Adventure Training Consultants – Denmark, Western Australia and Beyond

Ratios – where do you draw the line?

Date: 31st January 2016

Establishing appropriate ratios for conducting outdoor adventure activities is extremely important, there are many organisations that prescribe or recommend differing levels of supervision, because of this anyone who has been involved within the outdoor industry has likely been put in a position at some point where they have been asked to (or expected to) stretch the acceptable ratios. Where do we draw the line?

There are numerous reasons that we have recommended group sizes and supervision levels, obviously safety but also session quality, environmental impact, impact on other site users and the general public.

Within these reasons there are more variables such as the activity being undertaken, the participants age and ability, the environment we are operating in, the instructors qualification / current competency and experience. As professional outdoor instructors it is our role to take into account all the recommendations and variables and exercise judgement that ensures that we operate in a safe sustainable manner and provide quality experiences.

A common theme amongst organisations is to use a process that incorporates an additional “responsible adult” and use this as a basis to stretch the accepted ratio, the reality of this however is that the “qualified instructor” is now supervising the original group of dependant participants plus the “responsible adult” and the additional dependent participants from the stretched ratio.

A slight modification on the above theme is the use of a “skilled assistant” to justify an increase in the number of dependent participants, this suffers from the same problems as the “responsible adult” approach, the “qualified instructor” is put into a position of supervising the original group plus the “skilled assistant” and additional dependent participants (whether a “skilled assistant” increases or decreases the margin of safety is heavily dependent on their individual experience, knowledge and competency).

A better way to look at the situation is to ask ourselves “are we making the group stronger or weaker?”.

We really only have a few different types of roles involved with any outdoor adventure group, these are,

  • Qualified instructors – they have been assessed by a reputable organisation as having the appropriate level of competency and experience to allow them to look after others within a given activity and environment.

  • Competent individuals – people who have a level of skill and ability to look after themselves within a given activity and environment and are not reliant on a qualified instructor for their safe participation.

  • Dependent participants – people who are reliant on the qualified instructor and would not be participating in a given activity or environment without direction from them.

Would adding a Competent individual make the group stronger overall?

Quite possibly, under the direction of the qualified instructor their individual skills and abilities could benefit the group.

Would adding a Competent individual plus additional dependent participants make the group stronger overall?

Probably not, the larger number of dependent participants puts more supervision pressure on the “Qualified instructor” the “Competent individual” is now being relied upon to supervise.

Being an adult does not automatically make a person a Competent individual in regards to operation or participation within outdoor adventure activities. If you are the Qualified instructor running the session all the people involved (adults, minors, Competent individuals, Dependent participants) are your responsibility, there for you need to be sure you are able to supply appropriate supervision to all (and can justify the numbers you supervise).

There will always be pressures to stretch ratios, you certainly do not want to be involved when the stretch finally snaps! The ratios developed by professional organisations both nationally and internationally have been done so in response to serious incidents, I would encourage all professional instructors to “draw their line” as recommended by those professional organisations.

Posted in: Adventure Training Blog