Good communication is important. This is as true on the river as it is in life, but on the river– especially when running whitewater–things get a bit noisier! Depending on the roar of the rapids and the howl of the wind it can be hard to hear even shouted conversation from relatively short distances away. Add to this the facts that most rapids require at least some spacing between paddlers, lead paddlers are facing the wrong direction for their words or warnings to reach those in the back and that often what needs to be said is rather important and communication becomes a major challenge.
To allow for effective communication despite these barriers, whistles and hand signals are routinely used. While paddlers doing a lot of travelling (or paddling with partners from other parts of the world) might encounter some slight variance in the meanings of whistle blasts and hand signals, the use of both are common around the world. When you’re paddling with someone new its always a good idea to check in with them and compare signals so that you know you’re on the same page when you need to be.
In some cases, such as within swiftwater rescue teams, what is able to be communicated between team members with just hand and fingers is truly remarkable. For us though we’ll start with the basics.