guide requirements

what gear, skills or certifications do you believe are appropriate for sea kayak guides?

marine environment, current to 2 knots, wind to 15, always within half a mile of shore.

just curious to see what opinions are out there and how they line up with some things i’ve seen.

The X-factor
X-factor: ( EX - fak tor ) slang

The subjective qualification that one person gives another regarding his or her competence to lead a group of paddlers in 15 kt winds, 2 kt current, and some other conditions.

Here’s how I assign it - If my wife and child were on a paddling trip with some dude, and conditions changed for the worse. Would I lose any sleep?

I have friends who don’t own their own boat, have minimal gear and no official ratings whom I would trust - without question - to do the right things, make the right calls, etc.

I know others who have all the gear, all the talk, a handful of cool ratings and certifications whom I would never trust out of my sight.

The most important qualifications: experience, intelligence, time on the water.

Well . . .

– Last Updated: May-05-11 12:00 PM EST –

I'm probably on the more conservative end of things, since there aren't many guides around here that meet the criteria, but I think to safely lead a group in the circumstances you describe a guide should be capable of -

Handle their own boat in the next step up, say 15-20 knots/Force 5, minor tide races, so that they've got "headroom" when guiding.

Know how to roll reliably, because if you're out of your boat, you've lost control and can't really help anyone else.

Be able to do a variety of rescues for a variety of circumstances, (scoop, etc) without really thinking about it.

Be able to navigate efficiently and effectively in a tidal environment.

Be equipped and trained to deal with medical emergencies like hypothermia, seasickness, anaphylaxis, and general first aid stuff too.

Be mentally trained and prepared to deal with an emergency in a effective and timely fashion, keeping in mind their own safety, the group's, and then the safety of anyone who's in trouble. Keeping the big picture in view all the time is probably one of the toughest criteria on this list, IMO.

Basically, this is BCU 4-star stuff. I think they've done a really good job defining the full range of skills that a paddler should have to lead a group, and put an emphasis on how effective you can be in real world circumstances.

i may pass on that…color me old.

i agree - a good paddler/waterman is good and a poor one is lousy/dangerous regardless of whatever cert they managed to wrangle but what about people YOU don’t know. is there an objective, measurable standard within the outfitting industry?

i don’t know. i only have experience with what i have experience with and that’s (possibly/probably) less than the sum total of the entire board.

maine has registered maine guides and to my knowledge, it’s the only state that has set any standard; which means that it’s solely up to individual outfitters in other parts of the country. and that’s my question - are there ANY standards at all?

i guess what it comes down to is a question of whether or not an outfitter has a leg to stand on if an incident should arise and whether or not gross negligence (legal term/definition) is proven almost immediately by NOT having guides with some measurable, quantifiable, certified skills. saying “well, so and so passed MY guides class before i let him/her out on the water with clients” is fine and well but is that a standard? one outfitter may be a high level coach and another may not…both are using the same standard but it’s clearly not the same thing. that’s a personal standard.

none of which is to say that a paddler with a cert WON’T make a bonehead move…just that if it comes down to cases does an ACA or BCU cert help or hurt and is it even required?

seems to me it’s the wild west and just wanted to know what happened in other parts of the country.

even in maine . . .
Yes, Maine requires a Guide License, but (as Rick is aware) there is absolutely no practical skill requirements for that otherwise somewhat rigorous exam. The exam is much more about the so-called x-factor - the Game Wardens and Marine Patrol who administer the exam do their best to flap the candidate, and see how confidently they respond to a theoretical emergency under stress (in an office). It’s a useful attribute, but it’s useless without some competence in a kayak. It’s frightening, in my opinion, that you need only know how to DESCRIBE a rescue, and it’s entirely possible to pass without having ever actually done one.

I wonder if the lack of standards for kayak guides in the US contributes to the ridiculous price of liability insurance. My understanding is that in the UK, most/all people taking out paddlers in the environment you describe would hold the BCU 4-star award. Not surprising perhaps that insurance comes free with your $60 annual BCU membership in the UK, but here it costs a couple thousand dollars.

an on-water practical would be better but until cash strapped maine gets that squared away, the most important part of that exam is the grizzled wardens giving you the hairy eyeball during the interview portion. they do an admirable job of shaking the newbs loose…although to fully disclose, i do hold a maine guides license so surely don’t want to run down the standard. i’d venture that most are at a minimum competent at what they do and where they do it.

insurance here in the US is flat out crazy high but i wonder if it has so much to do with the qualification standards for guides or is a reflection of our society where sue is a verb and not a woman named susan. the uk ethos is really different…it’s like it’s a different country or something.

the aca does offer insurance per person/per event but even the $20 premium is high when you think about an outfitter running a thousand or more people in boats over the course of a season…then you’re likely better off with a personal stand alone policy.

i think i know the answer to my question - “are there standards” but am trying to gauge whether or not that’s the nature of things or just my understanding.

Remember, certification just presents a snapshot of skills/qualifications.

Many outfitters look for people with certifications (remember, snapshot) because the cert implies that said person meets a baseline criteria that they have a certain amount of judgment, ability to plan and also the ability to extricate a themselves and a group in the event that plan goes awry.

I’ve known good guides w/o certification, but most have affiliation with either the ACA or the BCU, especially when you start dealing with the conditions that you list in the OP. Admittedly, I’ve also seen many small operations that work flat water where the qualification is that you can adequately fill out an application and you show up to the training (I teach for one such outfit, I’m an ACA L4 instructor, I don’t guide just handle the instruction, including the guides) and the latter situation can be frustrating given the occasional swelled head the title “guide” can impart.

a snapshot

– Last Updated: May-06-11 9:35 AM EST –

only. completely agree - on this day, in this group in these conditions, you could ____. that's all. but it's at least a standard baseline (for some point in time)

i am in a similar position as you only on the east coast and yes, the word "guide" has swelled more than a head or two in cases where no abundance of skills was present.

to my way of thinking a guide would need to have at a minimum the equivalent skills of an ACA trip leader or a new BCU 4* certs. is that however a reasonable expectation and is it in any way the standard? i want to get a feel on whether or not i am being overly stringent in my definition of "guide" or if indeed there is a different standard and if so, what is it?

Different country, different coast…
…but the Sea Kayak Guides Alliance of BC has provided a lot of leadership in developing standards and curricula. The OP describes conditions that would correspond to a Level 1 Guide, which would require VHF license, basic first aid cert, etc. See details here:

SKGABC courses are now being taught in eastern Canada too, and their certs are now recognized in some other countries (eg: Chile, New Zealand, etc.)

What is wise about SKGABC is that they treat guiding as a separate skill set from general paddling skills, which, in Canada, are certified through Paddle Canada. In other words, they recognize that a really awesome paddler does not necessarily have the skills to be a really awesome guide.

know some fantastic paddlers that are terrible guides/teachers - different skill sets. particularly guiding.

it’s comforting and nice to have a remarkable and deep personal skills tool box to dip into but since you’re likely teaching and guiding those that aren’t as skilled…better to never have to dip into it.

if your personal skills are a ten, you shouldn’t be guiding / teaching in conditions that you warrant are a ten, you should be in conditions that max out lower…you need to be utterly comfy if/when you need to sort things out amongst the herd. if you’re pressed…where are they?

Wouldn’t we all be better with private licences and professional organizations. The states can barely licence drivers. I certainly wouldn’t expect them to do kayaking. The insurance companies would need to be involved with the private groups to set standards. Then maybe premiums would come down. But I doubt it.

Ryan L.

I feel I have to clarify that BCU 4* is a LEADERSHIP award, not a paddler skill award, for those that aren’t familiar with the system or haven’t kept up with changes within that system. In my experience being a good guide requires not only good paddling skills in relation to where you’re paddling but judgment, planning abilities, flexibility and an ability persuade people to make the right decisions rather than invoke the command style of leadership - not to say there isn’t a place for it.

I recently had the judgment discussion in another group. One of the group members posted a trip from Washington Park, Anacortes to Friday Harbor, SJI via Cattle pass on a day with a big exchange…one of my favorite trips and conditions. It was posted openly (mistake #1) and had many pertinent details about launching time etc (#2). To me, whether in a closed group or as a guide/instructor the first trick is to not put myself in the position to say no. It’s inevitable that you’ll have to, at some point, but weeding out certain participants through control of information is the first step. After that prereq’s have to be established. can the participant meet them? Are there equivalents? This amounts to self selection. After this process and creating my list of participant/clients that meet the baseline criteria the real work begins with trips specifics, launching tracking your group, where you position yourself, tracking your participants, yakking with clients and making sure they’re OK etc.

Now I remember why I don’t guide and stick to teaching.