CLAP: An Acronym For Outdoor Safety

by Ray Goodwin

A group overlooking a set of rapids

A Frontier Bushcraft expedition group discussing a set of rapids. But what does CLAP have to do with it? Photo: Paul Kirtley.

There is an acronym we use within paddle sports for leadership situations which provides a good set of guidelines to follow.

You can actually apply these principles more broadly, wherever leadership is required in an outdoor setting.

The acronym is CLAP. That stands for...

  • Communication
  • Line of sight
  • Avoidance (is better than cure)
  • Position of maximum usefulness

Communication

Starting on the communication aspects then, there's a whole range of considerations here.

Verbal communication:

Here we mean actually talking to people, giving them instructions. This may seem straightforward but the key to remember here, particularly in stressful situations, is that people can absorb very little information. In fact, in a hard rapid or a hard situation, very often it's the last thing you say that is remembered. So you really need to keep the number of points low if you are giving a group verbal information about what's going on.

Group of canoeists out of boats inspecting and discussing

Verbal communication with a group during an inspection on the French River, Ontario. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Signals:

In paddling we mean river signals. These are important as moving water can be noisy. You need to work these out between the group and check everyone understands because they are not common to all paddlers in all parts of the world. In fact if I come down a river and a group in front of me is signalling about something, it may be that they're pointing at a danger or a problem or they are pointing at the place I should be going. So you need to be very clear within your group that you understand your own set of signals and that you're not particularly going to trust anybody else's (outside the group).

Canoeist giving thumbs up sign

Good, clear signals should be agreed within the group. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

Non-Verbal Communication and Other Cues:

Following on from the last point, this is also where non-verbal communication in terms of body language and boat language come into play. So, the fact that I pull into an eddy will give people clues as to what's going on. The fact that I'm beginning to stretch my neck and look ahead of me again gives a clue. People will tend to pick up on these things and you can encourage them to do that, to be an active part in the system.

Men in canoe, pointing and discussing wilderness river

Very good in-boat communication being displayed here during a trip on the Missinaibi. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

Line of Sight

Line of sight is really important in all adventurous situations. Within paddle sports in particular, when things go wrong they can go wrong very quickly. Some problems can be solved if somebody has spotted it whereas if somebody was on their own, the same situation could easily lead to grief very quickly.

So, with line of sight we are trying to maintain a view of everybody within the group. This may be very simple in that I, the leader, am in a position where I can see all of the group. This maybe from the bottom of a rapid as the group move towards me, it may be a in a corner or a bend in the rapid where I can see the people at the bottom of the rapid and I can see the people at the top of the rapid.

Tandem canoe signalling to another boat further down river.

Boats within a group maintaining line of sight (as well as demonstrating good communication). Photo: Ray Goodwin.

It could be that in another situation, I maintain line of sight by keeping the line of sight within the group. What I mean is, for example, I may be down at the bottom of a rapid but have another paddler positioned in a spot that allows them to see both me and every other member of the group, and that way we maintain line of sight.

Avoidance

Avoidance is really important because I'd far prefer to see somebody preventing a problem happening in the first place. The leader can spot what the hazard is and tell people which way to go to avoid it. The leader can put themselves in a position which draws people to them (and away from the hazard). So avoidance is actively spotting the hazards and taking appropriate measure to not have them cause any sort of problem for the group.

Canoeist avoiding tree caught in bridge.

Avoidance: The right-hand arch of the bridge is completely blocked, posing a potentially lethal hazard. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

Position

P, the last letter of our acronym, is for position of maximum usefulness. It may be that I am out of my boat, sitting on a bridge pier to fend somebody off it as they come downstream. Your position of maximum usefulness may be in your boat at the bottom of a rapid because if somebody swims, you are in an immediate position to actually give chase to boat or people. And it could be that another member of the group is on the bank with a throw-line...

Throwing a line to a capsized canoe.

In position and ready... Photo: Ray Goodwin.

Making a throw with throw-line

A member of the group had been positioned in case such a throw-line rescue was required. Photo: Ray Goodwin

In another situation, it may be that you're actually on the opposite side of the stream to a hazard and you're saying to people "come to me" - so that position is most useful in this context. This also serves to illustrate that the position of maximum usefulness changes markedly on each rapid. It's not always at the bottom, it's not always in the middle, it's not always at the top, it's not always near a hazard. But it always requires careful thought.

CLAP: An Acronym to Remember and Apply

So, remember CLAP: Communication, Line of sight, Avoidance (is better than cure), and Position of maximum usefulness.

Whether you are paddling or with a group in another outdoor situation, CLAP provides a clear framework for important aspects of group safety.

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Ray Goodwin is the UK’s best known and (many would go so far as to say) foremost canoe coach. For more than 30 years Ray has been introducing people to, and developing people’s skills in, the great outdoors. Ray brings his experience and expertise to all of Frontier Bushcraft’s canoeing activities, including our French River and Bloodvein expeditions.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Stewart Lomax

Yes very sound advice! For me this could be a useful thing to remember when having to conduct a river crossing. Not to be undertaken unless absolutely necessary!

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Indeed Stewart. Avoidance is better than cure 🙂

Reply

Mark H

Thank you Ray,

An excellent acronym, superb advice ! C L A P will be useful in the woods and at work- Good Communications- Line of sight clear vision and insight -Avoiding ‘issues’ through prep- Position/ being in the right place at the right time. Happy New Year Ray , Paul and all at Frontier…

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Mark,

Glad you found CLAP useful and directly applicable to both Countrylore and elsewhere.

All the best,

Paul

Reply

Mark H

Prevention is better than cure !

Go well
Mark

Reply

Darren swift

good acronym but I’m ex-military and we already use CLAP for something else! Don’t you hate it when that happens!
Clear
Loud
As an order
with Pauses

cheers though – good article as always…

Reply

Paul Kirtley

🙂

Glad you liked the article anyway.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Craig

Good article Paul, with numerous situational applications, have amended my kit list aide memoir to include this, cheers. Amazing all the other meanings for this acronym when typed into a search engine… Lol, eg Christmas Lights Addiction Problem. All the best Paul.

Reply

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