Combined water and rock activities
(Published January 2017, last reviewed with no updated September 2021)
Combined water and rock activities is a term which refers to any activity where a multi-discipline approach needs to be adopted to provide appropriate management and safety cover, this will often include rules for a variety of activities to be followed or permits to be held.
This generally includes activities referred to as; gorge walking, coasteering, canyoning. These activities will vary depending on location, time of year, weather conditions and experience of the group.
The diversity of these types of activity led to specific guidance notes being issued by the Adventurous Activities Industry Advisory Committee (AAIAC). These notes assist the Adventurous Activities Licensing Service (AALS) in their assessment of providers who come within scope of legislation, typically commercial providers, and are a useful guide to best practice.
Click to read the guidance notes. The document helps the activity organiser to identify the hazards and put suitable control measures in place.
This guidance is written for the purpose of running combined water and rock activities as a scout-led activity.
Many young people have little exposure to the challenges of combined water and rock activities. The diverse nature of the activities means that there will be unique considerations for leaders to take account of.
Within Scouting these activities are managed using the rules for the elements of the activity. So for example, if the activity involves swimming and climbing then both sets of rules must be followed at appropriate points within the activity. In the majority of cases this kind of activity will be led by one person with both sets of skills, however there may be occasions where the activity is delivered by a team of people who between them have the skills and qualifications for the elements of the activity. In these cases there must be one single designated leader who will oversee the whole activity, this follows the leader in charge principle which must be applied to all activities. The designated leader has responsibility for co-ordinating all adults and young people. Recent experience has shown that accidents can happen when there isn't a leader clearly designated as being in charge overall, or when that person makes an assumption that other people are looking after safety issues. Responses to accidents are also impaired in such circumstances.
The designated leader should have really good knowledge of the location that the activity is taking place. This includes knowledge of rescue points, tidal information and potential impact the weather could have on this location.
The supervision ratios for the individual activity elements must be followed. These can be found in the factsheets of each activity. It is recommended that the group size does not exceed 10 with a single leader (not including the leader) or 16 with two leaders. Groups exceeding 16 participants may be better managed as two or more separate groups. The ratios may vary depending on the participant’s ability, local conditions, participant’s expectations or leaders experience and other factors.
All activities require the approval of the relevant Commissioner as outlined in POR rule 9.1, the Commissioner will consider the planning and management of the activity prior to approval.
Combined water/rock activities are activities where hazards associated with a rock environment may at times combine or alternate with those of a water environment. There are a number of different names and definitions used to describe the range of combined water and rock activities including:
Sea-level traversing, (primarily a dry rock climbing activity and sometimes requiring the use of ropes and other rock-climbing equipment);
Coasteering (usually a wet activity often involving swimming and/or jumping from a height into water as an integral part);
Canyoning (usually wet. It traditionally involves the descent of a steep water course and sometimes involves technical rope work);
Adventure swimming (another name for coasteering or a non-technical variation of canyoning);
Gorge walks, Gorge Scrambling or Ghyll Scrambles, (can be wet, dry or alternating) – generally accepted as the ascent of a steep water course.
Specific factors to consider
There are different elements to these activities which may not arise from, for example, swimming or climbing, but which need to be well managed. The points below are factors which should be considered when providing combined water and rock activities. This list does not replace the need to do a risk assessment involving the whole leadership team for the activity.
- Who is the leader in charge? Is this clear to all leaders and participants?
- Who is taking technical lead and holds the permit, training or other qualifications needed for each part of the activity, including safety briefing(s) and transitions between parts of the activity? Where the activity involves two or more Permit holders, who is the overall Leader in Charge regarding the technical elements?
- Ensure that you have sufficiently good knowledge of the site or locality, including rescue points, weather and tidal information
- Ensure that you have assessed the potential impact of weather and tidal information on the activity, and have contingency plans for adapting or changing the activity if necessary
- Ensure that the correct safety equipment for the activity is used, which may be different to the equipment that might be used in each of the sub-activities, and ensure that you are aware of any impact that equipment may have. Equipment which might be included as part of these activities, which would come under PPE could include:
- Climbing equipment
- Buoyancy aids
- Throw lines
- Use suitable and justified personal protection equipment (PPE). Give particular consideration to suitable footwear to protect against slippage, and to thermal clothing to protect against cold
- Provide a safety briefing which includes a check on safety equipment and rescue points
- Water activities including non-swimmers must be carefully considered. POR 9.42 details the precautions that need to be taken if your activity includes non-swimmers.
- Ensure that you know, in advance, the water confidence and ability of those taking part, and adapt the activity to suit
- Plan to include a simple and closely supervised introductory test to assess a young person’s confidence and ability, e.g. leap in and swim to a point
- Closely manage and supervise the activity to ensure that there is the ability to respond to an emergency and make changes depending on circumstances
- Ensure that all leaders and participants know and understand the method and route of escape, including safe areas
- Know who will do what if an emergency situation arises at each point of the activity.
- Consider alternative venues and start/finish points so that the degree of difficulty and duration of the trip are at the right level for the group.
- Skill and experience of the group
- Technical difficulty of the proposed journey (this should be site specific and include previous recent knowledge of venue)
- Whether it is easy to retreat or escape
- Time of year and the temperature of the water
- River level
- Weather forecast
- Contingency plans
- Keep the group in sight and under supervision at all times
- Brief the group on what to do in case of emergency
- Ensure that everyone is appropriately equipped
- Constantly monitor environmental conditions and be prepared to abandon the plan in the light of significant deterioration
- Monitor group morale, energy levels and general wellbeing (paying particular attention to cold and bumps and bruises).
- Going down to water level to examine the exit from the water. It may be appropriate to practise the exit, to ensure that participants will be able to get out.
- Determine whether someone should be located there to assist with exiting, and whether they should have equipment (e.g. throw rope, pole or life belt/ring, etc.) to reach or throw to a swimmer in difficulty.
- Wade in and, if necessary, to check the bottom for obstructions, depth and current.
- The shock of sudden immersion in cold water.
- Careful consideration must be given to the height of the jump. It is recommended that if possible, participants start with lower jumps and are only allowed to progress to higher jumps if their technique is acceptable.
As there are so many different factors to consider each time an activity takes place, providers will need to determine what the site specific hazards are at any one time including the hazards associated with the route to and from the venue where the activity is taking place. However, when producing a general risk assessment for combined water/rock activities, providers may find it useful to assure themselves that the following issues have been considered:
- Rock falling from above;
- Falling or slipping on to rock, etc. below;
- Jumping/ falling onto submerged rock;
- Jumping from a height into water;
- Being swept or smashed against something solid.
- Entrapment under water;
- Repeated submersion in stopper waves or sea swell;
- Suddenly rising water, e.g. freak waves, flash floods, dam releases;
- Slowly rising water, e.g. trapped by rising tides or rising river levels;
- Falling into water and/or being swept away;
- Sudden immersion (dry/secondary drowning)
- Inadequate personal clothing or equipment during or after the activity;
- Submersion, e.g. being swept out to sea
An awareness of the possible dangers associated with water activities is essential for these activities. Proper training in the background to the dangers and self-help techniques of survival can help to eliminate or minimise the dangers.
The Group Safety at Water Margins leaflet lists a number of things to take into account which will help to plan and lead a safe and enjoyable visit to areas that are near or in water.
The activity leader is responsible for choosing an appropriate personal floatation device for the participants taking part in the session.
The below links provide information on where these activities are possible.
Some suitable locations are:
- For Gorge Walking and Coasteering in South Wales (SE Wales) you need to contact the South West Activity Providers Group
- For Coasteering in West Wales you need to contact the Pembrokeshire Outdoor Charter Group
- For Gorge Walking and Coasteering in North Wales you need to contact the North Wales Outdoor Charter Group
This is not an exhaustive list but before doing this activity the designated leader should have really good knowledge of the location that the activity is taking place. This includes knowledge of rescue points, tidal information and potential impact the weather could have on this location.
Rules relating to combined water rock activities
Rule 9.7 Adventurous Activity Permit Scheme
Rule 9.8 Adult Groups in Adventurous Activities
Rule 9.12.3 Climbing and abseiling
9.13.1 All water activities
Rule 9.13.2 Life jackets and buoyancy aids
Rule 9.13.3 Classification of waters
Rule 9.13.9 Swimming - General