Jackson Kayak Tip of the Week
By Sage Donnelly

We all love to have fun on the river with our friends and family, but sometimes more is not merrier. Having a group that is too large can lead to chaos and quick injuries, but having a group that’s too small can lead to unpreparedness for rescues and other sticky situations. The key is having a solid group with an ideal number. What are ideal numbers? I like to have a group of three to six people, and I suggest creating a buddy system for any group over eight. It is also very important that your slowest person sets the pace so no one gets left behind. Make sure everyone has whistles, and that everyone knows which river signals will be used.

Before you start paddling, it's important to do these things:

  • Count the number of people that are in your group
  • Divide into groups if there are more than eight people
  • Assign buddies
  • Go through all of the river signals
  • Make sure at least someone in each group has a rescue kit


I've had a couple scary moments while paddling when these rules were not followed. One of the best examples was when I was paddling with my mom, two kids, and their parents. The two boys took off as soon as we started, even though they didn’t know the run, and I was forced to separate and go after them. (They didn't know where the takeout was and if you missed it you'd go straight into a Class IV section). Once I caught up to them and got them to stop in an eddy, the rest of our group was nowhere to be seen. We waited for about 15 minutes until my mom finally came down, having left our other members upstream waiting to be picked up. Luckily, in our case, nothing happened to either of us or to any of the other paddlers. One of the parents was feeling over their head, so both found a safe place to exit. Had something gone wrong, however, the danger would have increased from the dispersed group.

Some on-water rules I follow are:

  • Always let the slowest person set the pace
  • Make sure your lead knows the run or is well within their abilities to find safe lines
  • Keep your whole group in sight at all times if possible
  • Put your strongest paddler in the back for sweep
  • If you do separate into groups, it's very important to either keep the groups in sight or to stop at flat spots to regroup
  • Always keep an eye on the person following you

Having fun on the river is always a priority, and that is best achieved by keeping everyone safe as you paddle down. If you find your group is too big for your comfort, speak up! You might be surprised at how many others were thinking the same thing.


— Sage Donnelly is a member of Jackson Kayak’s Factory Team and a winner of C&K’s Female Paddler of the Year award

More Tips of the Week

Flatwater Training with Zofia Tula

Emily Jackson on Upping Your Playboating Game

How Yoga Can Improve Your Paddling

Finding a New Paddling Crew

How to Take Your Whitewater Game to the Next Level

How to Boof

How to Lift your Kayak without Injuring your Back

How to Mooch a Shuttle

How to Flatwater Loop