Is it really worth it to attend ACA or BCU courses to rack up a rating? Is it more for those that wish to eventually become coaches or guides. I value a good training class as much as the next knucklehead but what is a certificate worth?

Its not worth a dime to me…what would
you do with it…If you want to guide middle class suburbanites who take stock in such things…then it could mean more clients…?


– Last Updated: Mar-14-06 5:59 PM EST –

I think the certificate serves a couple of purposes.
First of all it is a signal that you have arrived at a certain level of skill, and it allows you to compare your performance to an established standard and you can have a little pride in what you have worked to achieve.
Then it allows people to evaluate where you are as far as skills. If I want to go play in wind and waves and someone that I don't know well wants to go I need some way of evaluating what they can do. If they say that they have passed their 3* (I trained in the BCU system) I have an idea of their probable minimum skill set.
Another aspect is the training/learning aspect, what courses or training would be of benefit to someone. Someone who has just passed their 2* training should probably not follow their 4* the next week. Training, whether in kayaking or any other sport or field of endeavor, is generally grouped in specific related sets of skills or knowledge, with a fairly regular progression from 'debutante' to 'expert'. Certification will allow one to better evaluate where they are on the spectrum, and to determine what is required for them to improve.
Having said this I believe that certification is not the be all end all. Someone can be competent or even an expert without ever passing a certification, but in my opinion training and certification is the shorter route to the desired end.


what’s it worth
workshops are a fantastic learning environment. Certification is usually a seperate course. If you don’t need a certificate don’t take the course.

My experience is mixed
I find certification is sometimes limited by cost and availability. I took a few canoe classes, then hired a really talented paddler to give me a bit more instruction, then practiced and played a lot. While I continued to improve, I had no card. Attempting to become an instructor was a hassle as courses were offered infrequently, and in inconvenient locations. Many good paddlers are certified . . . but many are not.

If I never needed a cert for my resume, I would find someone who is an all-star (both at paddling and instruction), and get a couple of friends together and hire him/her for the day.

The beautiful thing: All star paddling instructors work cheap. A day-rate, split four ways will almost certainly be less expensive than an organized class with twice as many people.

Some outfitters won’t rent a kayak to someone they don’t know unless you show them you’ve passed 4 star or better (or the ACA equivalent).


When in the UK if you want to rent a kayak or paddle with a club they are very “Keen” on you having a BCU rating. I am going to do a BCU surfkayaking rating partly for that reason and partly as a push to make sure I actually work through some skills. I could care less about the BCU personally.

There are kinds of certification.
Merit badges for demonstrations of ability to do things have no appeal whatsoever for me and I really do not understand why people bother. But ymmv. It is entirely an individual decision.

Certifications of ability to instruct are another matter. I think the public has a right to know whether an instructor they hire has been judged to be competent by a credible organization. I know a lot of teaching goes on informally and that is fine. But if someone pays and can sue you …

Depends on why you want the cert…

– Last Updated: Mar-14-06 10:12 PM EST –

If you need it for insurance or to get a job as a teacher/guide/etc, it is worth it. If you need it to personally motivate yourself to advance your skills, it is worth it. If it opens doors for you in paddling such as invitations to teach at symposiums, etc. that would otherwise not be available to you, it is worth it.

If the certification isn't giving you some sort of benefit, it isn't worth it. Personally, I'm at a crossroad regarding certification. I really doubt that ACA or BCU certification will help my skill advancement and I have no plans to professionally teach kayaking any time soon. However, my kayak club encourages certification for our instructors (which includes me) and I know the various symposiums around here STRONGLY encourage it. Even if I did decide to get certified, what would I go for? ACA Coastal, ACA Whitewater, ACA Rolling endorsement, ACA Traditional kayaking endorsement, BCU 4 star... It all seems a bit much for me personally.

True, but it’s a snapshot in time…
…which means that you met the certification criteria THAT day under THOSE conditions. It say very little about your ability down the road

Lifetime certifications are basically a joke. I still have an Open Water Diver’s cert, but I haven’t been diving in over a decade. Someone might look at the cert and think I’m qualified to dive, but I certainly don’t. All it really means is that at one time, I knew what I needed to know to pass the test.

Paddling certs are the same thing, with the exceptions of coaching certs, which typically require you to keep up your training and/or re-certify periodically.


– Last Updated: Mar-16-06 8:55 AM EST –

The process is worth more than the paper. Going for a BCU rating kept a group of us paddling together and practicing one summer -- it helped to have a common, defined goal. But I haven't used the certification for anything since.

Go to the training and enjoy it. You can decide about the testing later.

It is worth it to me…

– Last Updated: Mar-15-06 3:05 PM EST –

even though I have no financial gain or pressing need that a cert would satisfy. It is simply an education brought forward by some very knowledgeable people that I have benefitted from.

As far as a cert being a snapshot in time, yes and no. Regarding the BCU, and the personal performance side of things, it is true that on that day you were or weren't to proficiency. On the coaching side of things you need to get updated, hold a certain amount of clinics, etc., to keep the rating.

People cross boundaries back and forth all the time. Do you still drive a car like you did when the man from the DMV sitting there with his score sheet and bifocals next to you? The point is, many paddlers use their achievment of a certain award as a springboard to further themselves and their fellow paddlers. If you think you know it all and are teaching, you are probably shortchanging your students. It's why I continue to pay other people to further myself along. Hopefully, it will help out someone else get what they want out of paddling.

Augustus Dogmaticus

Good advice all.
Looks like I’ll go for the 3* class this summer. Thanks to everyone.


Check out the BCU week in Burlington, they offer the training and the assessment…


That is the plan.
I am lucky that it is only 70 miles from the house.

See you there then…


The BCU openned up a whole new paddling world for me. The rankings only allowed me to go on and learn more. I’ve taken two different 5star trainning sessions and they were a wealth of knowledge and a great experience with great people.

At the most basic level, in the beginning, having a syllabus of strokes and manuevers to work on forced me to work on ALL the strokes, not just play around with the ones I liked or thought were fun. You really get to know yourself as a paddler.

To get caught up in the heirarchical rankings is not the way to look at it.

Without the challenge of a certificate, I’ve seen many so called experienced paddlers who have maybe paddled for 20 years. Yet, fundamentally, they may be very poor paddlers, with virtually no rescue skills. Essentially, they have repeated what they did the first year paddling, for the next 19 years. Does that really give them 20 years of paddling experience?

Ask Patty Pape and Wendy Beckwith of Southeast Michigan about getting their 3 star, then rescuing two 20 year paddling vets in conditions on Lake Erie, during their fisrt season paddling! Great true story. (Or ask me, of course I’d love to tell you about it.)

Best pro-BCU post ever NM

I’ll bite…
Please tell us about the rescue on Lake Erie. I love a good story.


…but all of that can be learned without the BCU, if one so desires. If certifications motivate people to train, that’s great. But the lack of a certification does not mean that a paddler is not trained and competent.