A low water time of year in the Columbia River Gorge, I am reminded of the great numbers of people that manage to paddle the same river, on the same day, at the same time. Don't get me wrong... as far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier! However, it is a good reminder of the river etiquette we should all have when paddling with a large (or small) group.
1. Consider going over river signals at the put-in. Each group uses a different kind of river language. Some may signal "stop" with a paddle held horizontally in the air, or a hand held vertically in the air. Some people point positive (Where they suggest you go), while others point negative (where the dangers are/where you shouldn't go). Clarify what system you are going to use BEFORE getting on the river.
2. Depending on the river, it may be appropriate to discuss what rescue equipment each paddler is carrying on them, or in their boat. For instance, I carry a pulley, carabiner and prussik on my person, and a throwbag, pin-kit, breakdown paddle and first-aid kit in my boat. It's nice to know who has what in the case of an emergency.
3. Put-in/Portage Etiquette: When portaging or simply hiking to the put in... if there is a sketchy move to make, or slick down-climb to the river, go one person at a time. If the person at the top were to fall or drop a piece of gear, it could land on the person below, or worse, knock them off the ledge. Once at the bottom, hang around for a few to help collect gear, or spot someone on their down-climb.
3. Be aware of your boat: Whether you are carrying or paddling your boat, be aware of it. If you're the only boat in a must-make two boat eddy, make some room for the next paddler. As always, help each other out....If it's a sketchy eddy or an individual is nervous about making an eddy, think about getting out of your boat, and even "catching" the person as they come into the eddy- grabbing their boat when their bow hits the eddy to prevent them from going downstream. This is always AWESOME!
4. Be aware of fellow paddlers and where they are: Avoid paddling too close to the person in front of you, just in case they blow their line. The more room the better. This will also make life easier when trying to avoid head-on-collisions. Finally, in big groups, it is easy to lose track of people. As always, look behind you regularly to check on the paddlers behind you. Take a head count below drops, start a buddy system (everyone keeps track of their buddy), or split into smaller groups.
5. Peeling out: When peeling out from an eddy, ALWAYS look upstream. You never know whether another paddler, a swimmer, or a tree is on its way downriver. In general, if you are in an eddy, the paddler upstream in the main current has right of way.
5. Scouting: When in doubt, scout. AND bring your throw bag, even if you're only out of your boat for a minute or two. It has many uses, and you never know when you're going to need it.
6. Be prepared: While scouting, if surroundings allow, once out of your boat, position it on the rocks for a quick get-in, just in case you need to catch gear or rescue a swimmer.
7. Offer Help where you can: Whether portaging, holding a bag, or showing someone the line, help each other out.
These are just a few suggestions to make life on the river with a big group a little easier. Feel free to share yours!
See you on the river,