Pathfinder outings can provide young people new opportunities to learn exciting things through hands-on experience and to grow closer to God in ways not possible in a classroom. Pathfinder outings also present some serious risks. As a Pathfinder leader, you have the responsibility to take the necessary precautions so your Pathfinders remember the trip for years to come, but not for the wrong reasons.Safety was one of my biggest concerns when I was a Pathfinder club director. The last thing I wanted was for a Pathfinder in my care to experience a serious injury—or worse. As we prepared for trips with our club, there were some safety precautions that applied to all trips, while some outings required additional safety measures.
Pathfinder trips generally fall into one of three categories, each with a different level of risk:
- General trips – This type of outing is like a regular school field trip, such as a service project or a trip to a museum.
- Club campout or camporee – Camping presents a new set of risks and safety concerns, including location, accommodations, and the nature of the activities your young people will be involved in.
- “Adventure” trips – These activities take your group to remote locations or involve more dangerous activities, such as hiking, backpacking, skiing, biking, rock climbing, or any outing that involves water.
Board Approval and InsuranceEvery outing that takes your Pathfinders off church property should be presented to the church board for approval. This allows the board to ask questions about the logistics of the trip, and it provides an additional layer of oversight. By voting to approve the trip, the board ensures that the trip is covered under the church’s insurance policy.
Some activities, however, may not be covered under the church’s liability policy. Adventist Risk Management, Inc. (ARM) offers several insurance policies that cover specific types of risk, from recreational sports, such as skiing, biking, or rock climbing, to short-term travel, which includes medical emergency, loss of personal property, and security threats. An activities accident policy also covers accidental death and dismemberment. Clubs should work with their local conference to determine which policies they need for each situation.
Pre-Trip VisitOne aspect of planning that is often overlooked is a pre-trip. You may not need to scout out the conference summer camp before a camporee, but other locations should be visited before you take your Pathfinders. This is especially true for any remote or adventure location. Knowing the trail you plan to hike can help prevent getting lost in the woods. It’s also important to know what services are available in the area, where the best parking is, and if there is cellular phone service.
TransportationOnly use drivers who are responsible adults over the age of 25 with adequate insurance coverage if they are driving a personal vehicle. Anyone driving a church-owned vehicle should be familiar with driving that type of vehicle and have the appropriate license to operate it. Drivers of church-owned vehicles should also be approved by the board. All vehicles should be well maintained and undergo a pre-trip inspection prior to leaving the church property.
Vehicles should not be overcrowded, and every person in the vehicle must be wearing their own seatbelt. Do not use 15-passenger vans or other prohibited vehicles to transport Pathfinders, as they are at higher risk for roll-over accidents.
Clubs may rent additional transportation or moving trucks to transport camping equipment. You will need to work with your conference to obtain a certificate of insurance to present to the rental agency. If hiring a bus to transport Pathfinders, ensure the driver has the proper licenses and that the company has the proper levels of insurance.
First Aid and MedicalAny time you leave your church campus, it is vital that you have a consent to treat form for every minor child. This may be combined with the permission slip or waiver that parents sign for their child to go on the trip.
You should also take with you a more in-depth medical history for each Pathfinder. This form will document any allergies or medical concerns and will provide important information to the medical staff if the Pathfinder needs medical treatment. For privacy concerns, this information should be in a sealed envelope until it is needed and then be returned to the club leaders after each trip.
Every group should have their own first aid kit, and first aid kits should be regularly inspected to make sure they are appropriately stocked for the type of outing. Location and types of activities dictate the first aid supplies needed for each trip.
A trip to the zoo, for example, may only need some adhesive bandages and cleaning wipes for minor cuts and scrapes. A more adventurous hike to a remote mountaintop may require elastic bandages for sprains, as well as gauze and tape for more serious injuries.
SupervisionEnsure you have adequate supervision for your outings. Always follow the two-adult rule, including while traveling in vehicles. There should be at least one adult supervisor for every six Pathfinders; however, activities that present more risk should have additional supervision. For remote activities, like hiking or backpacking trips, you may want to have a 1-to-4 supervision ratio. For water activities, you may want to consider a 1-to-2 ratio and have adults present who have been trained in water safety.
CommunicationCommunication is also an important part of effective supervision. In case of an emergency, it’s essential to be able to contact the other adults in your group. Provide all adults with a list of phone numbers for the other chaperones on the trip. For camping trips, you may want to provide a list of important resources in the area, including the nearest hospital, pharmacy, and grocery store.
For remote trips where cell service is limited, you may want to consider other types of communication. There are a number of options of “walkie-talkies” that offer short-range communication over the Family Radio Service (FRS) or Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS). Use of these frequencies is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) but does not require a special license.
Good communication also includes letting adults know what to expect—and what is expected of them—during the trip. Be sure to provide your staff and other adults with a schedule, including when and where to meet. Provide each driver with an address for your destination, as well as information about which route you plan to take. On hikes, make sure each adult has a trail map and compass.
Campsite SafetyCamping trips present different types of risks than other outings, so ARM developed the Camp Safety Honor to help Pathfinders learn the essentials of safe camping. This honor builds on the safety basics covered in Camping Skills I–IV to give Pathfinders and leaders a comprehensive understanding of campsite safety.
In addition to the honor, ARM developed a campsite inspection form that covers all the important aspects of safety, from kitchen safety and food storage to tent placement and campfire safety. You can use the inspection form as a planning guide to make sure you have all the necessary tools and equipment for a safe camping experience.
Safe Trips are Fun TripsWe can never eliminate all risk from our Pathfinder outings, but with the proper planning, we can be better prepared to respond to risks that do occur. Pathfinders may never go home thinking, Man, that was a safe trip, but they will remember a trip that had serious accidents, especially if those could have been avoided.
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