wisdom. It helps us consolidate what we’ve learned as individuals and as a group, making us ever better leaders and paddlers over time.

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