: There is generally an agreement about destination and route, but
: rarely about keeping the group together, so paddlers get strung
: out all over the route, WAY farther apart than would make rescue
: easy or even possible. This is not only a hazard to kayakers, it
: is also a lack of courtesy to larger craft in the area.
: What is your suggestion?
In a mixed group without a leader everybody has responsibility and nobody has responsibility. There are lots of reasons someone may go out ahead, as well as many reasons someone may fall behind. It is not uncommon for someone who is really nervous about the conditions to get out ahead and not look back and many times those in back are people who just want to paddle at a more leisurely pace. There are many good reasons the other guy may be paddling at a different pace. They may know there is a storm coming and you should do everything in your power to move as fast as you possibly can, if they slow down, that does not mean you can rest. If they are falling back, it may be with reason. They may also see a large boat coming and they want to keep well clear of the anticipated path.
Without a leader to maintain group discipline there can be no expectation that the group will stay disciplined. As a general rule I think the best you can do is be prepared to be paddling alone. If you are not comfortable paddling solo do not got out with a leaderless group.
That said, the group should make every effort to maintain communication. It can be hard to do this if you are at the back, therefore if you anticipate being at the back, you should communicate that before the group scatters. At that point you should let the group know if you are comfortable paddling solo and whether you want someone to stick with you. If nobody speaks up and says they are willing to join you, don't assume that someone will. Without a leader, there is no one who will assign someone for you. If you are not willing to discuss your concerns, do not go out in conditions you aren't comfortable paddling solo. If you need to turn back, you must first make every effort to signal your intent to the group, even if this means paddling has hard as you possibly can for 30 minutes to catch up with the group.
If you are paddling at the front of the group, it is your task to help maintain communication by looking back frequently, if someone is falling back out of sight you should wait and if you are going to do something different than had been previously agreed upon, you should wait. If it looks like the group is doing something different than anticipated, you should wait or paddle back to join the group. If you expect anyone to accompany you and you changed plan without communicating the plan you may well end up paddling solo. If you don't want to paddle solo, don't get out too far ahead. Further, if you are unfamiliar with where you are paddling, do not assume you know where you are going, even if someone told you. You may be wrong due to misinterpretation or change of plans happening in the group behind you. You must be prepared to evaluate how the people are doing. If someone is struggling, you may find yourself suddenly alone when they capsize or turn back.
When someone asks you how you are doing, you need to answer honestly. Failure to be honest is failing to communicate.
At all times every member of the group should know where every other member is and how they are doing. The moment you are uncertain where someone is, ask someone else in the group if they know where the missing paddler is. If neither of you know, find someone who does. If nobody knows, you now have a missing person, call the Coast Guard and start searching. If you make a habit of disappearing, everyone else will probably assume you are fine, so they won't bother calling the Coast Guard, even if you do need help.
If you are not sure if the group has a leader, the best way to find out is to ask yourself how much it is costing you to join the paddle. If there is no one in the group who has received a minimum of $20 (probably more like $80) per head for that day of paddling, there is no one with enough insurance to accept financial liability should your estate make a claim for your wrongful death. While there may be someone who appears to be a leader and may be better qualified than a paid leader, that person is there voluntarily and is not required to help you.
The Connyak BBS