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I am a whitewater kayaker and I often show people down rivers I'm familiar with on their first time down. I take special joy in doing so and consider it community service. The only compensation is maybe a few cold ones at the end of the day, of course optional.

However, is there any legal liability to me as a non-profit guide in case of injury or worse? How about if the person is a minor? Should I always refuse a minor without an explicit parental permission? Doesn't happen very often but every once in a while a high school looking kid in the parking lot is asking for someone to paddle with.

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    could be better suited for law.stackexchange.com – njzk2 Apr 27 '16 at 17:49
  • ok, i don't mind having it moved – amphibient Apr 27 '16 at 18:12
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    It might be also useful if you would specify exactly your role: from the title it seemed it was a proper company offering a "guide service" at no cost, but at the end of the question its not clear if your role is more like just a local kayaker doing somebody a favor... I believe the two things would be treated differently as, in some places, outfitters/guides need to even have liability insurance. Independently from the age, being an extra set of eyes paddling with someone might be considered different from actual guiding. – Erik vanDoren Apr 27 '16 at 19:21
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    And you're not passing yourself off as a guide, right? Just giving advice to random people? Seems like that's the persons responsibility to evaluate your advice (similar to how you're evaluating our advice, and we're certainly not liable) – Chris Mendez Apr 28 '16 at 1:52
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    As a Kayaker in the UK if you get a waterways licence you have personal liability insurances (up to I think £10million, might have been 5) to cover damage to the waterway (total cost:£30 a year) - but if you're just saying 'yeah that's a good route' to people then it's up to their own judgement. – Aravona Apr 28 '16 at 8:57
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There is a big difference between a 'non-profit' organisation and just doing something on a casual basis without asking for payment.

Obviously if you are advertising your services in any way then there is a good chance that you would be considered to be a business regardless of whether you ask for payment. Note that in most jurisdictions charitable and non-profit organisations need similar public liability insurance to businesses, although they may be able to get it cheaper.

They key legal difference is that if you are acting in what might be construed as a professional capacity then you will have a clear duty of care to anybody that you are instructing and as such would have a clear cut liability for anything going wrong.

In your case where you are very clearly just offering advice and company to a casual acquaintance there is still no guarantee that you won't face any legal liability but it will be much less well defined and the chances are that consumer protection law won't apply and it will just be a case of having to prove personal negligence.

In the case of minors there are a whole other set of issues to do with child protection which go beyond the specific safety aspects of the activity and here is it probably best not to undertake any kind of instruction of a minor unless it is a properly organised activity and you have consulted their parents or guardian.

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I think this question is hard if not impossible to answer on this SE format; after all we're outdoors men and women and not lawyers. I'd still like to offer some points, (though IANAL and don't even live in the US) as there are certainly several aspects to consider here:

Legality

I'm pretty sure what you're doing is perfectly legal, unless kayaking on the river was illegal in the first place (which I don't assume).

Liability

I hope it will never come to that, but: from the limited knowledge I have on the US law system I think it is sadly not impossible that somebody would try to sue you were anything to happen to them while accompanied by you. There is always a chance that someone will try to use such a situation to their (financial) advantage.

Making your community service 100% "liability-waterproof" might be infeasible (e.g. involve the people you're accompanying signing lots of forms etc.). But, if your really wan't to be as sure as possible, you'd need proper legal counsel.

Ethics

Quite apart from this I think what you're doing is generous and a very nice service to your outdoor community. If someone were to make you liable for such a service I'd personally consider them to be in the wrong. Keep up the good work. :)

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