The Natural Resources Council of Maine partners with sporting camps and outdoor recreation businesses around the state to offer a discount on their services and lodging to NRCM members. NRCM creates opportunities for these traditional recreation businesses to share their expertise One of our partners is Mahoosuc Guide Service, based in Newry. Co-founder Kevin Slater has 40 years’ experience guiding outdoor enthusiasts to some of Maine’s most beloved recreation places. The best adventures are safe ones, and Kevin has conducted safety reviews for outdoor programs nationwide.
Thinking about doing a guided Allagash River canoe trip? Or a guided trip to some other place in Maine? I am a Registered Maine Guide and co-owner of Mahoosuc Guide Service. As part of your planning, there are some important questions you should ask your prospective guide to decide if this is the right one for you. One obvious question has to do with personal safety, but there are factors, too, that can influence whether you have a good, bad, or amazing getaway. Here are my…
9 Important Questions to Ask When Hiring a Guide
- Does the guide(s) maintain current CPR & First-Aid certification? Surprisingly, the State of Maine does not require guides to keep their certification current when they renew their license every five years. A professional guide will keep it current regardless of the state’s lax requirements. When you’re hundreds of miles from the nearest medical center, it’s a good idea to make sure your guide can take care of you if you become injured or sick.
- What is the guide’s EAP (Emergency Action Plan) if someone gets hurt or becomes ill? In remote areas without cell service, guides should carry a satellite phone or In Reach device. In addition, a list of emergency contact call numbers for the Warden Service dispatch for the area they’re guiding in should be with the first-aid kit. Ask them if they’ve got it. Better yet, ask them to show it to you in advance.
- How many years of experience do you have guiding this type of trip/activity? The more years of experience the guide has, the more likely they are to have the local knowledge about where to fish, where to look for edibles like fiddleheads and Indian cucumbers, and what the river will be like at various water levels.
- What is your policy on wearing personal flotation devices (PFD) while on the water? I’m saddened to say this, but I’ve witnessed a number of unsafe situations on guided trips that involve people not wearing a PFD. Recently on a spring St. John River trip I watched a guided group go through a set of rips with the guide in lead without a PFD. Half of his guests had a PFD on; half did not. The last canoe was scrambling to put on their PFDs as they entered the rips and lost a paddle. My guests were not impressed. If a guide does not require clients to wear a PFD on the water, it’s a statement about how serious they take the safety of their clients.
- What is the maximum and minimum group size? I would recommend a maximum group size of eight guests. A smaller group size allows for more individualized and personalized attention so the guides can help people with any other interests they have on the trip such as natural history, fishing, or birding.
- How many professional guides will be on the trip? My recommendation is a one to four or one to five ratio of guide to clients. There should be two guides for any group with more than four guests. Guides are not immortal; if there is only one guide and they get injured or becomes sick, it could turn into a self-guided trip. No one wants that.
- What happens if the guide doesn’t get the minimum number of signups? Will you receive a full refund? How far ahead will you be notified? Our stated minimum at Mahoosuc Guide Service is five, but in reality, we’ve done trips with as few as three because people are looking forward to their river trip. If a trip enrollment is low, we contact people two months out to give them a heads up and a definite date when we’ll decide. Basically, we try everything possible to not cancel and never cancel on short notice.
- What is the contingency plan in the event of either very low or very high water or other extreme weather conditions? Many people who want an adventure in Maine’s North Woods imagine rivers flowing with ample water to move their canoes pleasantly along. That’s not always the case. In very low water it takes much longer to do a given stretch of the river, a leisurely four- to five-hour paddle in good water conditions can easily become an eight- to nine-hour paddle/drag in low water conditions. Conversely, in very high water, some easy rapids can become dangerous, and safely approaching carries around falls becomes more difficult. A good guide will know this and have a plan.
- Is the trip owner guided, or does the outfit subcontract out to other guides? Generally speaking, owner-guided trips maintain higher levels of quality, consistency, and safety. This is their business, so they have a high stake in ensuring their clients have the best experience possible.
Some guide businesses provide a frequently-asked-questions page on their website that may answer many of the above questions. If they don’t, a phone call or email is in order. It is in your best interest to get answers to these questions before you hire your guide. In addition, there’s some basic information your prospective guide should provide.
Checklist of Info a Guide Should Provide
- What’s included/not included in price of the trip (i.e., lodging, meals, transportation, specific equipment, etc.)
- Detailed list of equipment/clothing supplies and a personal clothing/gear list that participants are expected to provide. This should include what it is essential that you bring and also what is recommended. This will help you prioritize if you don’t want to pack and haul a heavier pack than what you need.
- Clearly written and fair cancellation/refund policy
- A short medical form for you to fill out in advance and an assumption of risk form to sign. The guide should know if you have any allergies or pre-existing conditions that could affect your ability to participate in the trip. They should have liability insurance, and most insurers require participants to sign a risk form. In addition, always make sure you provide your emergency contact information, and be sure your friends or family know where you are going, when, and with which guide service.
Kevin Slater is a Master Maine Guide and co-founder of Mahoosuc Guide Service with 40 years of experience guiding in Maine, Alaska, Nunavik, and Nunavut. He served many years on the Oral Exam Board for Maine Dept. of IF&W, which tests new guide candidates. His diverse guiding background includes canoeing, fishing, mountaineering, hunting, & dogsledding. He has also done pro-bono safety reviews and risk assessment for nonprofit outdoor programs nationwide.