Experience levels .

Ok, so what is the standard that you use to define a beginner from an intermediate to an experienced kayaker?

Should be a lively thread!
Looking at how many clubs define skill set for various paddle levels and trips, it seems to me that one key is ability to safely paddle in various conditions. Ie stay in the boat, or get back in the boat if needed.

From just that perspective, here’s how I look at it:

Beginner: if you end up in the water, you can usually get back in the boat unassisted in flat or otherwise calm conditions. Beginners should paddle where and when they can get to safety, ie shore, if they can’t get back in the boat. That means not straying too far from shore, avoiding places where currents and tides can pull you away from shore, etc. When paddling outside these conditions, beginners should paddle with someone who can help them should they end up in the water and be unable to get to safety.

Intermediate: Has the skills to stay in the boast in rougher conditions, ie a combination of boat skills and experience (knowing how to use these skills and the boat). If they end up out of the boat, they can always get back in unassisted, even in rougher conditions, such as wave and wind. Can roll, but maybe not always, or in all conditions.

Rough: There’s a recent thread on what “rough” is. To me, it’s challenging conditions that you have the skills to handle. For me, that might be 1 - 3 foot waves, 10 - 15 mph winds. For you, might be 4 - 5 foot swells, 15 - 20 mph, etc.

Advanced: Unlikely to end up out of the boat. Has a solid roll, and can do it in rough conditions. If out of the boat, can get back in, even in very difficult conditions. Has excellent boat and seamanship skills, know how to help others safely (ie not putting themselves and others at risk).

ConnYak definitions
Everyone in the organization does not worry about these supposed ratings but just needed some kind of guide for trips.

Trip Ratings


Paddler knows how to get in and out of their boat without falling in, do a wet exit, paddle in a straight line,and understand channel markers. On ConnYak trips, novice paddlers are expected to be able to keep up with the leisurely group pace or will be turned back.


Fully capable of self rescue, confident paddling stroke, can turn 360 degrees in a 15 knot beam wind and is capable and comfortable doing high and low braces in seas, up to 3 ft.


A dependable roll, able to rescue others, able to land and launch in a 3 foot surf, paddle in a 30 knot beam wind, able to hold a straight course and turn 360 degrees, can sustain a 3 knot (3 1/2 miles per hour) speed for a period of three hours with minimal rest periods and understands paddling in various sea and wind conditions.

Our club
defines experience this way and rates each trip with the below so one can determine if it’s appropriate for them to participate.

Level 1

* No previous kayak experience is required.

Level 2

Participants should be able to:

* Paddle 6 miles in a day.

* Perform a wet exit.

* Perform an assisted deep water rescue.

* Maintain a heading for short distances without the use of a rudder.

* Turn a kayak using forward and reverse sweep strokes.

Level 3

Participants should be able to:

* Perform skills listed under Level 2.

* Paddle 13 miles in a day.

* Control a kayak in 15knt to 20knt winds.

* Feel comfortable in 2-3 foot waves.


Level 4

Participants should be able to:

* Perform the skills listed under Level 3.

* Paddle 15 miles in a day.

* Control a kayak in 20knt winds.

* Handle large ocean swells.

Level 5

Participants should be able to:

* Perform the skills listed under Level 4.

* Paddle 20+ miles in a day.

* Control a kayak in 25knt winds.

yep, specifics, not intermediate, etc.
Beginner, intermediate, etc. have no meaning – seems Everyone is intermediate ;). Some have dealt with high winds, but not much surf. Others can do many miles, but don’t have experience in big following seas. Everyone has their weak points along with their strong ones so you need to list out things like waves, winds, distance, surf size, navigation, rescues, etc.

seems like these levels only apply to …

– Last Updated: Oct-14-10 11:36 AM EST –

....... kayakers on the ocean or open waters ??

I canoe in rivers mostly , some on open reservours ... I have enough experience to know when the weather and water conditions are not very good ... when the water is too rough ... when the wind is PITA ... when the rain is a PITA ... when the temps. are a PITA ... call me mild joe who has been in 15'-20' seas w/40+ kt. steady winds in a 20' CC boat (in the dark) ... paddle craft are fair Wx and water craft ... WW running is something all together different , that begins the skill and craft levels from ny perspective .

It would seem most people know when Wx and water conditions are bad , dangerous , etc. ... having the ability to fore see these conditions for the duration of the paddle time (start to finish) would seem the important skill to aquire .

Distance and ability to paddle that distance , hours one can paddle is not a concern for me ... 1 hr. or 16 hrs. is ok , no problem there ... from my experience most new paddlers can handle 5 hrs. on the paddle w/o any problems ... certainly more if nessasary ... paddling is not a hard thing to do unless you make it so ... paddling is considered a liesurly exercise and sport , unless you are eventing in marathon or race .

forward progress
What I feel is most important for myself, and for others I have paddled with, has boiled down to something very simple. At what point does meaningful forward progress cease. It can be based upon current, upon roughness of the water, upon wind, and obviously a combination of those. But at that point, in my mind, it’s time to start seriously considering safety. If every member of a group can honestly communicate that to the best of thier knowledge, that’s an excellent starting point.

I consider development of a solid roll and rescue skills a beginner’s prerequisite to testing rough water boundaries, although I concede that you can be quite accomplished outside of rough water without a roll. Some have become quite accomplished in rough water without a roll, but it would take so much more to learn, and the safety margin is difficult to ignore.

I have my own standards :slight_smile:
Since these definitions vary, I have my own simple understanding of levels:

Beginner - doesn’t know rescues, can’t handle 2+ foot waves with ease, doesn’t have understanding of strokes.

Intermediate - handles 2-4 foot waves, can do at least 2 rescues, maybe rolls, doesn’t seek rough water.

Advanced - the yakkers in This Is The Sea videos - seek rough water for thrills, roll easily, know rescues and strokes.

What venue?
I’m assuming sea. A good capability to develop is whether or not you’re “feeling it.”


I tend to refer to ACA http://www.americancanoe.org/site/c.lvIZIkNZJuE/b.4085469/k.BF93/Home.htm or BCU http://www.bcuna.com/index.html skill sets and rankings of novice, intermediate, and advanced.

These are 2 long established and respected paddlesports organizations and their definitions are easily available and well circulated.

Give RICKA the credit!
Those are the sea kayak levels for RICKA, Rhode Island Canoe & Kayak Assn. Be proud of your club! I am!


Original post Question is misleading
Experience and skill are very different things. I’ve been solo paddling since about the age of 6 years old so I have LOTS of experience. Since the vast majority of the paddling was in benign conditions and I’ve received little training my skill level is still at the beginner stage.

So BCU and ACA have ratings for different skill levels that are good to go by.

So it goes beginner (two star), intermediate (3 star and a roll) advanced (four stars and all sorts of fabulous rolls and skills)for different skill levels.

I’ve also seen people who gain the skills quickly but who lack experience and get into trouble.

If someone tells me they are an "expert"
I don’t want to paddle with them.

That tells me they are a BS artist and would be useless in an emergency.

That is my only criteria when paddling with others

Jack L

Hey remember when the C stood for canoe?
Seriously everything I’ve read so far seems to assume openwater kayaking only.

If we’re going to make definitions we need to be clear what they’re based on.

And yes I do know and paddle with RICKA canoeists. But they’re getting rarer every day.

lack experience and get into trouble
I’ve had that experience once paddling with 2 people who seemed to have greater skills than me but had spent less time on the sea.

Both the ACA and BCU attempt to address this problem by requiring evidence of journeying in appropriate environments as part of their defined skill sets.



Good point
We’ve learned the hard way… in an environment that we don’t know, like WW, we follow the advice on how to approach a trip from someone who does.

In an environment that we know well, we don’t let someone else’s shaky judgment rule our trip even if they can paddle circles around us in terms of their skills. The last time we let that happen it cost us $20 bucks to get a ride from where we had to land to the OTHER side of the bay where our cars were parked. Oops.

Yep …
Been paddling canoes since I was a kid, as well as row boats. Been kayaking for about 5 years. Never tipped over unintentionally. Used to ski a lot, loved moguls, so I guess I have lose hips.

No formal training, except for a rolling class (failed). What I know how to do I’ve learned myself. I know enough to know I know very little, and paddle accordingly. For that reason I classify myself as a beginner.

Too simplistic
Pigeon holes like beginner and expert are not very useful to me.

The club I learned whitewater with rated paddlers. If you had a clII rating you could go on clII trips. To go an a III trip with a II rating you had to convince the trip leader you were up to it. That was supposed to make it easy for leaders to screen trips.

When I started leading trips I soon realized I was better off talking to anybody I didn’t know, and hopefully comparing recent paddles.

I don’t lead trips any more but that’s still how I decide if I want to paddle with someone new to me. “Where have you paddled recently? What were conditions like? What were you wearing? Any carnage? How did it feel?”

I use that sort of questioning for pretty much any paddling I do with folks I don’t know.

what I paddle is rivers
1)beginner) total yard sale after a swim, swim being caused by losing control, and plowing into a canoe playing in a hole, that does not move, because they’re playing in a hole.

2) intermediate) likes to play in holes, doesn’t get flustered when beginner plows into them, simply continues playing, lets beginner have their yard sale.

3) advanced)does not bother playing in holes 'cuz they’re too busy running the gnar, gnar being creeks and falls.

While I can understand the other two terms I have trouble with the last on, “experienced”. As an instructor I meet many “experienced” paddlers who insist that they are just taking a strokes class or a rescue class as a refresher. It seems that 18 year of paddling around on a lake or on glassy flat water makes one quite experienced…on flat water. 'Nuf said.