From The President’s Deck [51]

By Rob Mercer

Rock ‘n’ Roll 2002 was our biggest yet with 140 boats on the water and over 200 people in attendance. When I arrived on Friday night I was amazed to see an almost full camping ground – kayaks and tents everywhere. Batemans Bay again proved to be an ideal venue for this event and I feel the biggest challenge for Rock ‘n’ Roll 2003 will be in finding a comparable venue. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Committee made some refinements with regard to the management of the event and the content and format of sessions. The weather was kind, Ian organised, Kristen diligent, the volunteers generous and the participants enthusiastic. Thank you to everyone.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend has become a celebration of the core activities of the Club: trips, training and communicating. Trips and training were focused at paddler grade 0 to 3, but there were no such limitations on communicating. Bill Robinson from the Victorian Sea Kayak Club rated the AGM as a ‘grade 5’. The issues of insurance, liability, affiliation and training presented themselves as a set of major obstacles for navigation and, despite considerable ‘group spread’, we managed a ‘hard landing’ only to find ourselves short of our ‘destination’. Like so many adventurous groups we know where we want to go, we just have different ideas on how to get there. We still want trips, training, website, chatline and magazine but we also need to know that our standards of practice are defensible and our volunteers and office bearers are supported by clear policies and adequate insurance. The greatest threat to our Club is not some overzealous bureaucrat in the AC office but the erosion of volunteer confidence.

So far the Club has not succumbed to the media hysteria surrounding negligence claims. You need look no further than the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend to gauge the strength of our volunteer spirit. The secret of this vitality is a ‘career path’ which reinvigorates the membership – novices join the Club to develop skills and confidence in a supportive environment; some of these hone their skills seeking open water on grade 3 and 4 trips and a few of these decide to ‘put something back into the Club’ by becoming Trip Leaders and, with further training, Sea Instructors. As an open association of volunteers, paddlers come and go but, so far, a steady balance between skilled leaders, instructors and participants has been maintained.

For many years the Club’s executives have strove to make the Club a safe place for volunteers to share their knowledge and skills. To this end the following initiatives have been developed and continue to evolve in a changing world:

  • Waivers are designed to protect volunteers from personal liability in the case of litigation. The waiver is regularly reviewed with valuable input from some of the Club’s legal eagles.
  • Insurance underpins the waiver, protects the Club, is essential for the granting of Aquatic Licences and is technically a prerequisite for the Club to operate in National Parks. At the AGM the majority of members voted in favour of allowing the executive to pursue affiliation with AC as a means of securing a more reliable and responsive insurance deal. We have until April to make a decision on insurance. In the interim other options are being considered and several members have volunteered to help the executive review alternatives.
  • Training – The Club offers training to build skills among participants and to help volunteers to run safe and enjoyable activities. It is likely that whether we affiliate or not, insurers and others may come to demand the appropriate AC qualification from our Trip Leaders and Instructors. Many of our Trip Leaders have already indicated a willingness to convert their Trip Leader training to the AC Guide qualification and the majority of our active Instructors are either current or seeking re-ratification of their qualifications with AC.
  • Grading ensures a better match between an activity and its participants. It is our method for linking paddler skill levels to any given Club activity. In 1999 the Club tied participation on sea paddles to the national training scheme. Four years later a different executive is coming to terms with a new national scheme but the principal of using an external standard to reduce the burden of responsibility on our volunteers continues to make good sense.
  • Policy is the latest initiative created to help provide clear guidance and certainty about what is required of volunteers and participants. It is the ‘big picture’ document which links all the above strategies into a consistent framework. It will be revisited for fine tuning on a regular basis and is available online. The final draft comes into effect in February 2003. If you require a hard copy please contact me by phone, fax, or email.

If you review the Club history through back issues of our magazine you will see that there have actually been thirteen years of unofficial research and development behind this policy document and I have been President for only two. The previous eleven built a solid base for our current approach. There have been no radical shifts in direction and the apparent acceleration in policy development is purely a response to external pressures. In 1999 the then president, Norm Sanders, lamented the Club’s loss of innocence in an increasingly litigious society. When all of the current arrangements seem too complicated I reassure myself that no previous committee was able to recapture ‘lost innocence’ or return the Club to ‘simpler times’ and I appreciate more than ever the challenges they faced and the solutions they provided.


  1. Dirk Stuber – Vice President; training throughout the year and at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; delicate diplomacy; ‘the voice of experience’
  2. Alan Whiteman – a new look website; organisation of the Handicap Race at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; ‘courage under fire’
  3. Richard Birdsey – Policy Documents; Aquatic License and Instruction at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; ‘Presidential reality check’
  4. Andrew Eddy – Training; discussions with AC; co-ordination of training at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; our Club rolling champ; ‘the big picture’
  5. Ian Phillips – Magazine; Rock ‘n’ Roll Coordinator; ‘110% implementation’
  6. Vicki McAuley – Secretary/Treasurer; going into battle with our insurer; ‘grace under pressure’
  7. Paul Loker – Created the first annual events calendar with regular updates online; coordinated trips at the Rock ‘n’ Roll weekend; ‘quiet achiever’
  8. Sharon Betteridge – Contributed to all of the above; ‘executive’s greatest asset’

And finally, thank you to all who participated in the Club’s first grade 5 AGM. Passionately held views didn’t give way to personal attacks and although not all were satisfied with the outcome, there was unanimity about the need to protect the unique character of our Club. As one of our snowbound US members, Peter Sanders, wrote: “I am envious of your Rock ‘n’ Roll event. Your Club is as precious as your seasons.”