Dates of our 2017 BCU 4-Star Sea Kayak Leader training and assessment courses are listed here.
Our top tips for the British Canoeing (BCU) 4-star sea kayak leader award will help you get the most from your training and assessment course.
This article isn’t called how to PASS your four star sea kayak leader assessment – that’s down to you, and how you prepare, but by following these top tips and ideas written by Phil Hadley (with a few of my updates) it should help you in your consolidation between BC (4-star) sea kayak leader training and assessment.
Note: The British Canoe Union (BCU) is now called British Canoeing (BC). From April 2017 the 4-star sea kayak award is called the Sea Kayak Leader award to reflect the content of the course.
The British Canoeing (4-star) Sea Kayak Leader training course
Your training course will be a good start on your path to a successful assessment, but there is no way, in two days you are going to learn everything required. The training course can only really give you an idea of what is expected of a 4-star sea kayak leader and help you to formulate your own action plan in order to get you ready to achieve that.
Very few people can turn up to a two day training then rock up to an assessment without doing anything in between and expect to pass – not unless you have loads of prior experience..
Go into your training with an open and enquiring mind, ask lots of questions, engage in meaningful discussions with the provider and the other candidates – be that ‘information sponge’ thirsty for knowledge!
Make sure that your basic skills are honed and that you are at your very best before the training, if you are constantly trying to keep your boat on track you aren’t going to be taking on all the information about leadership and group management. It’s difficult to concentrate on the subtleties of leadership strategies when you’re in survival mode!
Hopefully you should come away from your training with an idea of your strong points, and more importantly what you need to work on. This is where the real work starts! As part of our training courses all students leave with a personal action plan.
Make an action plan
The first thing is to reflect on what you have learned and write down an action plan, formulate some goals and set yourself time limits on when you aim to achieve these goals. (At Jersey Kayak Adventures all students leave with a personal action plan).
Be specific – ‘I want to improve my paddling’ doesn’t have the same meaning as ‘I need to improve my draws on the move on my left hand side!’
Keep in touch with your training provider, discuss your action plan and improvements with them, some may be willing for you come along to observe other coaching.
Providers often need ‘mock’ students for assessments so offer to be one of these, it’s a great way to see different styles of leadership, see where the ‘bench mark’ is – who passes, who doesn’t, and it’s a great insight into how an assessment works. Don’t be afraid to drop other 4-star leader providers a polite email, most are more than willing to give advice and possibly assist in your development.
Syllabus, Training and Assessment Notes for BC 4-star Sea Kayak Leader
Go to your Home Nation website (British Canoeing, Canoe Wales, SCA, CANI, BCUNA) and download all the 4-star sea kayak leader documents and read them thoroughly. These are the standards you will be assessed against.
There’s a logbook that you can download, or you can produce your own. Whatever format you select make sure the assessor can see your personal paddling trips and any sea kayak leading you have done.
If you paddle different disciplines try to have a section for each one. If you are thinking about getting into coaching, it’s a good idea to have a separate section for that too.
You need to get into your kayak and get out paddling – lots! Practice your basic skills on flat-water to make sure that when you get onto moderate water your fundamental strokes are all intuitive, make sure you practice on both sides, and put as much variety as you can into your drills.
If you are short of time it may be worth considering adding extra training days to our 4 star sea kayak leader training course.
Custom dates can be arranged. Email us.
Get someone to observe you and give you feedback, if that proves difficult set up a video camera on a tripod and self analyse your techniques.
Don’t be afraid to get some specialist coaching. Just because you are working on the 4-star sea kayak leader award don’t assume that you wouldn’t benefit from some flat-water coaching. You need a large repertoire of techniques so that you are able to choose the most appropriate one in a skillful application when the need arises in a dynamic environment.
Paddle other types of boats. Lots of good sea kayakers have found their paddle awareness has improved by paddling canoes . Slalom and/or surf kayaking is a great way to improve your boat positioning and ability to read water. Surf and white water is also a great place to develop a ‘bomb proof’ roll!
We have a range of different craft including surf kayaks, sea kayaks and high performance sea kayaks including Epic designs. Plus a selection of Euro and Inuit style paddles.
Find other people in the same position as you, if you haven’t got paddling buddies at that level, get on the online paddling forums and find some.
Get into the habit of observing and giving feedback to your paddling buddies and try to nurture an atmosphere of peer support, coaching and improvement.
This should be your playground! You need to be super confident moving your boat around and putting it where you want in these conditions. Again variety is the spice of life so go and explore!
Find out what moderate water means for your discipline, and make sure you have an appreciation for what that means in practical terms especially on the sea and on open water canoeing.
The wider the range of moderate water situations that you put yourself in, the less chance of you having a nasty surprise on your assessment.
Most people who struggle at 4-star sea kayak leader assessment often have weak logbooks in moderate water conditions. Make sure yours shows lots of trips at this level, and lots of experience at leading different types of groups in the moderate water environment. Again, this may be a good reason to book a few extra days kayaking with us.
There are quite a few aspirant level 5-coaches and ‘new’ trainee level three coaches who are looking for ‘long term students’ – offering to be coached by these guys is a great way to get some quality coaching and it is always worth asking around. Again Internet paddling forums, Facebook etc can be very useful.
The 4-star sea kayak leader is a leadership award, so make sure you get plenty of practice at leading in these environments. We see quite a few candidates fail their assessment because they have only led novice paddlers or have wrongly assumed that because they do a lot of kayak coaching they have developed the leading skills that are required at the sea kayak leader level. Remember, this is a leadership award based on you leading paddlers who are around 3-star level.
If you opt for extra training days we can often arrange opportunities for you to lead more experienced paddlers.
Offer to help out on club trips and ask if you can take the lead as often as possible. This is even better if it’s done under the supervision of a more experienced leader who can give you some feedback on your performance and suggest alternative strategies.
Even if you’re just paddling with your friends, it’s good practice to have a leader and for everyone to know their roles in the group, you can switch these roles around throughout the day, but turn every feature into a learning environment by discussing various strategies.
Ensure you are familiar with your equipment. Try out your new tow line before you need to use it for real on the training or assessment course. Remember, it is all very well to read about techniques and safety skills however, you need to try them out for yourself to see if they will work for you. If you borrow gear and kayaks expect to be assessed as if they were your own.
The Internet may be a great source of information but not all of the advice will be relevant for you and some is just wrong!
Candidates are expected to have a VHF marine radio so make sure you know how it works. Carry it on your person and agree a working channel if others in the group have a VHF with them. This makes communication between the group very easy and allows you to give advice e.g. when leading the group in through large surf or to communicate with a team member who has gone out of shouting range.
If you are being assessed at this level incident will happen. We have seen the following incident occur during our courses: broken paddles, lost hatches, damaged kayaks, paddlers needing tows, problems with using a kayak they had only just bought, a cut hand, capsizes in rock gardens, overestimating the groups ability. None of these were set up by the assessors and the key message is to be prepared.
Events can escalate rapidly. Remember your key priorities are: Self, Group, Swimmer, Equipment. Get this right and you are likely to deal with the incident well and impress your assessors. If you have completed a first aid or Foundation Safety & Rescue Training (FSRT) course this is going to be familiar to you.
Sadly, we often see paddlers forget this basic protocol and rush in to deal with incidents. Too often I see leaders charging in and sometimes putting themselves at risk and even becoming the second person in difficulties. Before you charge in to assist consider if they can swim clear, climb out of the danger. Will the problem be reduced if they do a few things to help get out of the predicament themselves
I avoid calling the paddler in difficulties a victim. This implies they are incapable of doing anything to rectify their predicament. Instead I call them a swimmer -which is usually what they will be-.
Anther handy protocol is: Stop, Assess what is happening, Formulate a plan, Execute it (do it), Reflect on how it went afterwards.
When paddlers often lead groups who are less experienced they can end up on an assessment thinking they are the ones who need to deal with any incidents. Remember, the sea kayak leader is not alone, others in the group may have sufficient experience and kit to help deal with an incident.
Your role as leader is to overseas the situation and in effect managing things. Get yourself involved in a tow and you risk being locked into the tow when further problems arise. For example if others have tow lines get them involved in the tow to free you up to ensure others things do not start going wrong. This is a good reason to check what gear and experience your group has before going afloat.
Too often minor incidents generate a chain of consequences so be ready to spot them before they escalate. When you are busy putting a paddler back into their kayak it is easy to overlook what is happening to the others in the group…
The assessment is often hard going, often entailing long drives to the venue, paddling all day for two days, working evenings looking at plans for the next day, self rescues and rescuing boats in moderate water, on the sea you may find yourself towing for a distance, as well as the emotional stress.
Assessors often see candidates flagging and losing performance towards the end of the two days – make sure you are as paddling fit as you can be.
Ensure you have the correct safety course pre-requisites – Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning is needed at sea kayak leader training and we can usually add this as an extra day. 3 star sea kayak is a good benchmark to have when going to the sea kayak leader training course. Again, we can assess this.
Attending the training course doesn’t mean you are going to automatically have all the skills necessary for your assessment. They are training courses, and the techniques taught will need consolidation, there is a huge amount of information to be digested, and skills to be perfected.
There is definitely a ‘use it or lose it’ phenomenon around these pre-requisite courses. Just because you used to be able to throw a throw line, perform a slick X rescue or plot a tidal passage doesn’t mean you will still be able to do it in two years time when you go for assessment. Keep working on these skills and practice them in real conditions.
You also need an up to date 16 hour First Aid. Try to do an outdoor one, like REC or the BCU Aquatic First Aid. We can sometimes arrange a 16-hour first aid course for you.
When you think you are getting close to being ready to take the assessment, and you have all the pre-requisites you need to download a Leader Registration (LR) Form from your Home Nation website.
You now need to be a BC member to undertake the sea kayak leader assessment and to pay the Leadership Registration fee when sending in your LR form. British Canoeing will accept certificates from awarding bodies that are not on their list e.g. first aid, navigation, VHF awards. This often happens when non UK residents want to be assessed. I am aware that in some European countries 16-hour First Aid courses are being phased out. My current advice is to submit an Accredited Prior Learning (APL) from with a copy of your certificate and the course syllabus. BC HQ can then decide if it meets the standards required.
If you need to fill in an Accredited Prior Learning (APL) form send a copy of your certificate and course syllabus (in English) to BC HQ. Contact me and I can usually give advice.
Fill your LR form in as instructed and send it with the correct fee back to your Home Nation. After checking all the info is correct, they will send the form back to you stamped for assessment. You must hand the stamped LR form to the assessment director before your assessment. No LR form, no assessment!
Go paddling as much as you can but don’t forget to have fun! If you make all your trips interesting and exciting then you and the people you are leading will learn so much more!
Put variety into your paddling, different venues, different paddling buddies, different disciplines, different boats all add to the breadth of experience that shows you as a competent, confident leader.
See you on the water!
Written by Phil Hadley, BCU Coach and 4 star Canoe and Sea Kayak assessor with additions added by Derek Hairon (2017).
BCU 4 star sea training courses
Remember many sea kayakers attend 4 star sea kayak leader training courses as a means of gaining more experience of paddling in different waters and conditions. Training courses are not just for paddlers who plan to go for assessment.
You can find more information about our 4 star sea kayak leader training and assessment courses as well as Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning here.