Dale Carnegie & The Kayaker

Good morning, Worm your honor.
The crown will plainly show
The prisoner who now stands before you
Was caught red-handed showing feelings
Showing feelings of an almost human nature;
This will not do.

In paddling, “Liability” is always a good discussion. There are steps we can take to lessen the risk but unless we’re ready to chuck it all in we may as well learn to live with it. But as paddlers we are already familiar with “Risk Management”. . . right?

It shouldn’t have to be said but first and foremost, “Do the right thing.” If you just be good, thoughtful and prudent you’ve lain down a good defense and should sleep well. However, we all know the act of breathing these days opens you up to litigation. That’s life.

In sea kayaking we talk about liability all the time, although I can’t say I’ve ever seen any numbers that suggest the risk of lawsuits is all that high. Still it’s good to be prudent. So we train, we double check the information we have, we get insurance, join organizations, or work at shops that provide it. We fill out forms about forms and sign that our signatures are our signatures. The first thing we do in a paddling class is teach our students where to sign the waivers. Still, waivers are like making condoms out of cellophane. It only takes one prick to make them worthless. (sorry it was just there)

Liability is a risk we can’t really avoid. It can’t be signed off, not really. Did you ever wonder why lawyers in the community are not lining up to give us definitive answers!? It’s easy to understand why they won’t hop willingly into that writhing snake pit. Simply, there are no definitive answers. Just press your local ACA IT about their liability forms. Ask them if they will actually, really, truly, always protect you. The honest answer is of course, “No.” Will the your umbrella organization take up your defense in all cases? Go ahead and ask, it will make for even more convoluted discussions.

Sadly there are no black and white answers for the guys in the white hats. I mean if you are a total prat you can get sued and held liable for your stupidity, most of won’t have a problem with that. Our fear is that those of us who cross our T’s and dot our I’s can get sued. That’s the thing a lawsuit does not require that the person sued did anything wrong. It’s akin to a Salem Witch-hunt in that anyone can be accused, and the accusation is in of itself a punishment. Anyone with the budget or will can sue you. Most of us would be destitute mounting a defense before we ever actually got our day in court.

That’s where the stark truth of liability is in my opinion. First you face the fact that when you breath near another human you face liability. Your real choice is simply do you keep on keeping on or do you become a recluse. I’ve been party to so many soul searches about this issue over the years I’ve become quite jaded. There are great coaches that won’t teach. There are certified coaches who won’t paddle with non-certified paddlers. What’s more there are those who say just the act of paddling is irresponsible. People can get their stomachs all tied up in knots over fears of a lawsuit or fears in general. The unknown is scary. Losing it all is scary. Yes it is. Still, fear as paddlers know is a respected yet paranoid friend that must be taken seriously but can’t be allowed to take over.

So let me tell you a story. Throughout my life I’ve dealt with fear and anxiety issues. Real ones. You know, the “see the doctor and take some pills” sort of fear and anxiety. It was much worse when I was younger. I could lie in bed and hear my heart beat. I’d hyper focus on it to the point where I’d hyperventilate and start shaking. Soon enough I’d be in the middle of an anxiety attack. Even now issues of life, relationships, finances and such can at times push a button and I’ll have to fight to maintain focus or control of those inner terrors. Luckily these days the results of losing the battle are just the loss of sleep. All in all it got much better. The first thing that helped me was, as foolish as it sounds, a quote from Dale Carnegie’s famous book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living”. I didn’t have to read the whole book.  (I did though) One thought was an epiphany. He said, “Imagine the worst thing that can happen, accept it as real and deal with it.” or something to that effect. Then he said, almost nothing that ever happens is nearly as bad as we can imagine it to be. I think there is truth in that. Accepting that meant I could as the book says, “Start Living.”

We could get sued for anything, by anybody. Yes. What’s the worst thing you will deal with? Loss of your job? Loss of your nest egg? Bankruptcy? Loss of reputation in certain circles? It’s possible. If it’s your fault you have to take it and live with it. If you did nothing wrong you have to take strength in knowing that and assume those people really close to you will know better as well. They won’t blame you or ostracize you, they’ll just think you really got screwed. You won’t lose your family or your real friends, you’ll lose your material wealth. Hard times, for sure. Yet in order to avoid that “worst possible outcome” what do you give up? Is it worth it? Would’nt it be your luck that you stop teaching but then you get into a car accident and sued for that instead? Oops! Should doctors stop being doctors? Should we stop driving? Do coaches stop coaching? Does Marilyn Manson stop making cds? Do EMT’s cover their eyes when they see an accident and drive on? Where does it end? Fear of liability can grab us by the ____ and create a whole new set of problems. Risk as any paddler knows can be managed, but never eliminated.

In some ways it seems to me the discussion of liability is like a dog chasing its tail. It’s an endless loop, simply because there are not absolutes. In the end you have a choice, do what you love or quit. But don’t kid yourself that just because you quit paddling, teaching, or writing, or publishing, or building boats, or selling gear or whatever you are avoiding liability. . .  Now the risk just comes at you from another direction.

Oh by the way, did you remember to shovel your sidewalk this morning? Just asking. . .

*Please note that this article is purely the speculation of a raving lunatic with no legal or social background. It’s all bullocks anything you take away from it you do at your own peril.

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18 Responses

  1. Susan

    One thing that will probably save most kayakers (at least the ones I know who do it for a living) is the simple fact that you are more likely to get sued if the plaintiff feels he/she stands to earn a pile of cash from it. Since most career kayakers are poor as the proverbial church mouse – no worries, mate! That alone will save you from the more frivolous lawsuits that are hanging about out there…

  2. MarcP

    Brilliant ‘bollocks’, paddle-man!! Needed saying by the ___t-loads. (boat-loads? haha)

    We Canadians seem to exaggerate out liability fears, perhaps influenced by our fine neighbour to the South. It means we’re being a tad more cautious than without that influence, at least that’s my observation.

    I’d rather not have some paranoid-delusional who’s afraid of leaving their home manipulating or lobbying their lawmaker into preventing us our fun (and Awe) on the water. The freedom to paddle is like the freedom to breath to me most of the time.

    Influences, like spokes on a wheel, must pull in many directions. We will pull in ours. Anyways, walking on Vancouver sidewalks has been WAY more hazardous to me than ten years whitewater and 35 years flat-water, coastal paddling and sailing, including oodles of solo play. Many more close calls on sidewalks.

    The study of Human Factors from aviation, ship and nuclear safety topics can be applied to us kayak paddlers. We share similar risk issues as our rock climbing friends do in the sense that an ocean is perfectly capable of taking a nitwit’s life, even a smart paddler’s. Many things can affect a paddler’s safety, more can go wrong than that of our climbing buddies, in my opinion, but then I’m more a paddler than climber!

    James Reason authored an interesting work on Risk Management in Organizations – and explores the role that group culture plays on overall safety. We instructors and experimenters are a part of the paddling culture, an important part relative to safety. Reason claims safety does not emerge from the bosses, masters, legislators, but from the mechanic on the shop floor, the guys and gals in the trenches. That’s us instructors and coaches. Mentors. If there is to be kayaking safety, it must be built on the risks and efforts of the instructors, the paddling safety writers.

    Derek, you’ve already wondered in a post a few weeks back if stores are doing enough to warn beginners on the dangers of paddling. I responded in the negative. I think they might be… at least paddling stores are. (Changing my mind: You can’t justify spending 5 hours selling a three hundred dollar kayak with an 80 dollar markup, and still pay shipping, rent, staff and bills.) Yet beginners might/could/should be pointed in directions towards further learning. Web resources. Books. Videos. Many (most, even) will take no steps forward on their own until something scary happens – like capsizing in cold water. Then they become VERY ready AND willing to pay to learn. In Canada, we have a different culture regarding paying for things. We resist it.

    There’s a big difference between the attitudes of the recreational paddler versus what could loosely be termed sea kayakers… those buying expensive composite boats. Someone who’s invested three grand on a boat and another two or more on gear will more likely be willing to pay 200 bucks for a course. Someone who’s bought a four hundred dollar boat with paddle no skirt needed thank you very much will think: “Are you f’n kidding me?!? You want HOW much for a course?” Who’s most at risk, sea paddler or Rec? I dislike rescuing those huge-cockpit monstrosities with their inadequate-deck-lines recreational kayaks. Big injury risk to me. Risk to the paddler, too, if experienced paddlers can’t effectively render assistance.

    In Canada, Transport Canada issues a Sea Kayaker’s Safety Handbook. It’s a very good basic look and was very accepted and sought after a number of years ago. It is slowly becoming out-dated. It needs a wee bit of TLC to bring it up to date.. 2nd edition. The new phenomenon of recreational paddlers isn’t well covered. None of the paddling handbooks and safety guides are referenced (that I can recall). The latest knowledge on cold water risks and solutions is behind the times. It’s also hard to get. Some stores don’t want it because, once they run out, getting more is slow. If customers don’t expect it, there will be no disappointments when they cannot deliver a boat WITH the Safety Handbook. The realities of retail are different than those of the paddling instructor, something that’s becoming ever-clearer with time. The instructor wishes to inform. The retailer needs to compete and survive!

    I’d see a place for some universally accredited manual for the beginner. Pauses for effect… I can hear some of you laughing at me – as you should!! I know there would be no way to decide on any one book, nor two, nor three, yet a selection of several might work, yet here’s the rotter of a question: Who would do the choosing? Paddling Orgs? ACA? Paddling Canada? Government agencies? Associations? Coast Guard? State by State or Province, or only at the Federal level? Individual paddling shops can have their own favorites according to their local conditions – but that too can be a limiting culture.

    Paddling Canada’s curriculum for instructors suggests books for paddlers according to competence level. It is a terrific idea and starting point.

    As instructors we play a leadership role in the community of paddling. Tom’s decision sounds to me like a call for us to re-explore this area of risk and liability. Damn! Alderson’s and Pardy’s book (Handbook of Safety and Rescue) did a professional job exploring risk for sea paddlers. Another good foundation to build upon, perhaps?

    Our societies are also are learning (slooow) lessons on liability. Are we merely bouncing along with them?

    We instructors often work from or in association with retailer-outfitters, and need be ever-vigilant in finding ways of dealing with and minimizing risk without shooting ourselves in the foot by upsetting or damaging the success of that retailer, a worthy industry, of reducing sales, of driving (too many) customers away. That would hurt our presence in the stores, in the magazines, etc. I’ve witnessed staff delivering Great Blows at the extreme ignorance of certain potential buyers… (like one wishing to paddle 40 miles upwind up the middle of a large East-West-lined-up-with-tradewinds cold-water lake… in a 12 foot rec boat – while being VERY out of shape, in one afternoon.) Some folks shouldn’t be given total freedom to make fatal-sounding errors. That fellow had the good fortune to come into a paddler’s store who cared, and not a Big Everything store. (There’s another issue, and how do you deal with nil-knowledge non-present staff in such stores? More legislation?? Yikes!) He did buy a kayak and tipped close enough to shore to not endanger himself. I don’t know the story’s ending.

    Being a rough water solo paddler, I find my personal safety standards are too demanding for most (I’m way way behind many), yet slowly I’m finding paddlers who wish to be able to gracefully ‘handle’ a surprise from Mother Nature, to discover more pleasure in being better paddlers. That really makes me smile. Will they increase their risk by paddling more often?

    I don’t know Tom, don’t know if he’s just a cameraman-producer or a paddler himself. I respect his choice. Some might wish to accuse him of being a patsy. That’s a waste of effort. We all must be free to make choices that respect who we are, our current needs, or own personal risk level, be that financial or otherwise. I’m just happy that Dubside’s been around on video to have moved us ahead some, inspired excellence, etc. There can be other producers.

    As far as continuing as instructors, coaches, whatever you wish to call it, for me, Dr. Bones’, “…I choose the danger.” comes to mind. Like you said, Derek, it is indeed a choice. A personal one.

    I’ll throw a question out. I hear falling-apart type language referring to BCU UK. I’ve not read much yet on this. Is the BCU system getting too bureaucratic, too heavy? Any relation to liability and risk?

    Hope your new tail-chasing puppy is happy and a great source of wonder to you all!

    /soapbox. Dale Carnegie said to be concise. Oh well.

    Another raving narrow-boat-paddlin’ lunatic at the full moon.

  3. THAT’S what I’m talking about. I will need to know if that all just flew off your fingertips or did you labor as I do at times to be clear useful and interesting. I’m a newbi on Derricks blog but have been learning and teaching Rolling with Dubside the Last Three Years. No “expert”, who ever they are. But no less a awestruck kayaker than you I reckon.

    I did,’t quite make the waves at Skooks this summer with Warren and I didn’t pee in my drysuit and I didn’t give up until I was too tired to enjoy the extra rolling…eh? I want to get back and ride that one…I’ll live a full life if I don’t.

    I have come up with a couple very creative Disclaimer ideas that I will talk to my Attorney and Software Engineer Buddies. If it is as it appears to me…I may be able to Re Open the Store at Dubside.net in 60 – 90 days. I will post these applications for other producers to implement, and I think help us to get people to think and ‘take’ their responsibility in fact.

    Dubside and I continue to collaborate and I am Hoping to host Maligiaq for a few weeks next summer …maybe building classes and filming of same and the other Greenland skills. There is a exciting project developing rapidly that I hope to have some mini-trailers throughout the actual Production..another view from my chair kinda…possibly take some audience ‘Directions” for final editing ideas.. I’m happy to postpone the end of my Production career. I just hate doing these screen play planning sessions from my cockpit…it’s just a j-o-b , but someone has to do it eh?

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the erradic, wrong headed customer / retailer relationship. Some are exceptional , some don’t try. Besides the fact that better fact finding and fulfillment = more sales more lives saved…even more long term skilled kayakers. I’m kinda a industry newbi so if I say the wrong “thing”, please don’t spare my feelings..give me a hard a kick my a88…in private eh?

    Demming said ” seldom do the real ideas that lead an organization to the Change originate from within” Too much cool aid maybe

    Marc…Let’s Talk..I ‘m just a bit south of you Cheers Tom

  4. Ok I started out saying I was a newbi here at Derrick’s and I proved it…My previous comment jumped out in reply to Marc’s reply…Now having read Derrrick’s too..I think I’ll read for a few days and just see what other gems you throw in here

    Derrick If Lao Tsu was correct (600 BC) …” collect a treasure of Jade and Gold..and No one can protect it.” what are we trying to do…prove him wrong???

    Tom Sharp

  5. derrick

    Good Morning. You guys are obviously up reading long after I head to bed. 

    Susan – I was thinking that too. I had said something about it, then I realized how long winded I was getting and just slashed the paragraph about paddlers being too bloody poor to make it worth the effort!

    Marc –Wow. Nice stuff. “Universally Credited Manual for the Beginner” LOL! I totally agree. Democracy is great until you want to actually get something done! I could write a novel responding to your comments but in the end it’s easier to just say, “Yeah, I agree.”

    Tom – Welcome to the nut-house! LOL! I am always amazed by folks like Mark who seem to always jump In with such great information or ideas. Most of the time you could just read the comments and they’re of more value that my ramblings.

    The quote that suites me is probably more along the lines of Bob Dylan, “When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.”

  6. Dominique Sellier

    … which leads directly to the well-known joke: What is the first thing lawyers from opposite parties do when they meet for the first time?

    Assess the loot and divide it.

    Then they start working at collecting it.

    The upshot is that they will stop working as soon as the loot is spent, which offers a certain measure of protection to most of us, given law firms hourly rates.

  7. Hi Derrick ..so now that I’m visiting for a while I would like to say here and now , that my fingers and eyes do not reliably communicate and often my brain doesn’t notice….ergo my words even worried over and seemingly well spelled and organized…R in the end all messed up…sorry it’s tricky not know sometimes especially , English seems like a second language…maybe I need some other language that would look and be correct…any helpful ideas???

    Great thinking and writing here…I really like the feel of this AM Coffee and dounuts with ya Cheers Tom

    What are Saturday nights like at your place?? What time zone do I need my clock set to…GMT?

  8. derrick

    LOL! Morning Tom. . . ah I’m -6 GMT and as everyone knows my blog is a proof-readers nightmare. . . or joy depending how you look at it. I have the nasty habit of thinking faster than I write, then when I proof read my brain corrects the mistakes without letting my conscious self know about it. So much for proof reading! Wouldn’t you know my crazy daughter is going to school to be an Editor!!

  9. As a physician, I spent decades worried about liability (never happened). Fact is, not all kayak instructors are without means, and lawyers love deep pockets. There is an old joke in medicine about what to do if you give a patient a clean bill of health and he then dies as he steps out of your office. The solution, so I am told, is to tear up the record of his visit and turn his body around so it looks as if he was arriving. Seriously, one doesn’t have to kill or even injure a party to become the victim of a law suit. Just piss someone off, someone with a lawyer on retention. Glumly yours, RES

  10. derrick

    Silbs you sort of made my whole point. Death, taxes & Lawsuits. . . You either commit suicide or get over it. . :)

  11. derrick

    Now what I should have said in my best Vegas voice was. . Drum roll. . . . “If I were you I would have spent decades worried about liability as well!” (insert cymbal clang!!)

  12. MarcP

    Derek and Tom,

    Thanks for the kind words. I never feel my words over-power yours, Derek, and if they do, I apologize. I only wish to harmonize, add a few solidifying thoughts, etc, like notes in a song that go well together. Your blog is to me among the treasures of the on-line paddling world. You can be humble about it, no problem. Sometimes it is silly, preposterous, fun, deadly serious, musical and poetic. Actually, it’s the variety I like most. The quotes and pictures and of course the paddling news and observations. I’m always surprised by what you offer.

    I also hope to contribute to some sense of freedom in the world of paddling. It seems our societies have flourished through our freedoms. The life lessons and joys I’ve received from paddling are immeasurable, and I’m sure I’m not alone amongst paddlers

    Like yours, Derek, I’ve only a few words, a few thoughts to share. Often it feels like it isn’t hardly enough.

    Is there a difference, legally speaking, between 1) Instructing someone who’s already wanting to be a paddler, who’ve responded to an ad, or word-of-mouth reputation, to take some (controlled) risks, to learn a new skill, to make themselves safer and more qualified paddlers, versus 2) Initiating a paddling-virgin after having sought them out aggressively as clients right on a shore-front?

    How does learning to paddle compare legally to learning to drive, taking Driver’s Ed, etc. Any relevance?

    Death taxes and lawsuits – Meet Joe Black comes to mind. Grins.

    There’s much to be said for: I agree.

    Thanks, all, for these ramblings.

  13. Hey there Marc lets “do lunch” in our cockpits when you get free…To me it sounds like ‘Jam ” session. Many unique instruments in harmony …mostly…more than some places for sure.

    If you stand next to some they can blame you for a asteriod hitting them…..you were in their favorite spot at the bus stop.

    And so it goes..if you have little to loose, they will blame someone else. If you have more then you feel smart risking…then insurance helps, incorporating the biz helps, a attorney inlaw “may” help, not fearing eachother like ball park bathroom door handles, may be a better mindset to live with, avoiding all contact may get kinda lonely and boring, but it will definately help with liability

    Morally and professionally I want be a life giver and saver when I can…so back to me

    What do guys think of these domain names

    Any feedback will be very helpful….i am “incorporating”and expanding the scope of my kayak biz

    Cheers Tom

    PS teach what you love to people you inclined to like…peace

  14. frank herbert from dune said it best,

    fear is the mind killer
    fear is the little death
    I will let my fear pass over me and through me until I master it.

    Can’t get through life worrying about what might happen, pretty soon you will not get out of bed.

    If you don’t wanna break your leg don’t ski.


  15. MarcP

    Nice, Kieth. Herbert was beyond brilliant. A personal favorite. Thanks.

    …I will let the (my fear of the big mean green-water) wave pass over me and through me and afterward there will be only me…

    Found coincidentally on wikiquote today :
    Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. ~ Philip K. Dick