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By Andy Grimes of Fluid Combinations Kayak Coaching and Guiding

Chapter 2: NO SIGNAL – NO MOVE

fluid combinations coachingFor me paddling down rivers is an exciting and fun-filled experience full of opportunities to visit new places and meet new people. Running rivers demands a certain set of skills for us to be safe and productive and give us an opportunity to enjoy the amazing experience of paddling rivers. For most people a natural progression in running rivers as a member of a group is to take more of a leadership style role as they become more experienced and knowledgeable. In this article I hope to uncover some areas and strategies that we as river leaders should be made aware of and always keep in the front of our minds when paddling with a group.


Line Of Sight



Right let’s start with breaking down river leadership into four simple golden rules.

Communication: Keeping communication is vital to be sure that all important information is being relayed within the group and insuring everybody is OK. A good example of communication being used on the river when we cant speak to each other is hand signals.

Line of sight: It is always important that as a leader we have a visual line of sight of our group at all times this is to ensure that nobody in the group is left behind or left in trouble without our knowing. In my opinion if we are leading from the front we should be aiming to look behind at our group on average every 15-20 seconds.

Avoidance: This simply means trying to think in our head about avoiding any actual danger or potential situations that could develop into future issues – for example not protecting a rapid that is at the groups limit of paddling ability. The old saying avoidance is better than cure is very useful here so lets be proactive rather than reactive.

Position: As leaders we need to place ourselves in a position of most effectiveness for our group to protect them from any potential dangers and provide the fastest and most swift assistant as and when required.

If we use and abide to these four golden rules of CLAP we have no reason to get into any form of trouble or difficulty on the river and should at no point need to break any of these rules. If for any reason any of them are broken we should aim to stabilise the current situation and regain control of all four rules again before continuing.

River signals are a regularly used method of creating communication in the river environment over large distances or in environments that verbal communication is not possible throughout the group. Below we can see a sideshow of the most regularly used hand signals.


Signals 1 is the signal to come to me (tapping hand palm down on head).


Signals 2 is the signal for eddy (pointing in the air and moving our hand in circular motion) this is normally followed by pointing in the direction of an eddy we would like members of the group to go to.

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Signals 3 is the signal for stop this instructs all the group to stay where they are until further notice!

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Signals 4 shows a picture of a paddler using a paddle signal. Paddle signals should be avoided at all costs because this suggests that we have lost line of sight and have positioned ourselves badly to manage our group and have broken one of the golden rules of CLAP.

On steep gradient rivers where line of sight is difficult to keep, we should have somebody stood out of their boat on the bank allowing line of sight to be kept between the leader and the rest of the group. As a whole we should make sure our group are aware of one main rule when it comes to signals on the river:


River Running Strategies

One at a time
Paddlers move down a rapid or stretch of water one at a time while others provide safety or are waiting in an eddy for the signal to move. This strategy works very well on harder rapids and avoids lots of paddlers coming into difficulty at the same time rather than a more manageable single paddler.

Last man go
The last paddler highest upstream in the group moves down stream to an eddy they require that is situated within the rest of the group which then allows for the next highest upstream paddler to move down.

All together
We paddle one behind the other with about 3-4 boat lengths of space between paddlers, on occasions though this gap can increase to allow us more space to move around in. This strategy works well on simple open stretches of water where it is easy to see a long way ahead and avoid any issues.

Eddy hopping
The group are spread across a rapid in different eddies, when it is clear and safe to do so the lead paddler furthest downstream leaves their eddy to go to the next downstream eddy. As this happens the paddler upstream of them leaves their eddy and goes to the eddy that the lead paddler has just left from. Having received the signal to move by the lead paddler before he left his eddy the signal is passed back through the rest of the group so all paddlers can begin to drop down an eddy then wait for the next signal to move on their arrival in the eddy. This strategy works well on steep gradients or rivers with lots of tight bends.

In my opinion the hardest skill when it comes to the four river running strategies is the knowing of what strategy to use and when to use it. The only way to get better at this is by having lots of practise and time on the water. However, just remember ,“if in doubt there is no doubt” it’s better to be over cautious than dangerous and gung ho! I would also recommend something to you all known as the rule of two! If you can see two or more obtainable eddies for the group in front of you it should be clear for us to continue down stream along as the eddies continue. If we can only see one eddy further downstream we should be pulling over and making a decision to either position ourselves to a better location so we can see further downstream or get out and inspect further down stream to see if it is clear to continue. Never paddle round blind bends! It’s just not worth the risk.

When it comes to what we carry on the river we need to ask ourselves one important question: “What is appropriate for the situation and environment”. This basically means asking ourselves what we are carrying and why! If we can justify the reason for the kit we carry we can be sure we won’t unnecessarily overload ourselves and are only carrying what we need and use. Below is a photo of some equipment that we should consider taking or choosing a selection of items from for a day on the river.

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In Summary

  • If we abide to the river leadership analogy of CLAP we have no reason to get into trouble on the river.
  • If we lose control of one of the rules of CLAP we must not continue any further until we have regained control of all four again.
  • The use of river signals must be kept clear and simple so all the group can understand and use them. Avoid paddle signals as this suggests you have lost line of sight and broken a rule of clap.
  • We must practise as much as possible all the different river running strategies so we can gain the knowledge and experience to know which strategy works best and in which environment.
  • Choose kit that is appropriate for the river/group that you know how to use and is as minimal as possible.

If you wish to learn more about leadership then we recommend that you attend a BCU 4 Star training course. Fluid combinations run these courses all the time so check out for further information.

See Andy’s Chapter 1 on ‘Balance’ at:

Andy would like to thank his sponsors SystemX and LiquidLogic Kayaks. Andy is the Managing Director of Fluid Combinations Kayak Coaching and Guiding for further information and courses please see

About thepaddlerezine (655 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK.

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