Trip Tight

Are you a camp owner who wants to jumpstart your camp experience with adventure programming but hesitate because you worry that you’ll be sued if a camper gets hurt?

The camper demand for adventure programming is increasing each year. Rock climbing, kayaking, backpacking, scuba diving are activities that attract campers who want to experience the exhilaration of taking a risk and accomplishing a feat that they thought might be out of their reach.

An overnight kayaking trip can provide the satisfaction of being independent and free from their daily obligations that is addicting for adults and children.

As you envision your campers enjoying themselves in adventure activities and looking forward to coming back to your camp next year, you may decide to take the plunge and even start to research the cost of building a climbing wall or to build overnight backpacking trips to the camp offerings. But you may be wondering, “Is there a way to offer what campers want and not lose sleep over putting your camp business at risk?

Pitting yourself against gravity, navigating a river, living in the outdoors without a locked door to keep wildlife away from you and your sleeping bag, all are part of the excitement in adventure programming.

In other words, what is fun can also be dangerous. There are risks in any physical activity and a prudent camp owner should have a plan for risk management.

How these risks inherent in adventure programming are understood and minimized will affect your campers’ safety, your insurance costs, your vulnerability of being sued and being convicted of negligence, and the public perception of your camp.

Managing the Risks

1. Don’t rely on waivers. Campers and their parents cannot waive their right to sue if injuries occur because of negligence. If someone is injured because of an incident that could have been prevented, no waiver can protect the staff, the camp owner, and if equipment failure contributed to the injury, the manufacturer of the equipment.

You might wonder why some camp business owners still use waivers. There are campers and campers’ family members who may believe the language of the waiver and they may not think that they have the right to sue. Betting on people not knowing their legal rights is a huge gamble.

The only real value that a waiver can have is if the language in it describes the specific injuries that can occur and that cannot be totally prevented under the most prudent of conditions.

If it can be demonstrated that the person signing the waiver knowingly assumed the risks of the activity and had a choice of participating with this knowledge, the camp owner may find some protection from a waiver. However, the camp owner would find more protection from an informed consent.

2. Require an informed consent that is signed by the participant who is 18 or over. If the participant is under the age of 18, a parent/guardian should sign the informed consent.

To be effective, these informed consents must clearly describe the typical injuries that do occur and that cannot be completely prevented.

To be effective, the language in the informed consent to describe these inherent risks must be written in terms that can be understood by the person signing the form.

The informed consent should also indicate that by signing the form, the participants are acknowledging that they are choosing to participate in the activity.

3. Have a written plan. The best intentions for safety cannot be demonstrated to a jury when they are not in writing and the plans to maximize safety are more likely to be executed if they are in print for all camp staff to review.

What is the goal of the adventure program? This should be determined first and it should be in written form. Rather than deciding to offer an overnight kayaking trip, think about what results that you want from this activity and who will be the likely participants.

If you have a lot of novice kayakers, it might be better to have it be an afternoon activity when they can focus on learning the mechanics of kayaking and where a good night’s sleep and a nutritious meal is a given. Also, the afternoon ambient temperature is higher and so is the water’s.

What are the developmental levels of the campers? Can they be trusted to remember specific safety precautions, persevere through fatigue or less than ideal weather, and resist staying up to talk all night when they need to be completely recharged in the morning.

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