Kayaking with a group of friends, family, or coworkers is a great way to bring people together and create lasting memories. We get the privilege of taking lots of groups out kayaking and have learned what questions to ask to ensure there's nothing but smiles and requests to do it again.
It all starts with taking time to understand the makeup of your group and discovering what the group's interests are, what they enjoy/dislike, and what they want to get out of a given activity. It's important to remember the group's needs and desires may be different from your own and that you may need to structure the experience differently than if you were to do it alone. This has been a hard lesson for me in the past as I automatically assumed people liked what I did and the way I went about it. I was convinced I could change their perspective on things if they only did it with me. Needless to say, that backfired on me several times and eventually I learned it wasn't about me. It was about them. To help you avoid my mistakes and the mistakes of others, here's some areas to explore when planning your group adventure to ensure success:
The first thing to decide is how big is your group going to be. Locations, activity formats (more on this later), and outfitter companies are better suited for certain sized groups. For example, a location may not have the parking available to accommodate your group or keeping a large group together on a river may prove more challenging than on a lake. Once you know how many people you can expect, you'll want to keep that top-of-mind as you work through the other considerations.
A kayak adventure with a group of adults is very different than one with a group of kids. Adults often are more interested in paddling further distances and exploring nature while kids typically just want to play and tip each other over. However, it's important to not assume what your group wants. It's better to ask. I've had adults that just want to play and boy scout groups that are focused on learning the various strokes and techniques of kayaking.
If you have young children in your group, I'd recommend to make sure the outfitter has appropriately sized life jackets and tandem kayaks as the very young typically don't have the strength or coordination to paddle a kayak solo. Older youth are best suited in a youth or small sized kayak paired with a youth sized paddle which are easier to control which builds confidence. Many outfitters will not have these smaller sized items and thus kids are placed in adult sized kayaks which are often harder for them to maneuver. As long as it's not too windy or you're not going a long distance, these should be fine. Another consideration is to bring a tow rope along so if a young person gets tired or the wind or current is too strong, an adult can help them along the way. It's an easy way to keep kids happy which keeps everyone else around them more happy. Make sure you're familiar with safely using a tow rope and that it has has a quick release mechanism in case the rope gets caught on something and you need to unhook quickly.
Understanding your groups experience and comfort level with kayaking will help you narrow in on where to start looking for having your adventure. If your group will have inexperienced paddlers or those not comfortable on the water, picking a fast moving river with rapids and lots of overhanging trees may not be your best option. A slow moving river or lake may be better suited. On the other hand, if your group is comprised of seasoned kayakers, a more difficult or adventurous location may be perfect.
In addition to location, the type of kayaks you look to use on your adventure may be affected by your group's comfort level. New or cautious kayakers tend to prefer a wider, more stable recreational kayak. Those with more experience may look toward a touring or sea kayak for their greater control and speed. Finally you may have others that are terrified about sitting in a kayak and then a sit-on-top kayak may help them with their anxiety.
Once you get a sense of your group, any reputable outfitter or guide should be able to talk with you about what experiences and kayaks they offer and whether what they have is a good fit for your group.
When planning your outing it's important to figure out how long you want spend doing your adventure. This will vary based on the activity, conditions, and the makeup of your group. Kids tend to have shorter attention spans and exploring in really hot or really cold temps can cause even the most adventurous to long for a shorter experience.
Most of our group kayaking activities at DIRO Outdoors are scheduled for two hours as we've found it is long enough to truly experience the adventure but not so long that the fun starts to fade. We also plan adventures that have ways to shorten the experience if need be and continually check-in and monitor groups to make sure we are catering the experience as things evolve.
Event duration will also be dependent on the location of your adventure. Lakes are great for creating an outing for any amount of time. Rivers only have so many places to put in and take out and thus your available durations are more limited. As a result, bust out a river or lake map out and estimate your route beforehand.
There's many ways to approach kayaking and each offers their own unique experience. Here's a few:
Understanding what your group members are willing and able to spend on an adventure is another key factor in determining the kind of experience to share. Private outings are the most expensive yet typically the most preferred way to bring a group out. They are a great way to have the focus be on just your group, can be catered specifically to your group's needs, and are a great way to get a group to bond with each other. Public outings tend to be less expensive and allow you to interact with people outside your group but your control over the event parameters is less. For example, your group may want to have a nice afternoon with no kids which may not be possible in a public group outing. The cheapest option is to rent gear and have a self-guided adventure. This requires at least one person in the group to have a good understanding of how to do the activity, where to go, and what to do in case of an emergency. It's good to discuss this openly with your group so you don't design something that people won't sign up for.
Finding a date that works for everyone in your group is often the most difficult part of planning your event. When picking a date there's a few things you should keep in mind:
Contact your local park ranger as they are a wealth of knowledge and will tell you when's the best time to go.
Planning a group shared experience can be a lot of work but the smiles and memories you'll create are well worth it. It all starts with knowing your group, what they like/don't like, and what experience you're trying to provide. With those insights you can then narrow down and make decisions to create the perfect adventure for your group.