Advice on teaching and leading trips?

I have no certs or formal training in paddling but I’m sure I could teach and lead trips on the slow moving Susquehanna River. Has anyone done this? How can I get started? How much can I charge? What are the pitfalls?

Thanks Suntan

From a purely business standpoint,
find a good attorney, a good accountant, and a good insurance agent. The attorney can provide advice about the government maze of rules, regulations and permits when starting a business; the accountant for tax issues, and an insurance agent to recommend a good liability policy to provide the coverage you’ll need.

liability insurance would certainly be
something to think about. The ACA will let you list a trip/event through an affiliate paddle american club and obtain waivers and insurance through their organization. They also offer certification programs. All of my “work” has been volunteer, meaning it usually costs me a bit, but it is rewarding to help others. I meet a lot of nice people that I can go paddling with.

Give a call

Give a call on a weekday if you want a sounding board from a different river basin. if you want to follow along with today’s Instructor Certification Program.

See you on the water,


The RIver Connection, Inc.

Hyde Park, NY

I look at liability insurance from a
slightly different angle than most. My feeling is that if I hold myself out as a person that people can trust to do a certain job and then I fail in some way and someone is injured it is my moral responsibility to compensate them and the only way I will be able to do that is if I have liability insurance which will at least provide compensation to them if I am not just morally responsible but also legally responsible. Just a thought. I do not think I am morally or legally responsible if I have done my job well and an accident happens through no fault of my own. But the decision whether I have done my job properly is a decsion that will be made by neutral third parties, (ie. a jury).

do you know what you don’t know?
I don’t know you, how well you paddle, how well you know the risks in the area, etc. There is a saying - you don’t know what you don’t know. gets said just about every time we talk about someone dying while paddling - that person didn’t know the risks, nor how to negate the risks (avoidance and training). Not knowing you, I don’t know what you know and don’t know. But the general knowledge of how to avoid and negate risks can be learned through something like the American Canoe Association certification program for trip leaders and for instructors. Might be worth looking in to.

ACA does also provide insurance, but if you are looking to do this as a real business, you likely would get better prices with regular business insurance.

On pricing, I would look at what companies with similar tours to what you have planned charge. You can go on the web sites of tour companies and the like in your area and they likely have their prices there.

that is an interesting perspective
Where does personal responsibility fit in your formula for the participant? Rafting companies here in wv mitigate their risk by having each participant sign a liability waiver. In some cases that waiver is actually read out loud to them. Then there is the “safety talk” in which the attendees are told all the terrible things that can happen to them: like foot entrapment, getting stuck in a hole or under the boat, hitting someone else with a paddle (the most common injury). Then they are told “how to” aggressively swim back to the raft, catch a throw rope regardless of their actual ability to do so.

To me its all about negligence or making mistakes that result in someone being killed or injured. The standard set before a jury is likely to involve certifications and standards set by the aca or by others providing the same services you do and you’ll have to show you met those standards should you ever go to court. Because I never hear the outcome of these cases (we have had a number of them on the New and Gauley) I assume things are “settled” out of court by the insurance companies and the lawyers and never by an actual jury. We had one case headed to trial but it abruptly ended- I’m assuming the parties settled. Hard to get the actual data- nondisclosure agreements keep that from happening.

With all due respect…
I do not wish to quash anyone’s aspirations, but the fact that you go to a forum to ask these questions clearly shows that you are indeed not ready to do these things. These are self-evident questions that should have been answered through your evolution as a paddler long ago. It shows that you do not hang with a circle of experienced instructors, trip leaders, or paddlers that can advise you on this. It is one thing effectively paddle a canoe and another to try to instruct others to do so. The real issue is to understand Group Management well enough to keep a group of novices safe, even on a slow moving river. Do yourself a favor, take some lessons from a known good instructor and note their methods, to see what you need to know and what you do not know. Review the ACA teaching curriculum and ask yourself if you understand all contained therein and could teach it in a coherent way. In terms of your personal liability, there’s a body of legal theory known in most places as “Assumption of Risk”. Without going into a complex and lengthy discussion, know this, if a participant is injured or dies on your watch and you have not sought out the best training and certifications possible then you could easily be held liable for negligence. You could lose everything you have now or ever will have. Main thing is you don’t seem ready to keep the public safe at this point.

Talk to Marshall
Agree with payageur. At least from what you put in your post, the only thing you are ready to do is get into a heck of a lot of trouble. And maybe put others at risk too.

The “pitfalls” are not enjoying …
your paddling a playing nursemaid to others!

Jack l

Amen, NM

Thanks to everyone for the great Replys

Thanks for the great insight into ACA
classes. My Prijon is still my favorite boat.

I will start by saying that I am not a kayak guide. I have however guided many backpacking trips. The second thing I want to start with is if it is your goal to become a kayak guide you CAN accomplish that goal it just might take some time. I will however say that being a guide is not for every one. you need to be vary confident, be able to work under pressure, be a good speaker and motivator, and have some natural teaching skills. The day you transition from average Joe to guide everything changes. All screw ups are on you. A personal example is when I get to camp. i need to not only set up my stuff but also help everyone else. sometimes people come to me with a crazy tent design that i gave never seen before with no instructions and ask me to set it up. If you are not an improviser this job is not for you. Having said that being a guide differs quit a lot depending on the context. If all you are doing is leading experienced kayakers down a river than that’s going to be quite a lot easier than teaching a bunch of city kids how kayak. I dont want to discourage you i know what its like to have a dream and when ever you ask for advice people discourage you just keep pushing if you what it bad enough you will get it it just may take some time.

along with negating risks…
Something I didn’t think of when I wrote the message above - along with negating the risks, you need to know how to solve problems. How to rescue people when they dump, how to perform first aid, etc.

Work at it…

– Last Updated: May-04-15 3:12 PM EST –

If there is a local guide\instruction business, working for them would be a good experience to see someone else in action, and get an idea of the skills you need. Keep in mind some of these local outfitters can do things their own way, which isn't always the best way.
Take some classes, get some instruction, watch how the instructors teach and manage a group, both on and off the water. The ACA is a good resource and you can get insurance through them if you become an ACA certified instructor.
Practice on your friends, especially rescues, have them make things difficult for you. You want to be able to get that person who can barely get off their own couch back into a tippy little boat while they are cold wet and not listening to you, and do it gracefully without screaming at them.
Pump up the volume. It does take awhile to get the "outside" voice working, take a group of friends paddling and make sure you talk very loud\yell the whole time you're on the water, especially if there is any wind you're going to need some volume to be heard.
Get some first aid certifications. Basic cpr then move on to a wilderness first aid or something similar. Start carrying a good first aid kit whenever you get on the water. Mostly hopefully it's just booboos, otherwise you'll need to contact emergency services for a quick evac.
If you go on group paddles, always try and be the first one ready and dressed, and help others get ready or move boats. As a guide you should be several steps ahead, if you're just standing around chances are there are things you should be doing.
Head on a swivel. On group paddles constantly look around to see who is where, count boats until you don't need to, see how wind and current affect group speed and cohesion. Keep track of people shooting ahead or falling behind.
Fake it until you make it. Every instructor\guide had to learn how to play the part, it can take about a season to start to get it down well, and several seasons to become a grizzled pro. Go buy some dark glasses, a big hat, lots of sunscreen and get started.

Thanks again everyone

going commercial
It is a big step to go from leading trips with your friends to guide for hire. Other poster are right about insurance and liability.

Take first aid courses. Practice on your friends. Practice self rescues and rolling. Good luck.

Follow your dream!
With your eyes open, of course.

Having paddled w/Suntan, I know he is a born teacher, has the “outside voice”, and has the heart.

Check with the closest Small Business Development Center for low or no cost “how to start a business” advice, without the immediate $ commitment of the lawyer, accountant, and insurance man. They will help with a business plan.

As for skills, the ACA courses might be a smart investment. Or work before the mast at Bob’s or Kittatinny for spell, if you haven’t already.

Drop me a line, Dennis^_^

License to guide…

– Last Updated: May-08-15 7:04 AM EST –

I don't know about other states that the Susquehanna flows through, but in New York State if you formally accept payment as a guide, then you must obtain a guide's license.

The large membership of the New York Outdoor Guide's Association will have plenty of information for you to look over.

If you are guiding for an organized youth group (Boy Scouts or similar), the BSA National Camping School offers an 8-day training program for wilderness backpack and canoe trek leader guides.