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PreTrip Planning

Pre-Trip Planning and Trip Organization
                                                                                                        -- Jim Simmons

It's always sound strategy to make preparations for paddling trips especially if you are not that familiar with paddlers on the trip. Being proactive rather than reactive to emergencies fulfills the guiding principle of prevention and avoidance of mishaps in the first place. Even if you know other paddlers well it is still wise to have a plan 'B' in mind in case.   A few 'basics' can be considered before leaving the putin for your trip:
A) Ask important 'WHAT IF' questions and 'know the KNOWS' about the group. What if someone in the group should have a serious injury, or if there were multiple victims? What if you had to evacuate someone, or else bivouac overnight unexpectedly? What if there were two or more swimmers in the river at the same time? What if the weather changes dramatically? Ask these critical 'what if' questions without emphasizing negative thoughts.

Knowing information about individual paddlers (strengths, limitation, etc) is important for the safety of everyone. Does anyone have any special needs? Any medical issues? What are the first aid/CPR capabilities within the group? Who has had rescue training and what gear if being carried? Is the group familiar with the river hazards on the trip? What about access points--both putin and takeout, and knowledge of the easiest routes out in case someone chooses to walk out? Is the weather forecast a main concern? What about paddling ability and experience?

B) When organizing shuttles leave as many vehicles as possible at the takeout and as few as possible at the putin. Place extra snacks/food, water, and dry garments in the takeout vehicles as well. Designate a lead driver who knows the shuttle road and assign a sweep driver so the caravan can stay together. Be certain not to block access points and if the river runs along the shuttle road perhaps leave a vehicle along the route (especially in cold weather paddling).

C) As the group moves along downstream establish a basic order and designate both a lead and sweep boat. Identify where first aid and safety gear are located within the group. Before departing the putin review basic rescue, the importance of self-rescue and group rescue basics. It also works well to set a proper pace for the day that accommodates the skill and experience of everone. That way everyone can 'push' their personal skill envelope without breaking it. Periodically take a head count to keep everyone together. Of course, do all this as inconspicuously as possible so it won't seem so formal.

If you have previously taken swiftwater rescue training, skill and knowledge acquired "won't last forever" and you'll get rusty. That is why it is good to stay abreast of current trends and skills in rescue and practice often to remain proficient in using them. The more techniques you know the more options available to you in a rescue situation.

Take the time to cover these basics of trip preparation. Everyone enjoys being on a trip with good teamwork, camraderie and the ability to handle unexpected events if they happen. Don't leave things to chance which can put the group in 'reactive' mode should any emergencies arise. Be proactive so everyone can have more fun paddling!

Jim Simmons--11/2010
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