“Whose responsibility is it for my safety while participating in a kayak group outing?”
After giving the question a lot of thought, the answer I arrived at was; it is mine. I should not expect anyone to know what my paddling capabilities are, whether I am able to swim, paddle in gusty wind, or get back onto my kayak if I capsize. Nor should I assume that anyone else has good judgment in making vital decisions, even if they have paddled longer than I have. My safety, what I do, and the decisions I make to ensure my safety, are entirely up to me.
Determining the safety of a situation must be decided for oneself, as with everything we do in life. You need to assess whether the position you are placing yourself in is safe, or whether it is hazardous to your wellbeing. Hopefully, you wouldn’t ride in a vehicle if the driver is intoxicated, because it is too risky. The same would apply to participating in a group outing that is beyond your physical capability and experience. If you have any doubts about the distance of the paddle, or the weather conditions, etc. it is your responsibility to make inquiries so you can assess whether or not you feel confident participating. You would have to make the same determination if you go on a paddle outing on your own.
Unless otherwise stated, kayak group outings are not intended for people to learn how to paddle. Usually the purpose is to have an enjoyable time, to meet other paddlers, and to have a safe experience. Many people, especially those new to kayaking, assume that paddling in a group is safer than paddling alone because they are under the belief that someone else will come to their aide if they encounter difficulty.
Never assume or count on anyone else coming to your aide, as they may be too busy trying to keep themselves upright. They may be too busy assisting someone else, or they may not be capable of rescuing you because they are a novice kayaker. Or the weather conditions may have deteriorated so badly that it would be impossible for even an experienced kayaker to assist anyone. This is why everyone needs to know how to safely operate their boat before embarking on any paddling excursion.
You also need to be aware that it may not necessarily be safer paddling in a group, especially if everyone in the group is a novice kayaker, which would increase the odds of encountering trouble with each additional participant. For example, an experienced kayaker would probably be safer paddling alone than kayaking with three or four novices, which could place him in more danger if the group encountered bad weather conditions, and he were the only one capable of rescuing anyone.
Granted, there are times when things happen beyond your control. In such cases, you can only hope that someone will come to your aid, but never assume someone will step up to the plate to assist you. All you can do is hope that all the participants in the group, (not just the coordinator or the most experienced kayaker), will give it their best effort if someone needs to be rescued. You also need to consider that there are some people you can’t count on to come through in a pinch, because they don’t want to “get involved.” It all boils down to being responsible for yourself, and for determining what your limitations are, regardless of whether you are paddling alone or in a group.
While you may know what your capabilities and limitations are, you may not know that about someone else, and unfortunately, even if you ask, many people often stretch the truth about their kayaking experience in order to participate in the outing. If you participate in an outing, whether that entails kayak fishing, sea kayaking or paddling on a lake, if you have doubts about your physical capabilities, it is not only placing you at risk, it is also placing all of the other participants in the group at risk. It is also not advisable to go on a group outing if you are not comfortable paddling the same route by yourself, which is usually an indicator, that you have some doubts about your capabilities. It would be foolish to attempt to fly an air plane without taking flying lessons first, or to fly in a plane with a pilot who has only flown a few times before. The same holds true for kayaking.