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…
- Line of sight
- Avoidance (is better than cure)
- Position of maximum usefulness
Starting on the communication aspects then, there’s a whole range of considerations here.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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…
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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