Jersey Kayak Adventures

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How to become a BCU 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.

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

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

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 BCU coaching scheme

This runs from Level 1 to Level 3. The old 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 BCU coaching scheme is to refer to this diagram.

The BCU coaching scheme moves through different levels and (in most cases) you need to work through each level. As you progress both the level of coaching skills and personal skills requirements increases.

At Level 1 and 2 you need 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 paddle board instead of an open canoe and also on a sit-on-top kayak.

The BCU/UKCC Level 1 coach 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.

For the BCU/UKCC Level 2 Coach 3 Star personal performance skills are essential. In theory it is possible to do Level 2 with a 3 Star sit-on-top award. However, at this level I would expect to see a paddler able to perform the roll and a range of skills in both sit inside and sit-on-top kayaks, open canoe and perhaps stand up paddle board.

The reality is that in most centres you will be working with sit inside kayaks and canoes, so you need to know how to handle them as part of your toolbox of skills and techniques.

sea kayak incidents and repairing a kayak afloat

Be prepared to deal with incidents

You have to attend a 4 day training course and then go off to develop your Level 2 coaching portfolio. 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.

Once you have completed your portfolio you can move to assessment (1 day). The key thing is to complete and document the tasks in your portfolio. For some this is the hard part but the BCU now have mentors to help you on this pathway to Level 2 coach. If you do everything that is required in the portfolio and it is well evidenced, assessment should be a formality.

You will need a First Aid award and Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check plus attend a BCU module such as coaching the mind, coaching young paddlers, performance planning for paddle sport coaches at Level 2. These modules can be taken at any time within 1 year of doing your Level 2 training (or even prior to training) so they can form part of your training programme from day one.

Level 3 coach: This is similar to the old Level 5 coach but now with a lot more training and will allow you to mange kayaking at a centre and act as the technical advisor, who sets your centres operating areas, and also decide who can paddle where.

You’ll need 4 star and a range of CPD modules. At Level 3 you can now become discipline specific.

Currently Level 3 courses are only being run at the National centres such as Plas y Brenin and Glenmore lodge.

Certificate of Competence award

In 2013 the Welsh Canoe Association rolled out the Certificate of Competence award. “The certificate is not a coaching qualification. The certificate of competence demonstrates an individual’s ability to safely lead and manage a group in a given environment. The certificate is not a replacement for the coaching scheme or 4* or 5* leadership awards, it gives people the chance to run a safe session, in the environment they seek where coaching is not necessary. This formalises the existing processes that clubs, centres and other partners undertake but gives an element of portability.”

For some paddlers who do not want to go down the BCU/UKCC coaching route this may help. Expect to have to show a good level of experience.

Send in a CV with new Level 3 and I’ll be interested.

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 (the BCU calls any provider of paddle sport a deployer, to cover both the paid and voluntary sectors) have a responsibility to your clients.

At Level 1 you 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.

Level 2 coaches can run specific sessions on very sheltered water environments, as long as they are deployed by a club or centre. This is to ensure a Level 2 coach is supervised in terms of where they can operate. If you are running your own business you are going to have to get a technical advisor to agree your operating areas as the Level 2 coach is not deemed to have enough knowledge and experience to set operating limits.

If you are a Level 2 coach without any extra skills and leadership training, you will have a narrow range of job options compared to the Level 2 coach with 4 Star Leader and Moderate Water Endorsement.

Obtain the Advanced Water Endorsement (AWE) plus 5 star award and you will be able to lead and coach at a higher level if you are a Level 2 coach.

It therefore makes good sense to be aiming for 4 Star Leader award either in parallel to your Level 2 award or as part of your personal skills action plan.

Once you reach Level 3 coach you can do lots!

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 Level 1 or Level 2 coach, it is possible to work in more advanced waters providing you have the skills and experience.

A Level 1 coach 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 BCU writes “ The Level 1 coach 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 BCU Level 1 coach with 3 Star canoe, compared to a Level 1 coach without any additional skills awards.”

If you are a Level 1 coach with 4 Star Leader and plenty of experience, you are going to be a lot more employable, especially if you are heading towards Level 2 coach. Get Level 2 coach award, 4 Star Leader and Moderate Water Endorsement and you will be in demand.

Kayak ratios on the water

The BCU 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 (e.g. Level 3) comes into play.

The BCU ratios are guidelines. Just make sure you have good grounds to operate differently to them and can justify it. The key document is “BCU Terms of Reference for Coaches and Leaders”.  An example of how a coach might be deployed within a club or centre is listed on page 17.

Role of the 4 Star Leader

Kayak paddle drill in Jersey

As a new coach much of your time is likely to be spent working with entry level paddlers

For clubs – and even for some centres – the 4 Star Leader award is an option to consider if guiding clients. Though in theory this award is to lead peers of around 3 Star level there is some allowance for a deployer to use a 4 Star Leader as a guide providing they are working within clearly defined operating limits. Much will depend on level of experience and location.

In late 2012 the 4 Star Touring award arrived. “The award may be of interest to those who look after paddlers on journeys, trips or tours. These maybe things like recreational club trips, trips/journeys as part of outdoor education experiences, or introductory commercial trips.” BCU Code 166 

This sounds good. It will no doubt appeal to centres that are offering guided trips.

However, if you only have 4 star leader award and end up working as a guide you may find yourself leading the same section day after day.

For some paddlers this may appear as a way of avoiding doing the Level 1 or 2 coach awards. However, as an employer I would only really consider employing a 4 Star Leader as a guide, if they had loads of experience and other skills with which to inspire clients.

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 very deep water as the authorities and lawyers will be looking at what is nationally accepted best practice and standards.

If you are a BCU coach and operate using your own name, e.g. Derek Hairon Kayak Coaching, your BCU 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.

Time scales to become a BCU coach

I’ve coached paddlers, who were holding down a full time job, from novice to Level 1 coach within 6 months.

At Level 2 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 Level 2 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 at 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 for home.

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, Wild life/marine life/ornithology knowledge and training.

Complete other leadership skills/group work training.

Do a 16-hour-First-aid course. You will need to obtain this if you are heading for 4 Star Leader and Level 2 coach awards, so obtain this at the outset.

Attend a Safeguarding and protecting young people training course.

Get your Criminal Records Bureau check carried out (via BCU).

Have office administration skills.

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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