When the voyageurs paddled the rivers and lakes of Canada in the 1700's and 1800's they had a member that they called 'Bourgeois.' The Bourgeois was responsible for decisions during the trip. It was he that decided when and where the group would stop for the night, what time they would rise in the morning and how long they should paddle for the day.

Unless you're a group that has paddled together for a while, you'll probably come to the conclusion that every trip needs a Bourgeois. A group of friends that easily comes to a joint decision while sitting around the kitchen table will often find the decision-making process more difficult while they are out on a trip. Paddlers can sometimes let their best judgment be influenced by fatigue, bravado or trip conditions. For example...

  • What happens if some members of your group want to stop and set up camp a little early because they are tired, wet or cold? What happens if they want to sleep in late one morning? Will this affect the trip schedule?
  • What if some of our paddlers want to run a stretch of whitewater and others feel more comfortable portaging? Will there be pressure on everyone to do the run?
  • How about if the fishing fanatics in the group want to stop for a few hours to try out those new lures that they brought along on the trip? How will that affect trip schedule, and the other paddlers that couldn't care less about fishing?
  • What would happen if we woke up in the morning to find the lake covered with whitecaps and a stiff wind blowing? Will some members of the group want to sit out the bad weather and others want to go for it anyway?

Consensus is not always easy to reach when we are problem-solving under such conditions. For that reason, it is important to have once person designated as the trip leader ... your Bourgeois. Right or wrong, he or she will make the final decision about any matter that affects the group during the trip. This does not mean that we will have a dictator running our trip - making decisions always involves discussion and attempting to reach consensus.


The time to appoint a trip leader is during the planning stages of the trip. This person should obviously have some degree of experience in trip planning. More importantly, we should pick someone who has the proper personality. We need someone who is calm and rational and able to make sound decisions while under stress and pressure; and to put these decisions into force in a diplomatic manner. All participants should agree about the choice of the trip leader and agree that his or her decisions are final once the trip is underway.