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How to become a British Canoeing (BC) sea kayaking coach

January 18th, 2013

I often get asked how can I become a kayak coach. Usually, it is from people looking to make a career change or kayakers who want to turn their passion for kayaking into a job. This is an updated page outlining some big changes in coaching and guiding (updated April 2018).

At Jersey Kayak Adventures I can arrange intensive sea kayak courses covering the essential prerequisites on an individual level. Normally these are easier to arrange in the quieter months. Drop me an email or phone to discuss options.

We can arrange Coach awards, Leadership training and assessments plus Guide endorsement modules.

This is not the definitive guide to becoming a BC kayak coach, instead, I will try to answer common questions and will give tips to help you on the pathway to becoming a kayak instructor/ Coach or Guide.

A word of warning. Paddlesport is unlikely to make you very rich. If we were paid by the number of smiles we put on our clients face, we’d be millionaires!

Do you enjoy working with people?

Phil hadley in Jersey on 4 star course

Make sure you enjoy working with people

If you are not a people person being a kayak coach is going to be hard work. Often you will find yourself working with novice and entry level paddlers. All those exciting rock hops and paddle spots you might want to explore are going to have to remain on your to-do list while you get on with the job of developing paddlers skills or guiding a section of coast.

If you can’t keep smiling and maintaining a good rapport with clients you will have a tough time.

Expect to work with a very wide range of people. Some will be great and others will present challenges. Often you will work with young people which requires a different approach to working with adults. Be prepared to have to communicate and work in a very different way with adult groups and expect to have to justify and explain things a lot more.

Get your personal paddle skills up to speed

To become a kayak coach you need to have both coaching skills and a good level of personal paddle skills. The latter is often only developed by getting plenty of time afloat. You won’t progress very far if you only aim for the minimum requirements. Go paddling and get lots of quality time afloat!

4 star sea kayak training courses in Jersey

Ensure you have a good range of paddle skills

Having a good range of technical skills which you can perform comfortably will make it easier to coach and focus on your clients, especially when it is in tricky water. It is hard to lead or coach if you are working at the edge of your comfort zone!

Get out paddling in a variety of different waters and in a range of different craft. This will give you a broad knowledge of paddle sport and will improve your personal skills far more rapidly, than if you stick with just one discipline.

If you paddle a range of different craft, you will find lots of useful techniques cross over from one discipline to another. For example, I found surf kayaking to be a great way to develop big water skills. Even as I was being trashed on a Nepalese river, it was nice to think that it felt similar to getting trashed in big surf. The main difference was that the water tasted less salty (and you do not see dead sheep very often in the sea).

For the sea kayaker, open canoe skills connect very well with sea kayak paddle skills.

As an employer, I look for staff that have a wide range of experience and are passionate about kayaking.

The British Canoeing Coaching scheme

This runs from;

Paddlesport Instructor (old level 1)

Coach (old level 2)

Performance Coach (old level 3)

Coaching Diploma.

The old British Canoe Union (BCU) level 4 and 5 coaches have been phased out.

Sometimes you will have to sit back and watch as your clients have the fun

The easiest way to understand the BC coaching scheme is to refer to the British Canoeing Awarding website.

The BC coaching scheme moves through different levels. As you progress both the level of coaching skills and personal skills requirements increases.

A Paddlesport Instructor (old level 1) needs to be able to coach in a variety of crafts such as open canoe and kayak. This means you will need to develop your skills and get the relevant Star Awards for both single blade and double blade paddle craft. It is possible to do 2 Star with a stand-up paddleboard instead of an open canoe and also on a sit-on-top kayak.

The BC/UKCC Paddlesport Instructor training and assessment course is usually 4 days. You also need the Foundation Safety and Rescue Training (FSRT) and 2 Star to access the course. Ensure you are at a good standard in both canoe and kayak, as it is hard to coach well if you are barely mastering a skill yourself. Aim to get your skills above the minimum standard.

The BC/UKCC Coach has undergone a radical change in 2018. To undergo training the only prerequisite is to be a BC member. Gone is the need to produce a portfolio after completion of your training. Instead, you sign up for two days Core Training in coaching and can then add a discipline-specific module to suit your paddlesport interest.

The Core Coach Training explores different approaches to coaching, understanding and enabling learning, and some core coaching skills.

Discipline Specific Training focuses on HOW to coach the discipline-specific skills and WHAT you will be coaching.

For example, if you are a sea kayaker you can attend the Core coach Training and then opt for the Kayak Coach (sheltered water) discipline-specific module or if you already have a sea kayak leadership award (formerly 4-star sea) complete the Sea Kayak Coach (moderate water) module. The big advantage of the coach award is that you can add extra discipline-specific modules e.g surf kayak, Canoe etc.

However, if you turn up for Coach Training and your discipline-specific module without much kayaking experience expect to go away with a big action plan!

You then complete some elearning and get out coaching. Be prepared to find yourself working for free at your local kayak club or helping out at a centre – unless they run a staff development programme. When you think you are ready you need to book an assessment.

Obtain a leadership award (either moderate or advanced water) and the Coach award will give you a very solid level of coaching skills and will make you very employable.

sea kayak incidents and repairing a kayak afloat

Be prepared to deal with incidents

The Performance Coach Award develops the progressive coaching skills gained at the Coach Award and is aimed at coaches working predominantly with paddlers in their intermediate years of paddling activity, i.e. the Train to Train, Train to Perform and Recreational Phases.

Assessment is conducted in two parts; an Assessment Portfolio and a Final Assessment Day.

Kayak Guide

The Guide scheme was launched in 2018.

The Guide Endorsement is for British Canoeing Leaders (you must have either the moderate or advanced water leadership award in your chosen discipline to be a guide) who are involved in guiding activity, particularly those working within Adventure Tourism and Commercial Markets.

There is no requirement to be a kayak coach or instructor because this is not a coaching award. Instead, the Guide Scheme is an excellent way for paddlers to become an endorsed guide. You’ll need to complete a minimum of three one day guide modules and submit a detailed log book demonstrating your guiding experience when you apply for endorsement. If you have completed other forms of training such as guide courses run by ISKA the BC are likely to accept their modules.

I envisage many outfitters and centres offering guided kayak trips will start to ask for endorsed guides because the training is more relevant to guiding.

The BC Guide endorsement gives you an internationally accepted award issued by a National Governing Body (NGB) with recognised quality assurance standards in place.

Operating limits for kayak coaches

sea kayak all in rescues

Make sure you know your limits

This can appear complex but in reality, it is logical, once you accept that if you coach or guide, you and your employer (BC calls any provider of paddlesport a deployer, to cover both the paid and voluntary sectors) have a responsibility to your clients.

A Paddlesport Leader can only operate as an assistant under direct supervision so your employability is going to be pretty limited. This is when it is useful to have a few extra skills e.g. able to drive a minibus/trailer, knowledge of wildlife/history/working with special needs etc.

Where a Coach can operate depends on what discipline-specific module they completed. A Coach with the sheltered water module is not going to have enough knowledge and experience to set operating limits. Moreover, they will only be able to operate on sheltered water. For many outfitters/centres/gudied tour companies this may be quite limiting and you’ll find yourself acting as an assistant.

If you have the Sea Kayak Coach discipline-specific module (Moderate or Advanced water) this will give you a higher operating limit and make you a lot more employable.

Setting operating limits for kayaking

You will be working with a wide range of people. Often this will be at weekends and during holidays

Even if you are a Paddlesport Instructor or Coach for sheltered water, it is possible to work in more advanced waters providing you have the skills and experience.

A Paddlesport Instructor, for example, may be allowed to operate independently providing your deployer has undertaken an assessment, induction, training, considers the type of clients and puts in place operating procedures.

The central issue is that the deployer has to take responsibility in where and how the coaches operate. The BC writes “ The Paddlesport Instructor has good coaching skills … However, they do not necessarily have the experience to work independently in unfamiliar venues, types of group, session objectives, or craft. Therefore it is important that they receive appropriate site/session specific training (that needs to be documented) …” And for example “… the local operating procedures for a centre operating canoes on a lake may set different boundaries for a BC Paddlesport Instructor with 3 Star canoe, compared to a Paddlesport Instructor without any additional skills awards.”

A Coach with Star Kayak Leader (moderate or Advanced Water) and plenty of experience will be a lot more employable. Therefore get out on the water having fun and developing your skills and experience!

Kayak ratios on the water

BC set ratios but ultimately the decision rests with the deployer. The staff/client ratio for a group of adults may be very different to the ratio for a group of children even in the same location. This is where the role of the senior coach comes into play. The simplest way is to think in terms of needing a more experienced coach as having the skills and training to manage other coaches. This is where the Performance coach starts to come in and also the coach with Advanced Water leadership qualifications.

The BC ratios are guidelines. Just make sure you have good grounds to operate differently to them and can justify it.

The key document is “BC Terms of Reference  Document”.  An example of how a coach might be deployed within a club or centre is listed on page 17.

Just go out and coach or guide kayaking?

I’ve got loads of experience so why bother going through all these hoops. I can just run sessions and make a few quid.”

Geology of jersey form a kayak

Enhance your skills with other types of  knowledge and experience

Yes, you can. However, expect to find no one will want to hire you. Your local Council may well start trying to limit what you can do, the insurance company will demand high premiums. It is highly unlikely any schools, youth groups or parents will trust you with their children. Clients increasingly expect to see people holding a relevant national award as a sign of quality. If it all goes wrong expect to get into deep water as the authorities and lawyers will be looking at what is nationally accepted best practice and standards.

If you are a BC coach and operate using your own name, e.g. Derek Hairon Kayak Coaching, your BC membership insurance covers you up to a set income level. Operate under a trading name, e.g. Jersey Kayak Adventures, and you need a separate outdoor activity insurance policy.

Timescales to become a BC coach

I’ve coached paddlers, who were holding down a full time job, from novice to Paddlesport Instructor within 6 months.

At Coach grade, allow anything up to 1 year following training and allow time to get the 3-star awards in a couple of disciplines to boost your skill sets. Much will depend upon your access to deliver a range of coaching sessions.

Working at a centre or club will allow you to get Coach quicker, but you will need to put in a lot of time developing your personal skills as well.

Family and relationships

Remember you will often be working on weekends and when most people are on holiday. This is something worth considering especially if you end up working as a freelance coach who is often away from home. This can be tough on relationships.

Other skills to be a good kayak coach

kayak coaching

Be prepared to do a range of tasks.

Be able to drive. The bigger the vehicle the better.

Good customer service and communication skills.

Well organised and reliable.

Be prepared to go the extra mile.

Able to work with a wide range of individuals – both adults and young people.

Obtain other relevant training e.g. Wild Life Safe guide (WISE), Leave no trace, Wildlife/marine life/ornithology knowledge and training.

Complete other leadership skills/group work training.

Do a 16-hour-First-aid/Outdoor or Wilderness Frist Aid course. You will need to obtain this if you are heading for Leader and Coach awards, so obtain this at the outset.

Attend a Safeguarding and protecting young people training course.

Get your Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) check carried out (via BC).

Have office administration skills.

Develop a portfolio of other useful skills e.g marketing, a second language.

Have practical skills to be able to carry out basic maintenance and repairs.

For some companies being able to cook on multi-day trips is the biggest skill!

Keep smiling and be able to have fun.

Derek Hairon 

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