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How to Pass the Kayak Coach Assessment

May 7th, 2014

British Canoeing Coach Assessment – Top Tips to Successfully Jump the Hurdle

Seymour tower and sea kayakeres

How to pass the BCU/UKCC Coach level 2 assessment

From 2018 the British Canoeing level 2 coach award is called the Coach award. These top tips to pass your kayak coach assessment remain equally valid today.

Passing the British Canoeing Coach assessment can be a daunting task even with the help of a mentor. Here are a few tips gathered from Nic and Clare who successfully passed their Coach Level 2 assessment.

If you’re not familiar with the British Canoeing coaching scheme, it’s best to look at this page. When you have got confused get in touch with me – or a Coach trainer/assessor – for advice and clarification!

Basically you can now directly sign up for the coach training course providing you have the paddlesport skills and experience.  You do not need to have completed the BC Level 1 paddlepsort coach course. Personally, I’d advise you to be around BC 3 star level before you do the core training module.

Why bother with the Coach assessment?

The Coach award allows you to operate in defined areas without supervision. More importantly, if you already have the Sea kayak leader award and complete the sea kayak module you will increase your operating limits considerably.

Top Tips to help you pass your Coach assessment

  • sea kayaking with the P&H Hammer in Jersey

    Look for opportunities to coach whenever you are afloat

    Develop your personal paddle skills up to a good standard so you no longer have to think about them. You’ll then be able to focus on your students more easily.

  • Get plenty of time afloat developing your own skills in a wide range of conditions so you build up your experience. This is a good excuse to just get out paddling with your friends.
  • Help out at your local club/youth group or centre. This will give you more opportunities to practice your coaching skills.
  • Try to coach as wide a range of people as possible to develop your toolbox of coaching styles. There is a big difference between coaching young people and adults.
  • Learn from other coaches. Spend time assisting on their sessions.
  • Keep your log book up to date and record anything related to paddlesport.
  • Work in different types of craft. This will remind you what it feels like when doing a skill for the first time.
  • You can be assessed in just one discipline e.g sheltered water, sea kayak coach – you’ll need sea kayak leader award for this-, sea kayak coach advanced water – you’ll need the advanced sea kayak leader award, surf kayak coach etc.
  • Stay in contact with other trainees on you Coach training course and also the course providers. Both can provide support and advice as well as top tips. There are also a couple of Facebook pages in existence.
  • Allow time to get any pre-requisites.
  • It’s worth doing a 16 hour first aid course rather than an 8 hour one because it is more comprehensive and will be more useful in the future, e.g. if you go on to do 4 Star Leader assessment.
  • Get a mentor who can give advice and also help you prepare your portfolio of experience for the assessment.
  • Plan, do and review your coaching sessions. Write them up soon after the session while things are still fresh in your mind.
  • If there are others in your area needing assessment, consider hiring an assessor rather than book onto an assessment course. This will allow you to – hopefully – coach students who you have been working with over a length of time. It makes things more realistic and less stressful.

If you are a level 1 coach stepping up a grade to the Coach award, this will enhance your paddle-sport and coaching skills as well as helping you find employment in the adventure industry. Clare and Nic subsequently passed their level coach award and headed south to kayak and find work in New Zealand.

Minor updates to reflect the changes in the Coach training course were made in Dec 2017.

This article was originally published in Canoe Kayak Magazine

Derek Hairon

Sea Kayakers make the Grade. BCU Coach Training and Assessment in Jersey

February 21st, 2014
Clare. On of our newly trained BCU Level 2 Coaches

Clare. On of our newly trained BCU Level 2 Coaches

Paddling the ocean waves as a sea kayak coach and guide is not exactly most people’s idea of a day at work and it is easy to forget that like any other profession there is a lot of training and assessments involved.

For local residents Clare Robinson and Nic Hairon their office has just become a large and very wet world following completion of the British Canoe Union/United Kingdom Coaching Council Level 2 certificate in paddle sport.

Working at Jersey Kayak Adventures Clare and Nic have undertaken a range of on the job and training courses over the last 10 months to develop both their personal paddle sport and leadership skills to reach the Level 2 standard.

To reach the Level 2 demanded considerable on the job experience while working for Jersey Kayak Adventures. Both had to reach high personal skill levels and study additional training modules. There was also the need to complete a weighty portfolio documenting their kayaking and coaching progression rounded off by an examination by a UK assessor who observed their ability to put theory into practice around the coastline of Jersey with a group of clients.

kayak coaching courses in Jersey

Nic our newly trained BCU level 2 coach

For Clare the decision to become a kayak coach developed out of her love of the outdoors while working in New Zealand. However, it soon became apparent that without an internationally recognised training her chances of getting work was slim. Luckily for Clare one of the best places to obtain her coaching awards turned out to be back home in Jersey.

“I get lots of enquiries from people wanting to become kayak coaches but many fall by the wayside once they realise the training requires lots of commitment. It’s more than just jumping in a kayak and drifting about on the ocean. If there is one thing the Level 2 Certificate demonstrates, it’s that people like Nic and Clare are motivated to step up to the national standards.” commented Jersey Kayak Adventures director Derek Hairon.

kayak instruction along the Jersey coastline

Sea kayak training in Jersey

For Nic even though he comes from a family, where sea water is probably in his genetic make up, passing the Level 2 still required a lot of work after completing his university degree. This included trips to paddle big Alpine rivers and the slightly less exotic but technical rivers of North Wales. There were also sea kayak leadership and navigation courses to be taken and logged hours both coaching and kayaking to be completed “Unless you can get plenty of experience running courses, coaching and just getting out paddling you’re going to struggle to pass.” said Nic.

Armed with this internationally recognised award both Clare and Nic can now lead kayak tours and run paddle sport courses at Jersey Kayak Adventures.

“Over the last 5 years we’ve tried to train local people because both visitors and local clients like the fact that they are able to get afloat with local coaches who know their island. Plus, as a business, we need to invest in our future.” said Derek.

For Clare and Nic this certificate also opens up worldwide employment opportunities, because BCU national standards are considered an international benchmark for kayak coaching in the adventure industry.

Their horizons are now a lot bigger as a result of their training.

Derek Hairon

Custom & Intensive Sea Kayak Guide/Training Courses in Jersey

October 17th, 2013

Fran Hanko udd till Jersey Peter fosstrom kayaking jersey articleHanko 2013We can arrange custom sea kayak guide courses in Jersey. Recently, Peter from Kola kayaking in Hanko Finland visited to undertake our custom intensive sea kayak guide training course. Peter’s aim was to gather a few BC sea kayak awards so that he and his wife could offer more sea kayak adventure activities in Finland.

February and March might not seem the best time to undertake a sea kayak training course and to also bring a young family (2 and 4 years) over for 8 weeks. All ended up having a great time and were on the beach building sand castles most days no matter what the weather. The children came with some super winter/waterproof clothing which allowed us to take a 4 year old sea kayaking on a damp February day in a mini drysuit.

Compared to many UK sea kayaking destinations Jersey’s usually milder climate makes it possible to undertake a lot of sea kayaking around the coast. Add a few extra layers -or a drysuit (we can supply these to our clients) if you really plan to get wet- and Jersey has plenty of varied sea kayaking on offer.

Drysutis for chidlren

Father and son with matching drysuits

For Peter and Sanna a bonus was that we had daylight and no snow. “After the first month of snow and darkness in Finland we’re had enough” said Peter. Within days of Peter leaving Jersey we were under the thickest blanket of snow seen in many years!

If you are looking at developing your sea kayak and leadership skills the BCU 4 star training and assessment course is a great opportunity. I can arrange these on custom dates. Add this into a personal kayaking development plan and it is possible to wisely spend your money getting a selection of BCU and other awards. Over the years we have had ‘long stay’ clients from Mauritius, Finland, Abu Dharbi, Oman and the UK using the winter months to ‘beef up’ their training with UK awards which are recognised as some of the best around for sea kayak guiding/coaching and skills benchmarks.

On his return to Finland Peter wrote this article about his sea kayaking activities in Jersey. It’s all Finnish to me. Download a copy or read it here.

Derek Hairon

BCU Foundation Safety and Rescue Training Resources

September 16th, 2013
kayaker helping paddler get out of a cave

Get the paddler to start swimming out of the cave

Finding useful resources for the BCU Foundation Safety and Rescue Training has been tricky. However, tucked away in a corner of the Canoe England and BCU I stumbled upon some handy resources.

If you plan to attend the BCU Foundation Safety and Rescue Training (FSRT) course there is now a selection of short videos showing key skills for the FSRT course. The FSRT is well worth attending for any paddler because it is a great hands on course covering lots of safety skills.

These short videos are well worth watching before you go for your FSRT or as a refresher. Having recently undertaken a BCU 4 star sea kayak assessment course we used some of the key principles used in the FSRT course to remind candidates of how to stay safe and assist.

Link to the FSRT videos.

I can run FSRT courses on Jersey.


Free Essential Kayak Skills Safety Class

April 23rd, 2013

Learn essential kayak safety and basic paddle skills on this free 2 hour class. For anyone who owns a sit on top kayak or is thinking of buying a kayak.

May 12 Sunday 1400 – 1600 (2 places left).

May 24 Friday 1800-2000

Details and other dates

Custom sea kayak guide and leadership training courses in Jersey

April 10th, 2013
sea kayak on 4 star training course.Developing paddle skills near rocks

Develop essential paddle skills

We now offer custom sea kayak guide, leadership and skills courses, often in the shoulder months, for sea kayakers to develop their sea kayak skills within a personally designed training program.

Sea kayakers from Finland, Switzerland, the UK and Mauritius have chosen Jersey as their base to develop leadership and sea kayak guiding skills due to the range of different sea kayaking opportunities around the coast.

Sea kayak guiding and skills training courses

Sea kayaking and sea kayak guiding is a growth area In many countries but there is often a lack of a local national standard for paddlers and kayak guides to benchmark themselves against, especially if they plan to lead or guide sea kayak tours. Increasingly paddlers look to the BCU awards for internationally recognised sea kayaking qualifications.

Individual courses can be tailor made to suit a paddlers needs depending on the amount of time available, the level they wish to attain and budget. This is based on a personal performance profile. Internship style options during the main season are also possible.

Why sea kayak in Jersey?

Sea kayak leadership courses.BCU 4 star training.Blow holes and kayaks

Blow holes near Bonne Nuit Bay

Though Jersey might seem small, the island has superb sea kayaking. On the west coast there are excellent surf beaches, which have produced a couple of surf kayak world champions, while the north coast cliffs are riddled with caves and rock gardens.

Just to add an extra bit of flavour, there are a few “interesting” tide races – a result of the huge 12m tide range. This is an island where the sea really can rise and fall by up to 3 inches per minute.

If that is not enough, the offshore reefs of Les Minquiers and Les Écréhous and the other Channel Islands provide a range of offshore sea kayaking opportunities.

At the same time stunningly calm and clear waters can still be found even in mid winter. Drysuits and all equipment can be supplied.

Good transport links and infra structure on Jersey

BCU 4 star leader training and assessment courses.Sea kayaking in overfalls

Overfalls training and rock gardens at La Tour de Rozel

Unlike some locations Jersey has excellent transport links and there is also plenty of other things to do. This makes it feasible for partners and even families to stay on the island.

At times the needs of students cover more than just sea kayaking. Our most most recent students from Kola Kayaking in Finland realised that they lacked skills in preparing lobster and flatfish.

The upshot was that we arranged a master class on preparing lobster and flatfish with Daniel the proprietor and chef at Bracewells restaurant, St Aubin. This included sending Peter and Sanna off to buy a live lobster from Faulkner Fisheries.

Fortunately the live lobster did not escape on their bus  journey to the restaurant.

Listen to Peter Forsstrom of Kola Kayaking in Finland talk about his sea kayaking experiences in Jersey.

Finnish kayaking company plan kayak tours on Jersey

March 6th, 2013
Waterfall at le mourier valley,Jersey

Waterfall at le mourier valley. There has been plenty of rain this winter

February and March may not seem like the best months to undertake an intensive sea kayak course in Jersey with BCU 4 star sea kayak training/ assessment. However, if you are coming from Finland with low temperatures and short days Jersey probably seems semi tropical.

Intensive sea kayak courses

Jersey Kayak Adventure director Derek Hairon is working with Peter & Sanna Forsstrom from Finish sea kayaking company Kola Kayak to develop their sea kayak skills, so they can run more advanced sea kayak tours and coaching courses in Finland.

While on Jersey Peter has completed a range of British Canoe Union sea kayak awards including the BCU 4 star sea kayak leader course, while Sanna is working towards her kayak coach award. Both have been exploring the superb coastline of Jersey by sea kayak.

The advantage of training in Jersey is that there is a huge range of sea kayaking opportunities for all abilities and it is easy to select the best venues without having to travel long distances. “internationally British kayak awards are held in very high esteem, and having trained on Jersey Peter and Sanna have spotted the fantastic advantages of the island” said Derek Hairon.

Easier travelling

sea kayakers in la tour de rozel tide race

BCU 4 star sea kayak leader training

Travelling to Jersey from Finland (and many places in the UK and Europe) is faster than you’d expect. Peter, Sanna and their two young children (aged 3yrs and 15 months) took less than 7 hours to fly to Jersey. “That’s a lot less than when we went to Cornwall last year” said Peter.

The weather has not proved a barrier for the family, who are used to very cold conditions. When not kayaking the family has been out and about exploring the coast and beaches.

As a result of their stay Jersey Kayak Adventures is teaming up with Kola Kayak to arrange sea kayak holiday courses for paddlers and adventure seekers from Finland during the shoulder seasons. “With the cold winters and short days Finnish people love to take an autumn or early spring break” said Peter.

Plenty to do on Jersey but where’s the sauna?

north coast of jersey sea kayaking near Sorel point

Sanna sea kayaking in February

The couple is spending almost 8 weeks on Jersey with its two young children and has been impressed with the range of facilities and resources on such a small island.

The island’s fresh produce and seafood have inspired Sanna to learn how to prepare seafood dishes – as a result of attending a master class organised by Daniel, the chef at Bracewell’s Restaurant in St Aubin.

Peter’s one criticism of Jersey is that there is a serious lack of saunas. “It’s like your love of BBQ’s. In Finland everyone has a sauna and you can even buy portable ones” said Peter.

How to prepare for the BC Sea Kayak Leader (4-Star) Award & Course Dates

February 10th, 2013

2018 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.

Dates and information about our advanced kayak courses and multi-day kayak trips.

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 (moderate or advanced water) award to reflect the content of the course.

The British Canoeing (4-star) Sea Kayak Leader training course

Sea kayak 4 star leadership training.Jersey.

Leadership training

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 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!

Sea Kayak Leader Training & Assessment Dates.

Make an action plan

sea kayak incident management on a rocky beach.Jersey

Incident management skills

The first thing is to reflect on what you have learned and to 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 others being coached.

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 ‘benchmark’ 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 Sea Kayak Leader

sea kayak rough water and tide race training.Tour de Rozel.Jersey

Sea kayak skills in rough water. Video analysis.

Go to your Home Nation website (British Canoeing, Canoe Wales, SCA, CANI, BCNA) and download all the 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.

Personal Skills

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 sea kayak leader training course.

We can also arrange training and assessment for the BC 3-Star sea kayak and Coastal Navigation & Tidal Planning (CNTP) certificate. Both are requirements for 4-star sea kayak leader. We can also offer  BC guide training modules: Camp Craft and Expedition Skills, Customer Experience, Trip Planning and Organisation.

Custom dates can be arranged. Email us.

sea kayak incident management on a rocky beach.Jersey

Incident management skills

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. Using Wing paddles and surfskis are a great way to tune up your forward paddling techniques. You need a large repertoire of techniques so that you are able to choose the most appropriate one in a skilful 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 surfski 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.

Moderate Water!

BCU 4 star leaders.Kayaks in rough water.Jersey north coast

Develop your leadership and sea kayak skills

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 with (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 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.


sea kayak on 4 star training course.Developing paddle skills near rocks

Develop essential paddle skills during the course

The sea kayak leader(4-star) 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 the 3-star level. Keep the group involved and part of the trip. Let those who clearly have the experience play an active role.

Give a good briefing and involve the group. We find it helps if you have a system for your briefing such as Area, Boats and equipment, Communication, Doctor -health/medical matters-, Emergency matters/protocols. You can put this on a small card as ABCDE and use this to remind you. Keep this briefing short and concise as your students will want to get on the water!

Remember to maintain good levels of Communication, Line of sight, Avoidance and select a Position of most usefulness (CLAP). Involve the paddlers in tricky areas so they “buddy up” or use “mirrors” so no one is ever out of sight.

Consider the route all the time as you paddle along. Look well ahead for “future water” so you can shape your route in advance. Use protocols such as SAFER (Stop, Assess, Formulate a plan, Execute the plan i.e: do it, Reflect and modify) when looking at more tricky spots.

It can take a long time to move a group through some sections and you might, therefore, need to adjust your plan/route based on the group size and experience. If you find you are taking a long time to explore a cave or rock garden some members of the group may lose interest. Active paddlers like to be doing something so keep people involved and feeling part of the group.

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 in 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 to 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 on 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 group’s ability. None of these was 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-.

Another 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 in 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 a 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…

Get fit!

The assessment can be physically tiring, often entailing long drives to the course venue, paddling all day for two days, working evenings looking at plans for the next day, self-rescues and rescuing boats in moderate water.

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. Try and give yourself a day before the assessment when you are not travelling to the course. We all lead busy lives so give yourself a bit of time out rather than plunge from a busy week at work on a Friday into the assessment on Saturday.


4 star sea kayak incidents.Damaged sea kayak

Dealing with incidents afloat- a holed sea kayak.

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 an 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.

LR form

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 must be a BC member to undertake the sea kayak leader assessment and 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!

Note: Non-UK candidates will need to complete the International Leadership registration form.

Go boating!

Phil Hadley in Jersey on 4 star course

Phil Hadley in action

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!

Dates of our 4-star sea kayak leader and advanced courses.

Written by Phil Hadley, BCU Coach and (4 star) moderate water Canoe and Sea Kayak assessor with additions added by Derek Hairon (2018).

BC Moderate water  (4 star) sea training courses

Remember many sea kayakers attend (4 star) moderate water  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 an 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.

Derek Hairon


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 

BCU/Canoe England Coach update in Jersey

November 2nd, 2012
Sea kaya coaching

A pause for thought

We’re just had the BCU/Canoe England coach update with Mike Devlin and Keith Hampton over to run the course.

This was a chance for channel island kayak coaches to update their kayak coaching skills and knowledge. 25 coaches from Jersey and Guernsey attended.

In spite of numerous requests no programme was forthcoming from ‘BCU towers’ and the silence was deafening! It seems that because the CI is not technically part of the UK sports regions there is an issue over the funding for coach updates in the islands. As a result it’s BCU HQ staff and not paddle sport development offices who attend.

The Olympics has left a legacy for the rank and file of paddlesport – less cash!  Targets for medals at the Brazil Olympics are being set and NGB’s are expected to do more with less cash. What this means is that resources for recreational and non medal winning areas will be squeezed. Sports that are not hitting the targets (read medals) will have their funding cut. And they once  said it was not about medals….

The morning session was an opportunity to learn about changes in the coaching scheme. If you earn cash by working for clubs etc. you’ll need to start declaring this to the tax man. Mike also said the UK tax office has looked at kayak and sports coaches and is taking the view that if you do some work for a centre or club and get paid you are not working freelance but are an employee. It seems it is all down to whether the coach can come and go as they please or are they crucial to the running of the session/task. Look out for a lot more zero hour and sessional contracts I suspect.

The meeting highlighted the lack of Foundation Safety and Rescue training assessors in the channel islands. Perhaps I’ll arrange an FSRT trainers event in Jersey, providing there is enough interest,  and the coaches are willing to cover the costs of bringing a trainer over. I could be optimistic ask BCU HQ for support….

Mike suggested the BCU 4 star leader award is a good route for clubs to use to ensure those leading club trips meet a standard. Level 2 UKCC coaches should be aiming for the 4 star and Moderate Water Endorsement (MWE)which will increase their skills to paddle and coach in more demanding waters.  An existing level 3 coach can access the MWE (so long as they have the ‘new’ 4 star. At the moment the need is to get more people up to Level 2 coach. In the Channel isles this may require coaches going over to the UK to train.

Mike leading an on the water session

After a short lunch Keith and Mike ran a couple of workshops on Ouaisne beach. Some thought this was good, others were not so sure. Personally, I found the paddler profiling exercise useful and a chance to try out the Technical, Tactical,Physical and Psychological elements of profiling. The main thing it demonstrates is the need to develop a rapport with the student and to identify strengths and areas of weakness to build on based on the paddlers perceptions/needs.

The Q&A session spent a bit of time getting to grips with why the FSRT course results in a certificate of attendance rather than a formal assessment. The view -we were told- is that people did not want it to be an assessed module. At other levels e.g. the Level 1 coach award the ability to perform the FSRT skills is assessed in the decision to issue the L1 award. Bit like the Coastal navigation and tidal planning course. If your navigation skills are poor you will not pass the 4 star. In both cases the goal seems to be to improve safety skills via training courses.

Another asked how an organisation should respond to clients wanting only level 3 coaches. Pretty simple really- Mike explained- it’s the customer who calls the shots, especially if they are from an organisation which has this requirement in their operating procedures.

Staffing ratios for kayaking. Mike explained there is no obligation to follow the guidelines in the BCU terms of reference for coaches and leaders document ( I’ll leave you to find the document on the CE webpage) as it will depend on the client group, experience,age, location etc. Mike did not think a ‘coach’ leading groups from a safety boat constituted good practice on the sea. The BCU terms of reference are a set of guidelines. However, I suspect that in the event of an accident it will be these ratios and guidelines that will be used as the benchmark.

A few delegates wondered if the update could just have easily been achieved by arranging a virtual coaching update event via Skype or similar.


A chance to meet up with coaches from Guernsey

It is never easy to arrange to be at a coach update and I know a few coaches were working or off island. I’m sure this is a problem other coaches in the UK also encounter if they miss an update in their region. This was something Mike thought could be worth exploring along with a set of resources so coaches could do their updates on line. I wouldn’t hold my breath for this though!

Luckily the fog held off to allow Keith and Mike to get to Jersey. Getting back to the UK took a bit longer as the fog delayed their flights for around 7 hours.

Was it worthwhile? Well if you want to stay up to date and asses BCU awards, then the answer is yes. In terms of the cost and time required for both the participants and presenters then the answer is no. Online resources, CPD updates etc would be a better way to go.

Derek Hairon 

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