Greater Duty of Care Part I

The Gales Storm Gathering has now concluded. A lot of my effort over the last few months has been directed at making the event a success. I am not ready to stick a flag in the hill and declare victory. But I was very very happy with how the event was attended and received by both the participants and the coaches.

Whenever I get together with Shawna and Leon from Body Boat Blade, I walk away with a healthy dose of humility. They are such great people, and terrific paddlers who put a lot of thought into everything they do.

One of the courses that was most heavily attended was Incident Management. I learned most of what I know in this area from Shawna and Leon and Jeff Allen. When I teach this course, I take a good chunk of their approach and put the Wikle filter on it. I am not ashamed to point out where I have stolen from the best. I have been fortunate in my coaching life to have had access to many great mentors. WMCKA has had so many great coaches come to teach at their symposium that all of us have had one on one time with. This alone has put so many of us in a position to learn from the best.

During the Gales a phrase was tossed around quite a bit by Shawna and Leon, called Greater Duty of Care. Maybe the rest of the universe heard this phrase and took heed. I blithely assumed I had prepared myself for duty of care by being an instructor at all. During the course of the symposium I gained new respect for the expertise that Shawna and Leon have developed to this end.

On the trip down the Menominee with Shawna, Leon, Alec BP, Sharon BP, we got on the water with fading daylight on a class IV river none of us had been down, with all new equipment, and no leader. It was a classic deep trouble list. If something had gone wrong what was the plan?

As instructors, what is our duty of care? What can we reasonably be held accountable for? What gear and precautions become necessary to ensure this duty of care is handled. In my paddling life with students, or fellow instructors we rarely do any of the things we say we are going to do when we get together.

So in examining this phrase duty of care, the first part that occurred to me is that the phrase that is often used, is Greater Duty of Care. Meaning not only do we as coaches have duty of care, we have Greater, or sometimes called Higher Duty of Care. What does this actually mean?

From a legal standpoint it means that because instructors or coaches have received training, those heading out with us, have a higher expectation of trust in our decisions, and our ability to lead them out of danger. For ACA/BCU instructors this has always been a cause for some debate. Especially because the ACA and the BCU are there in some senses to provide insurance against litigation in this regard. Though it seems that this litigation happens with very sparse frequency, I for one, would not count on the ACA’s insurance to protect me from a pack of blue-pinstriped hyena attorneys if something horrible really happened. Suffice it to say, this higher expectation of trust is really the operable phrase.

What does that higher duty of care mean? To me, in it’s simplest terms it means that the expectation is I should be able to take a group of about 6 people out on open water and be able to bring them and all of their gear (if possible) back safely to land. I should be ready for whatever comes and be able to pick up the pieces and get everyone back home safely. Though medical conditions and freak accidents do sometimes just happen.
In seeing how seriously it was taken at the Gales, I think I may have to up my game on a daily basis with students and even fellow instructors.

Here is a simple list of things in the arena of Higher Duty of Care I feel I could vastly improve upon.

  • Communication of Risk Assessment on land. We often rush through this prior to getting on the water because everyone wants to skip ahead to the fun part.
  • Communication of Leadership for any trip.
  • Communication of Outs and possible retreats if the weather, or other incidents arise.
  • Communication of hand signals
  • Communication of radio frequencies, who will use them, and when they will be used.
  • Communication of float plan, I am great at doing this for surf, but terrible for journeys. I actually tell my wife where I am parked, where I will be surfing and to call the coast guard if she doesn’t hear from me by [x] time when I surf. I want to be found alive man.
  • Communication of what first aid gear I have and where it is.
  • Communication about what signalling devices I have and where they are located.

So in this series, not sure how many articles. I am going to be covering how to improve these issues for all paddling groups. In some cases it may be gear we are talking about, in some areas I am woefully deficient, in others I am doing ok.