Flatpick's Value of Certification

The purpose of our award based program is to help students acquire an advanced level of competence in sea kayaking through manageable, incremental learning stages, formalized instruction and coordinated coaching and practice.
The program starts with the basics of boat control, develops them into effective and efficient, learned skills, and works in self and assisted rescues, seamanship, navigation and tripping. These early skills are developed thoroughly in a sheltered water environment before moving to open water with wind, waves, current, surf, open crossings, and day and night navigation. The later stages of the program introduce advanced seamanship, navigation, and boat control and rescue skills in advanced rough water conditions.
Instruction is provided through a collection of well-defined core courses, followed up by lots of practice and more coaching, as needed. Formal assessments are provided to ensure skills are learned and assimilated into every day paddling, and can be easily reproduced on demand. Having completed assessments at various levels students should be clear about the type of trips and kind of conditions they are prepared to undertake.

Multi-Level Approach

The program is divided into five levels. Level 1- Novice, Level 2- Beginner, Level 3- Intermediate, Level 4- Proficient, and Level 5- Advanced. These levels have been chosen to correspond to the internationally recognized award system defined by the British Canoe Union (BCU) and coincidentally tie in with the Tsunami Ranger’s Sea Conditions Rating system and the international whitewater rating system. The curriculum is based on both American Canoe Association (ACA) and BCU technique and teaching styles. Formal assessments for BCU awards are available on completion of each level. Since each level develops skills that are necessary for the next level, it is important to complete the levels in order.

Level 1 is for the first time, novice to take an introductory paddlesport course. No award.

At Level 2 the emphasis is on acquiring basic knowledge and skills to enable the student to participate comfortably and safely on a sheltered water trip under the guidance of a competent leader. This level includes basic boat control, self and assisted rescues and an introduction to day tripping. BCU- 2 STAR

At Level 3 the emphasis is on developing effective and efficient techniques that will give the student a firm foundation for intermediate and advanced kayaking. At this level these skills will be refined and polished in a sheltered water environment until they are learned skills that are naturally and subconsciously blended together. The central theme at this level is a refinement and polishing of all the important strokes, bilaterally and in forward and reverse modes, as well as a fine tuning of bracing, rolling and rescues. We also introduce basic seamanship and navigation at this level, and use what is learned in an intermediate day trip. BCU-3 STAR

Level 4 will introduce students to open water paddling with moderate wind, waves, current and surf as well as introducing night paddling and refining seamanship and navigation skills. On completion of Level 4 the student should be able to participate comfortably and safely as the member of a team on an open water day, multi-day, or night trip, under the guidance of a competent leader, assuming conditions fall within the specified parameters. This is the level of competence required to participate in open coastal trips. The key components of this level include the use of all Level 3 strokes and maneuvers in open water conditions with wind, waves and current, an introduction to paddling in the surf zone, exposure to moderate tidal currents and wind, bracing, rolling and performing self and assisted rescues in open water conditions, and an introduction to night paddling and more advanced navigation and seamanship. BCU 4 STAR

Level 5 is the highest level and provides leadership training for open and rough water paddling. At this level students are exposed to advanced conditions including strong wind, current, large waves and surf, advanced rescue techniques, advanced seamanship, leadership and navigation at night and in poor visibility. This is the level of competence required to lead open coastal trips. BCU 5 STAR.

Phased Approach

Completion of this program is not simply a matter of taking a course and checking off an assessment. It is important that the skills and knowledge at each level be learned and thoroughly assimilated, otherwise problems encountered at the next level will be difficult to rectify. The normal way to proceed through each of the levels will be via four phases:

Phase 1: Instruction - Formal course-based instruction, in which qualified instructors introduce students to specific skills and concepts. Each level has several distinct courses covering the required topics, and each course has a clearly defined syllabus.
Phase 2: Coaching – After the skills are learned it is necessary to use them in real life situations in which students work with a coach to refine the skills and address problems.
Phase 3: Practice - Having fine-tuned a skill with a coach, it is essential to practice it, alone or with peers, until it becomes instinctive.
Phase 4: Assessment - Formal assessment of skills, with a qualified assessor, to ensure that skills are mastered to the required level and can be reproduced on-demand in appropriate conditions.

By combining both ACA and BCU teaching styles and BCU assessments, which have a very high standard, the student can get a high quality EDUcation. Cost will vary as to the actual goals of the student and how fast they want to move through the program. Many courses can be repeated and the cross-pollination of other coaches, instructors and accredited programs is highly suggested.


Sounds fun to me
After following the other thread, I think some people are taking this way too seriously. There doesn’t need to be a certification requirement for kayaking, but I don’t have a problem with requiring instructors to be certified.

I don’t think a case can be made that training isn’t worthwhile for coastal kayakers. There is always more to learn and what you’ve outlined sounds challenging and just plain fun. If your serious about paddling exposed coastlines then do it responsibly. If you paddle ponds, don’t worry about it. If you already have the skills and knowledge, it just means you’ve already been having fun.

maybe if i decide to be an instructor

– Last Updated: Nov-17-04 8:22 PM EST –

After reading some BCU curriculums I have to say that a lot of the training levels are pretty trivial. I can hardly believe that people actually need to be taught some of the skills learned up through 3 star and even some of the things that go with 4-5star. Chart reading? Understanding weather? predicting swells? Predicting tidal and wave behavior from bathymetry (how else do you find new breaks to play on)? People really don't already know this stuff? Most of the strokes can be self taught as well. I'm still learning but I play on a tippy race boat launching from the beach when the NWS raises small craft advisories (provided the wind is onshore). I can roll reliably on both sides, scull brace/draw, edge turns, paddle swiftly, etc... I'm no Olympian or great expeditioner but I must be doing something right without the BCU seal of approval in order to do these things.

I guess I have an advantage having grown up on the water prior to taking up paddle sports but this stuff is just so basic. I just can't see dropping several thousand dollars to have someone confirm that I can roll, brace, paddle swiftly, and remember my coursework in meteorology and oceanography.

I do have a few key deficiencies that render me not up to BCU snuff. I don't know the towing techniques and I might need instruction on rescuing others as my repetoir is limited. I paddle alone so neither have been a concern for me to date. I also don't carry a repair kit. I likely would on a trip though.

Also, sculling draw with wing, no problem. Haven't figured out how to scull for support with a wing yet. High brace with a wing is more like a forward sweeping stroke brace. I guess I'd have to go buy a standard paddle for assessment.

Nutshell? I'm not going to fool with it for my own gratification as I don't think it would enhance my paddling in any way. I'd do certification if I wanted to be an instructor or guide. An instructor needs to be credentialled. That, and I have no clue how to teach what I learned through trial and error to others. A guide needs the group management stuff in BCU5.

Oh, and on the group management stuff. Nothing is worse than to have a new exuberant 5star (or someone practicing for a 5star) on a show and go. You can be paddling the home estuary in benign conditions and he is going to reign you in. The leader has got to keep the group tight. Never mind that it isn't an organized trip and it is a short day paddle. Never mind that the group is moving excruciatingly slow. Never mind that I paddle this location almost daily and only came along on this trip to socialize during the lunch stops and at the pub after the trip. Never mind that a tug boat is chugging by in the channel pulling a delicious wake that is begging to be surfed. You must not break from the group.

Nicely stated!
And when itcan be even handedly implemented (within reason not to perfection) it will be a great asset to those who chose to do it. I will probably number among them.

Guess I need to start to keep a log.

I despise bureaucracy. Especially the necessity for any modern man to have a file cabinet, but …

you don’t…

a paddle log is a keen way to record your doings. and it’s actually a legal document. might come in handy. we do it electronically as a TR (trip report) and everyone on the trip shares.


a few recent ones that were a hoot!!!


Hey “instructors” ! B - F - D !
Can you get any more haughty and arrogant than to lay out and attempt to define a persons level of competency by forcing your personal and associated international guidelines and carrot - on - a -stick - grass - is - greener - in -the - other - corral - for what is “right” on them !?

Nice to put on a resume but as you cannot deny, Certification doesn’t mean jack (even to you as a potential employer) until skills are proven on the water… paper does not float for long.

My, my, my, but we get cranky
when we stay up too late, eh?

I’m waiting on some glue to dry thus had the opportunity to read your post here as well as your comments on the other threads.

What wonderful contributions you offer this cyber community… A real breath of fresh air!

I would recommend a nice low viscosity epoxy resin applied carefully to fill in that chip you have on your shoulder.

You don’t, by chance, pilot a jet ski do you? :wink:

Have a day.


Sorry, but isn’t it an spam???

Flatpick, How would your ratings apply to a SOT driver? or Is this still an “OLD school” Sots are toys kinda thing? BTW ScomBrid Hit the Nail on the head in my opinion. and the part about leadership is funny too, We see that all the time in the Air force, Some college kid just graduates and gets his “Butter bar” now come in and wants to Tell the “Zebras” how to run the show!! The Good Lts learn pretty quick to Listen to the Zebras… Especially since many if not most of the Zebras have higher degrees then the LT!! Bottom line if you want a BCU rating great go get it, ALL learning is good. But once it becomes mandatory, I believe it takes away from the “Funness” of the sport.

I have NEVER seen anything that got more fun the more regulated it got, unless breaking regulations is your kind of fun…

I Like To Learn And Improve
My main considerations would be cost, distance to the ‘classroom’, and amount of time required.


Holy crap !!
Give me the good old days when people got on their single speed bikes and learned how to ride, then graduated to a nice light weight road bike all on their own

And give me the good old days when people went out and jogged a mile to loose some weight, and then eventually worked their way up to a marathon, doimng it on their own.

And give me the good old days when people started paddling in an old Grummin or 80 pound old Town disco, or their little 9 foot, fat rec kayak, and doing it on their own.

Lots of good memories and you developed your own techniques, (some good and some bad).

I would flunk out of your class.

I paddled all day yesterday without my PFD on!( that should stir the pot)



Hey Jack
were the Tires on your single speed still made of wood then?? L Quick give me the number of the PFD police!! I need to report a Violation

I can understand
the want/ legal need for busness certification. As for me, I don’t paddle large bodies of water. Don’t sea yak. I will not get cetifiacation. Godd for all of ya that do.

It had that great big front one and…
the little back one.,

I had the PFD with me, so I could have politely smiled at the cops, or if I tipped swam the couple of hundred feet to shore.

We paddled a new place. Lake James in the NC foothills.

We even got to take the QCCs up to the headwaters of the Catawba River. It was unbelievable how clear and pure the water was, (not like it is in Charlotte and Rock Hill).

First time we have taken those kevlar yaks up a few rapids. We got about a mile before we started to bottom out on the gravel and had to turn back.

I was wishing we had the plastic ones. It would have been fun to keep going and see “whats around the next bend” !



I Paddle Open Water
but don’t intend to teach professionally (for me, that would ruin my personal fun). No certification for me either. Never crossed my mind even an iota. This is different from talking about learning and practicing. I do a lot of that and believe they can be related but yet separate.


Teach Good Judgment before skills

– Last Updated: Nov-18-04 9:36 AM EST –

The program will sink or swim based on whether it teaches good
judgment or rote skills. "Thy love did read by rote, and could not spell." --Shak.

I have participated in skill and knowledge intstructional programs that were great and those that were horrible roadblocks. To be fair, this one could be fine, really fine, or not it depends on whether THE CENTERPIECE is the teaching of each person to understand how to make critical judgments, analyze situations, know what is best that works for them, and NOT to learn they should copy others, do things the one approved way, etc. Wayne Horodowich, "Reflections from the Cockpit Who's right?" states it well, paraphrasing, if the instructer does not help you to find what is right for you, and to teach you to use your own head to think things out he is not helping you.

Otherwise, you will have people who have certain skills but will not be able to integrate them into making critical judgments about adventure and risk and how to find that balance for themselves and for others.

The British Columbia Sea Kayaking Club has the best way of putting this I have ever found. They don't put the cart before the horse, that is they believe that people who learn good judgment first then will freely choose to learn skills, knowledge, and equip themselves correctly.

Here is there motto:
"Many of us are sea kayakers because we value freedom from the everyday demands of living in a complex, modern society. We do not, in our pursuit of personal freedom and responsibility on the sea, want to reproduce those restrictions that constrain our work-a-day lives.

We nevertheless recognize that in kayaking on the sea, we may encounter situations of stress or danger, and that in such situations we may have only ourselves or our immediate companions to depend on for help or rescue.

It is obvious that in such situations, it is important to know what we expect of ourselves and of others: a dangerous situation can be quickly changed by misunderstandings or disagreements into a tragic one.

Since we believe that rules and regulations can erode those very values for which be became sea paddlers in the first place, our club stresses the concept of freely chosen mutual responsibility.

All paddlers recognize that they should, neither through negligence or any other reason, increase the danger to other paddlers, nor fail to respond to the need of others for help if it is possible to do so."

hear, hear
I like your club.

Why the hostility?
I don’t see where Steve is claiming that certification makes people better paddlers. He’s laid out a structured program that probably works well for folks who like that sort of thing. If you don’t, that’s fine too. From talking to Steve, he’s happy to paddle with anyone who has appropriate skills for the conditions, certified or not.

Why is it that some people are convinced that certification exists in order to seperate people into us and them? Certification is not about being better than someone else, it’s about getting better (than you were)!

Some people learn more easily when they are able to track their progress against some standard. These are the people for whom personal skills cetifications are designed.

Some people desire external validation of their skills. These are the people for whom personal skills cetifications are designed.

Some people prefer to learrn on their own, in their own way and time and have no desire for any external validation of their skills. These are not the people for whom personal skills cetifications are designed.

If you fit the profile of the designed target and you want to persue certification or just training, that’s fine. If you don’t want to train and/or don’t want to assess / certify that’s fine too. Do what makes you happy.

Why do those that do not fit the marketing profile for sctructured training and certification insist on pooh-pooh-ing structured training and certification for the rest of the world? Must I be forced to modify my learning strategies because you don’t realize the same benefits from structured training as I do?

Certification isn’t about “us vs them” it’s about “me versus myself”. It’s a way for me to develop more quickly than I am able to do without any external influence. You, of course, are free to do what you want, when you want, as you want. Would you deny me the same courtesy that I already extend to you?


right on
All I have done is layout a reasonable way for a student to learn paddling from 0-60 in a reasonable amount of time. It skips the trial/error method and presents a system for achieveing paddlesport goals by ‘taking lessons’ from a certified coach.

I’ll paddle with anyone who has the skills for the conditions, regardless if they’re ‘certified’ or not. When I do accept students into a program or course, tho I need to know where their skill level lies. This groups the students into a similar class and allows the instructor to present the proper material. nothing worse than one student in six who is poorly suited for the class. If a student has no formal rating/rank and I ask them to ‘self assess’ their skills, 9 times out of 10 they over qualify themselves. This can be an issue if the course is paddling the surf zone of the Columbia River bar! =:-0)