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Old 04-20-2015   #11
xena13's Avatar
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Mar 2007
Posts: 244
This has been a subject my boating partners and I have debated from time to time. In a drop-pool type of river, it makes more sense to me to have more spacing because a pile-up is more dangerous than a single boat crash. Usually we have an experienced boater in the lead and they wait at the bottom of a rapid to clean up any issues. We have another experienced boater sweeping. Also, it's more important to have longer spacing at low water or on technical rivers with tight moves. Boats are more likely to get stuck. With bigger water and more continuous rapids, closer spacing seems appropriate, although you could still have issues if someone gets stalled by a wave.

Another issue is if there are different types of crafts in the group. I sometimes run a ducky with a group of rafts with oar frames. If there is fairly close spacing at the top of a rapid, I usually catch up with a raft with oars in the middle of the rapid because my power moves are forward and they might be back-rowing, plus my boat just runs faster than a big raft even if they're pushing. That is more likely to make me swim than if I'm in the rapid with a lot of space around me. I'd much rather deal with a swim on my own until the bottom of the rapid than take a chance on getting stuffed under a stuck raft.

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Old 04-21-2015   #12
Hood River, Oregon
Paddling Since: 1994
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 60
This is a great thread and some great responses. This is a tough question to answer because it very much depends on the river and boat types. Here are some generalizations that I've learned from commercial guiding:

1. It's good to put your best boater first. They'll set a good line, set the pace for the group, and are least likely to have a swimmer. If the lead boat has a swimmer, there is no one downstream to help with recovery. (safety kayakers are a good idea when there is a chance of the lead boater having a swimmer in continuous water)

2. I like putting the second best boater as the last boat. This person usually carries first aid and rescue and will catch up to the scene of any rescue. This person can take charge when the lead boat is around the corner.

3. In general you want boats to be close enough to help each other with a swimmer (or flip) but far apart enough that boats don't pile up. That distance is judgement call learned from experience and depends on the type of water (big water, low water, pool drop, continuous, easy, hard, etc)

4. Boat types and personal style is a factor. Oar boats that pull through rapids move much slower than kayaks. Some people like to pull and others like to push. This can cause pile up and distance problems that propagate through the whole group. If you're going to run hard whitewater you want people who can run rapid with a variety of styles and work as a team.

When teaching this to younger guides I describe the boats moving downstream as a slinky. Boat spacing is always fluid and changing and a change at the beginning affects the end. Boat spacing is something that everyone has to have in the back of their mind in order to do it right.

In my mind the ability for a boater to work together with a team and maintain proper boat spacing is what makes them a Class IV boater. I paddle with a lot of people who can make it down Class IV rapids, but I consider them Class III boaters because they're unable to maintain proper spacing in a group.

Zachary Collier
Northwest Rafting Company
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Old 04-21-2015   #13
Riverton, Utah
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 337
Good thoughts, things to think about. It is always a discussion with my group. I have experienced both too close and too far apart. Too close, had another raft on top of my raft in a rapid. Too far, I swam for a LONG time before I was picked up by one of the other rafts in our group.

It's a balance for sure. Having someone close has helped in unexpected ways though... I was stuck in the washing machine behind Skull rock in Westwater Canyon a couple of years ago with one broken oar shaft, boat being tossed around, trying to get to my spare oar when the next boat in line dropped in and bumped me out and down river into calmer water. That was helpful.

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Old 04-21-2015   #14
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 1,134
Good discussion. I do a lot of solo boating and boating with the same core group of catboaters so we don't have the discussion often enough.

A few points to add:

-Know everyone's boating style, some people run a direct line through a rapid and others including my self take a zig-zag route with lots of surfing and eddying up.

-Boats with passengers (especially kids) run in the middle.

-If you are stuck and I am behind you, I will gladly bump you off but only if: 1) you let me know (no surprises)
2) you point where you want me to bump (I probable can not see the rock you are stuck on)

-If your stuck (rock or hole) and you want pulled off/out, tie off your throw bag and show me the bag. Toss it to me as I go by and I will wrap on frame.

-If the person that is stuck does not tell me if they want a bump or a pull, I will eddy up ASAP.

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