I want to be a guide...

Hey guys,

How’s it going? Newbie poster here. A lil about me - I’m a young dude in my twenties that wants to pursue a job as a sea kayak guide in the fall. Currently I am training to be a raft guide this summer, was a snowmobile guide last winter, a challenge course facilitator in the fall, and a kayak guide in VA during last summer. With that being said, my guiding experience has been pretty amateurish, and I have a few questions for your guys.

  • I want to be a guide in the fall somewhere since the rafting company I work for is seasonal. Where would the best place in the USA be to be a guide in the fall? What about overseas?

  • What should I be doing now to make myself more marketable/a better guide.

    Thanks. If you have any other questions that will help you answer the above questions, feel free to ask.

I’ve never hired or applied to be a guide, so what do I know?

But, how could certifications hurt? Some sort of ACA or BCU certification might help, and I would think having a wilderness first aid certification would definitely have appeal to a guiding company.

Other than that, get good recommendations from your summer guiding job.


Thanks for the tips.

I am planning on getting some ACA certs this summer. Any idea how they work? Is becoming a instructor the way to go? (You might not know this so I’m asking everyone).

Anyway, thanks for the tips!

California Coast / New Zealand
There is paddling year round on the California Coast but you would need solid coastal paddling skills. Also be warned that the companies that do this are usually pretty much one or two person operations.

Our Winter is New Zealands summer. New Zealand has tours for folks on Doubtful Sound, Abel Tasman National Park, Milford Sound. I don’t know about work laws to get permission to work there.

Costa Rica is nice and lots of kayaking.

becoming a guide
Getting training and certifications will help with getting hired.

Wilderness First Aid is definitely good.

BCU programs are great, but will take longer to get a leadership award, because you need to work you way up through the 3* and 4* awards. They are a great award system though if you are committed enough to follow it through. It’s not realistic to expect to complete this path during one summer though.

The ACA awards that would be applicable are a “Coastal Kayak Day Trip Leader Assessment”, or Instructor certification. Personally, I think if you plan to guide, and don’t have prior formal instruction, don’t pursue an instructor certification at this point. It just isn’t the best way to gain leadership skills, and it’s premature to try learning how to instruct when you’re still trying to develop your own personal paddling skills. The Day Trip Leader Assessment is a 2-day program, and geared more towards protected waters. But it’s not a bad program, dealing with the nuts and bolts of trip planning and leadership, and it will give you a certificate that employers recognize.

(The ACA is currently working on a new guide certification program, specific to various environments. These programs are still in the development phase, but if you would like to know more about them feel free to send me an email. If adopted, these Coastal Kayak Trip Leader certifications will be the most appropriate award for someone wanting to show their preparedness for professional guiding in the US.)

You didn’t mention where you’re working as a raft guide, but if it’s in the Northeast, there are also a number of Sea Kayak leadership trainings that take place in Maine during late Spring and Early Summer. Here’s a link to one of the courses I’ll be teaching this year. http://www.pinnipedkayak.com/sea-kayaking-classes-calendar/ These tend to be 5- or 6-day classes of which the purpose is to prepare you to be a skilled sea kayak guide. It’s hard to come up with a better intensive preparation for kayak guiding.

Good luck!


guiding locales
There are kayak guiding jobs in the Florida Keys and the Everglades during the winter months. And I know one guy who has been doing kayak guiding from Antarctic tour boats during the northern winter too.


kayak guide is also seasonal
My background - I am a guide/instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sea kayak guiding is also seasonal, so may not be great for something to work around your current rafting. Even here, it calms down a lot after Labor Day. Same holds for a lot of other places - not just due to weather but also due to kids going back to school.

An area that might work for north American shoulder season guiding is Baja, where it is to hot to paddle in the summer and too cold in winter, so has the season of Fall/Spring. Challenge is getting a job if you are not Mexican national. Much warmer locals (like Hawaii) have kayaking year round, but sea kayaking specifically is less common (mostly sit on tops).

I’d go one up on what someone said about Wilderness First Aid being good training - go for Wilderness First Responder if you can. 80 hour course, instead of either 8 or 16 for WFA.

A paddling cert is good. I am ACA Coastal Instructor Level 3. ACA is much easier/less time consuming to get than BCU. In the States, you can see either or both, and it depends on the tour organizations to which they want to see. I can’t talk about the trip leader cert, as I never went for that.

The ACA Instructor cert requires that you go through a 3 day Instructor Development Workshop, and then a 3 day Instructor Certification Exam. They are effectively the same thing - just varies based on how much you are learning versus demonstrating. In the IDW, they likely will have you do a few 10 minute lectures to demonstrate skills, and then everyone will critique and learn from what you did. In the ICE, you will do more and longer. Your kayak paddle skills have to be up to snuff to do this.

Note - there is no pass or fail on the IDW, and some shops in our area only require an IDW to teach, so even if your paddle and teaching skills aren’t totally polished off enough to pass an ICE, it may still be useful to do the IDW, both for what you learn and for being able to say you have done it.

Guide in Thailand
just wrap your rascal and know Phuket is very different than Ft Collins

BCU Program
Just to correct one point. You no longer need to hold the 3 star BCU certificate to do the 4 star - they changed the requirement a few months ago. You do still need to be of 3 star standard though and have a log book showing at least 24 sea trips and you should have been an assistant leader on 5 of these.

So the level of competency has not changed but you don’t need to certify at 3 star if you have appropriate experience, knowledge and skill.

That’s good to know Ian. Thanks for the correction.

Effect on the 2 star?

– Last Updated: May-02-14 8:52 AM EST –

Does someone still have to have the paper for a 2 star to go for the 4? I understand the 3 might be different because it is discipline specific, but the 2 is the place where the BCU officially insists on a clear showing of single blade skills according to at least one RCO in the US, or some other alternate. I can't argue that this has been consistently enforced. But it is a fundamental difference between the two certs.

Even if they need to be of length - all day paddles or camping over night or getting well offshore or being in messy stuff - 24 sea trips is not going to be tough for a serious paddler to show. I assume the hard part is showing the skills.

Call up Florida Bay Outfitters…
in Key largo and tell Frank what you want to do, but be truthful with him and tell him you would need to go with a head guide so you can learn the ropes and routes. Tell him you are willing to do the grunt work (lifting and loading heavy tandem kayaks

Sometimes they look for guides during the winter months, but other years the same guides return.

If you get a foot in the door and are reliable, you could end up with a good seasonal job.

jack l

our commercial ww season runs through
the fall in wv- if you get real hardcore you can run the cheat in the spring (although that business seems to be diminishing), New in the Summer, Gauley and Russel Fork in the Fall-its possible you can get in 100 runs but for most its closer to 50- most of “the year around guides” I know hit the slopes in the winter for employment, or market for the rafting companies , or run fishing and hunting services and rep equipment/boats- that doesn’t help you with sea kayak guiding- but that’s how its done in my neck of the woods if you don’t want to work a conventional job.

in addition to ACA, BCU certs look at
NOLS experience if you want to take people out on multi-day trips, particularly for the leadership and risk management skills. It would demonstrate that you are working to be a responsible leader.

You might look at cruise ship jobs that need outdoor activity guides. coolworks.com has some interesting job postings that might give you a better idea as to honing your skills and qualifications.

guide advice
Good advice on this thread. Get all the credentials you can with respect to first aid, emergency skills, rescue skills and competence.

Work on your people skills. Learn to ask questions and be a good listener. Work in all kinds of places. For sea kayaks, California, WA, OR, BC, Alaska have long seasons. Florida and the SE have long seasons and lots of tourists. Southern hemisphere for winter paddling. Good luck. Rafting background teaches you a lot about moving water and rescue skills. Good idea.

good point about "people skills"
it is so important in any job with communicating effectively. Outdoor activities can be really tough because of peoples expectations of the experience, and how they want to “live the dream”. A good guide will determine ahead of time why their clients are out there and try to meet those goals. Motivational skills and turning a “rainy day” into a day to remember are huge.