Progressing from 2 star to 3 star

How long did it take people to pass the BCU three star assessment?

I’m setting my goals and wonder what kind of time frame it should take me to get to the three star level. I’m told that I’m at the two star level now but haven’t actually taken the assessment. Obviously, improvement is a function of time spent practicing, so what would be a fair estimate of the number of hours spent training for the average paddler to move from the two star level to the three star level? Assume the paddler takes a one day three star training course, like those offered by many outfitters.

I’m interested in getting to that point as soon as possible for two reasons: (1) the four star training and assessment looks like alot of fun; and (2) I want to pass the three star before the new syllabus takes effect. I know some may say the BCUNA may not incorporate the “alternative discipline” requirements that are in effect in the UK, but I don’t want to take any chances.

Took a 2 day course, paddled with it in
mind for 3 months, then passed the assessment. Many instructors will accept a 3 star training but no assessment for a 4* training. Good luck.


My experience

– Last Updated: Oct-17-07 5:34 PM EST –

At the point we assessed, we went right for the 3 star. We happened to go for it a season or so before the 2 star had been somewhat resurrected in North America.

I would say that it took us a season of targeted work to being able to pass the 3 star. We started the season at probably a 2 star level. We had a couple of days of training early in the season, I think did one more day in the middle and did a tune-up a month before. In the couple of months before the assessment we added a day or two a week to our paddling just to work on the 3 star skills.

By and large the strokes and static bracing weren't a problem, just needed to practice a bit to get them the way the assessor was likely to want. The stuff that took time for me were braces on the move, backwards figure 8 (due to the edging comfort needed), and the last one to dial in was a confident scull on each side. All of the things which most pushed my comfort and boat feel as I went further on edge. But that's been my achilles heel too - if you feel completely natural sideways you may go faster on those.

I would recommend spending time on the paddle-shaft presentation of the Eskimo rescue. The coach specifically asked us to come in real hard and fast, and it's amazing how easy it can be to miss that hand under those circumstances. I happened to nail it with the best one I've ever done, but it could easily have gone the other way.

Based on others' experience, the 3 star can be a solid season or more to get for an average mortal. It's the most let's say anal of the star awards because it is so much on specific strokes. Or you could be one of those annoying folks who just dances thru it saying what's the biog deal.

Do you have a coach or event in mind to assess with?

Similar experience here…
I went right for 3-star, practicing based off what is in the syllabus for most a summer.

While I mustered up enough skill to pass, it would be helpful to take a training session with the same coach prior to an assessment. My assessor came from Wales, so this wasn’t in the cards for me. Individual coaches tend to nitpick certain things. Very specific body and blade positioning during draws and such were given a lot of importance during my assessment. The assessor was quick to realize and “pick on” my weak side during sculling & bracing, even though I can do several different rolls on either side. Bracing without laying back was stressed. Effectively leaning during turns (moving both forward and backward) along with effective low brace turning was a must.

Before my 4-Star assessment I am determined to have my off-side disappear. I might also consider paddling a boat with more rocker to make the turns look a bit more effortless.

Every one is different

– Last Updated: Oct-18-07 2:29 AM EST –

3* is very technical. There are some who say it is the most difficult level because it is very specific.

We had been paddling for years before entering the BCU realm. Our entry was a two day 2-3* training which initiated a season for us. We worked with a coach again during the summer.

Once we decided we wanted to go for assessment, we focused on the specific skills and dedicated at least one or two paddling days a week to 3* skills work. We were in boats at least 4 times a week for a few months leading up to assessment.

About a month ahead of assessment, we did an all day tune-up with the coach with whom we were to assess. This was tremendously helpful because it gave us about four weeks to hone skills and to strengthen the weak aspects. We hired another coach to work with us for a few hours on a particular skill each of us was having difficulty mastering.

Fortunately, both Celia and I passed our assessment the first try. We know a few folks who have failed at least once. I've heard of folks who have failed 3* more than twice.

Be prepared to execute some skills in more than one manner. For example, some coaches want you to edge into a draw, some away. Be ready to demonstrate either or both.

Practice with a copy of the 3* syllabus on deck or in your pocket. BCUNA has very nice waterproof pocket size spiral bound star and stroke crib books which I used extensively.

I did my 3* in my Aquanaut. If I were to assess 3* again, I'd use my Romany. Though you can use any decent boat for 3*, a responsive boat is easier.

Every paddler is different as is every assessor. The East Coast RCO has been stressing 2*, so more folks are assessing at that level before moving on to 3*. Traditionally paddlers of any amount of real experience or skill skip 2* and assess at 3*.

One can take 4* training without holding a 3* award, but it is usually unwise to take 4* training without having some mastery of 3* skills and knowledge.

4* training is a blast!

didn’t think was that hard
to find out where you are, sign up for the training (one coach) and then the assessment (a different one) at one of the symposia. it’s all good experience whether you pass or not. best tip is to use a kayak with a more not less rocker–it’ll make the backward figure 8 much easier. i did my 3* with a pintail, passed the first time.

Further thoughts

– Last Updated: Oct-18-07 8:02 AM EST –

I had the thought that there may be little reason to worry about the cross-training for the sea kayaking 3 star. If it is just three hours at something else (I haven't looked myself) and if the somethng else includes work on another discipline, you could knock that off with a day spent learning to work in surf. I consider that part of sea kayaking myself, but in the BCU scheme it is counts as the surf discipline.

It's probably a moot point though. If you are paddling 2 star now odds are that you'll be ready to assess before any changes are enacted over here. Especially if you don't have yawning gaps in your skills like I did.

I'd also like to add that with a good assessor, they are supposed to discover areas of weaknesses such as more/less comfortable side that are present but are not necessarily a reason to fail. They are just things that the assessor is supposed to spot so that you can have a fix on your own paddling, a human version of what you should be able to get by videotaping.

Oh - and yes - 4 star training is DEFINATELY where the real fun starts. It's best to go ahead and assess 3 star separately if you can, because otherwise the assessor has to drill the class on the 3 star stuff as well in the 4 star assessment. It is a drag, but more importantly it increases the things that you could screw up on in the assessment.

re: didn’t think was that hard

– Last Updated: Oct-18-07 10:42 AM EST –

Where one stands in terms of 3* skills can usually be ascertained by signing up for a 3* training or tune-up. However, mastering the skill set and passing an assesment may be another matter.

Analogous to some paddlers rolling within 15 minutes of their first lesson while many take longer - Every paddler and every assessor is different.

Though fairly clearly defined and regularly reviewed it is a very human system.


– Last Updated: Oct-18-07 8:29 AM EST –

I've often wondered about the difference between 2 and 3 star. (Right now I'm starless with a roll on one side)

Now that I've read about doing a backward figure 8 I'm sure I'll practice it just for the heck of it but other than that, what in the world would it be used for in real life?
There have been lots of times when sculling is handy and the various braces.
Just wondering..?

Its not a real world test

– Last Updated: Oct-18-07 10:11 AM EST –

I am a no star and have no interest in any *s personally, but I know quite a few people who are into the BCU scheme as well as several coaches with whom I have had nice "off record" so to speak chats. That said, my understanding is asking why or when one would need to do a reverse figure 8 in the real world is the result of looking at 3* stuff from the wrong perspective. In theory, it is about demonstrating a level of ease and comfort while applying various strokes precisely and moving the boat where and how you are asked/required with confidence. In itself it is not about being able to deal with difficult conditions or the skills needed to do so, but rather to demonstrate you the foundational skills ingrained which sooner or later is very important if you move on to the "sporting" side of seakayaking which is where many BCU folks seem to gravitate. While I started by saying I have no interest in obtaining *s, I have found the training valuable, and I think when seen in its entirety the BCU system has much to offer any paddler. IMHO, this is especially true of the new scheme coming down the pike.

That has been some really helpful insight. I’m thinking of taking some training this fall, then working on it on my own until the lakes ice over. Then I’d shoot for taking an assessment either at the winter symposium in Florida or in the spring. Then, hopefully, on to the 4 star training next summer. I have a pretty good idea of my strengths (turning strokes and rescues) and weaknesses (static bracing). After spending approximately 40-50 hours working on my static bracing over the last few months and noticing very little improvement, I fear those goals are too ambitious, but only time will tell.

Usefulness of backwards figure 8

– Last Updated: Oct-19-07 8:09 AM EST –

This is probably the biggest source of jokes after the hot beverage. (It appears that the figure 8 per se is gone from the new 3 star in the UK, just general backwards paddling around obstacles.) But I've seen the benefit of someone having tremendously good good backwards paddling skills, and it's hard to argue that the figure 8 doesn't show that.

We were in a very high wind/steep seas situation and I had someone hanging off my stern in my very low volume boat. His boat had been blown off a good bit and was being chased down by the fourth paddler in our group. There was no getting this guy onto my back (or front) deck without sinking both of us in those conditions. And he was a giant sea anchor - I couldn't get us anywhere either. A fellow paddler in an big, lovely Explorer (compared to my boat) had to get to us but was having the devil of a time turning to get to us frontways. He'd start the turn, but every time the boat started to turn he'd have a wave come under him and the wind would grab and slam him back beam to. This was a strong paddler, so it wasn't for lack of a good effort on his part. There was also a huge tiredness risk creeping in - we'd been battling this stuff for a bit by then and hadn't been real fresh when we got onto the water.

After a few minutes of trying he just turned and came backwards at us. He got to us very quickly, we rafted up and got the swimmer onto his back deck and went on from there. But honestly, his being able to paddle backwards so well in difficult conditions was a large part of our getting out of that mess with no worse than embarassment.

(That was one of those "lesson" paddles. We made a couple of fundamentally pretty bad decisions, but had enough of a margin in the way of drysuits etc that we were not an item on the evening news.)

agree with eel
3* and much more so 4* training can be fun and worthwhile, but unless you want to coach in the bcu hierarchy or like patches, there’s no point in doing the assessments because it is the skills that are important not the certification. i know some 3* paddlers that are much better in 4* conditions than some 4* paddlers. on another note, bracing/sculling/rolling are so much easier with a gp than a euro paddle, but the BCU is not GP friendly. so if you’re a gp user as i am and like the gp culture, which by intention isn’t very hierarchical or bureaucratic, the whole bcu approach is beside the point.

Is the ACA any better?
Serious question. Anecdoctally I’ve heard of instances where people passed BCU assessments with a GP, I think at Sweetwater or SKG last year. I have also heard that ACA coaches wouldn’t let one be used at all.

I am pretty sure of the first - is the second re the ACA just who I’ve talked with?

I suspect that acceptance of the GP is an issue in a lot of organizations, including some of the regional organizations that certify guides in the US and Canada.

Does what ACA does …

– Last Updated: Oct-18-07 1:32 PM EST –

... really matter in a discussion of BCU 2/3 star?

You seem to bring up ACA regularly, but pointing fingers and saying "they do it too" - or not, or more, or less, or whatever doesn't change what BCU does or dies not do or make it more or less right/OK/whatever.

Some in both will allow GP for some things, others won't - but ALL that's a bit irrelevant to jsmarch's point about GP culture not being "hierarchical or bureaucratic", and "the whole BCU approach is beside the point". If it makes you feel any better, I suspect that last bit would apply equally to ACA.

Most who make up this loose "GP culture" probably wouldn't even agree that it exists - and certainly not in any organized way. They also aren't likely to me more interested in certs from one organization over the other based solely on their level of GP acceptance. What I get from the "GP culture" is more of an attitude "they'll (BCU/ACA) eventually get it", and some instructors allowing/using GP is the beginning of this.

Not so narrow

– Last Updated: Oct-18-07 1:49 PM EST –

Despite what it may seem, I am not trying to set up better or worse. I happen to think that traditional skills deserve more of a place at the table than they seem to be getting in a lot of the organizations. I'd like to see that improve because I see a much more practical value to what are normally thought of as traditional paddling skills than many of the BCU or ACA coaches I've encountered. So I wonder if things are any easier with the ACA, or the Maine Guides or the Canadian guide organizations, all of which I was indicating if poorly.

I get that traditional paddlers as a loose group could give a hoot. It doesn't mean I am not interested in seeing this happen.

The post by jsmarch specifically prompted me to ask about other organizations - and so maybe I should have said "other organizatins" rather than ACA. So sue me. Within a few posts he says that he passed a BCU 3 star, then that he is not interested in their certs. So I wonder if he found a home elsewhere or if he has found it to be an across the board issue.

bcu and aca
used to be that the aca wouln’t let you use a gp at all or at least so i once heard. now i hear that they are trying to codify gp standards. most every gp paddler i know thinks this is an awful idea, c.f. the origin of “team zero.” the sense in the gp community is that there are levels of skill but for any individual no exactly right or wrong way of doing things. case in point, the difference between a low and high angle stroke. while many gp paddlers use a low angle stroke, some like greg stamer typically keep the paddle around 45 degrees and racers use a high angle stroke that looks much like a wing. (for a non greenland native, greg by the way knows not only the techinque but the cultural experience underlying it plus he’s a really graceful paddler.) seems to me that both aca and bcu come out of traditions that are like the military while greenlanders are more like druids paddling from within cultures that survive at the edge of the world precisely because they are communitarian. in this context, the whole idea of setting up tribal rivalries based on who owns the testing procedure doesn’t appeal much–they are all good in their own ways and more or less so for any particular person. the best paddlers i know (flatpick being a good example) go back and forth between paddles and cultures with grace and humor and don’t take this tribal stuff (in contrast to skills) too seriously. rather be paddling!

Thanks much

– Last Updated: Oct-18-07 2:27 PM EST –

I hadn't heard of the ACA trying to codify GP standards, though I suppose it's an organizational thing that the BCU will eventually get around to as well.

I'm kinda in the middle on this one. I am not good at GP strokes - I get the canted angle thing but no one would ever mistake me for a well-practiced traditional paddler. However, I really disagree with some coaches out there that the balance brace is a party trick, or that trying to learn things like a chest scull fairly early on would not be hugely helpful in getting by a lot of the trials in learning early paddle skills.

The balance brace in particular is one that I've had some back and forth with coaches on. For those like myself who have a build and flexibility than makes the balance brace quite easy to get, and who also start out with high anxiety about being stuck under the boat, the balance brace is a perfect half step to a roll. It overcomes the problem of a boats in which someone my height can't do the Pertussin (sp?) thing to get to air on a bad roll moment, if the habit is learned it can be gotten to often just with a hand scull so it isn't as paddle-dependent as most peoples' early rolls and it does work in moderate conditions. All of this makes it a habit that I sincerely wish I had learned early on - unfortunately I am so conditioned to the roll now that I can't always count on remembering this is available.

I respect these guys and will learn all from them that I can - they are way better than me - but I see advantages to a wider horizon.

I've also noticed that most of the people who really malign the usefulness of the balance brace can't do one. But maybe that's just cynical of me.

hi celia

– Last Updated: Oct-18-07 3:16 PM EST –

diane carr, a really good teacher, helped me understand that a relaxed and fluid balance brace is the key to all of the layback rolls. the more difficult the roll, the more important it is to feel it as an unfolding or, as often phrased, going from closed to open. persons, male or female, with limited flexibility or who tend to force rather than relax their way through a roll, or who are short waisted and/or paddle kayaks with high back decks may not be able to do a balance brace, but understanding the principle is very helpful.

I disagree on BCU/GP
You say that the BCU isn’t GP friendly. I disagree. My experience with numerous BCU coaches on the East Coast is that they are GP friendly. Perhaps the coaches you have known were not familiar with the GP or perhaps your experience is dated and mine more recent.

Also - fine on the training w/o assessment - it’s all good. BUT if you never do an assessment, how do you know if you are up to the standards? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

I suppose doing the training w/o assessment may be similar to auditing a course in school. I do know that whenever I audited classes in college, I never worked as hard as I did when I knew I was going to be tested on it. Your experience may be different than mine.

And so that this isn’t a total tangent - for the original poster’s question - I worked really hard for the 3* for a year before I assessed. Once you can nail everything, it is easy to then do all the same but in bigger conditions.