Quite a few people fall in love with canoeing when they first try their hand at it, I know I did. The ability to propel yourself through the water is a great feeling. Canoeing, kayaking, indeed any form of paddlesport also has a lot of scope in terms of how you enjoy it. You may enjoy taking your time through peaceful lakes and slow water in a Canadian style canoe, or perhaps the rush of a furious white water river is more your thing.
Then of course there is sea kayaking where you head out past the breakwater and are immediately pitched about like a cork, the person in front of you several feet above one second, disappearing from view below the next. The good news is there are jobs, skills and coaching training courses available for every style of paddling.
You are likely going to be introducing a group of school children to paddling on a small lake or teaching already competent canoeists how to improve their white water technique. Much depends upon the level of canoe or kayak experience you have. You will probably be required to have a UKCC (UK Coaching Certificate) Coaching Paddlesport qualification at either level 1 or level 2. Higher if your job involves developing already competent paddlers. The new style coaching certificates were introduced in 2007, and focus on developing your coaching skills as much as your paddling prowess. Conversion courses are available if you have the old style BCU Instructor qualification and wish to upgrade to the new style coaching award. There is lots more information below!
British Canoe Union: The National Governing Body
Canoeing in the UK is run by the British Canoe Union (BCU), then further divided into national associations Canoe England, Scotland, Wales, and North Ireland. The body exists to promote canoeing from the grass roots level, through to coaching and international competition.
They are also interested in topics which affect the quality of our sport, such as environmental concerns, water quality and pollution, plus, legislation affecting access to rivers and other bodies of water. As the national body, the BCU are also responsible for the award schemes and coaching certificates which are standardised across each of the national associations. This means that whether you want to take local youth groups for paddles along a stretch of canal, school children in open canoes on a small lake, advanced amateurs on some grade three river sections, or a group of adults on a sea kayak trip, you will need a coaching qualification from the BCU.
Up until 2007, the coaching qualifications for canoeing were BCU Level 1 - 5. This changed when the UK Coaching Certificate (UKCC) was established to try to ensure that sports coaching qualification all complied with the National Qualifications Framework. Since then, the qualifications have updated and are now termed BCU / UKCC Level 1 - 5. If you have a qualification from before 2007, you may need to take a transfer course.
Do take a look at the British Canoe Union website to make sure you are getting the correct qualification for the type of teaching or coaching you wish to undertake. But here is a brief introduction to the skills and coaching awards available. Their awards range from complete beginners on flat water to advanced paddlers on serious grade six white water, and cover playboats, open canoes and kayaks.
Paddlesport Start is the first certificate you can gain, but without taking anything away from the people who have achieved this, all you really have to do is sit in a boat and splash about a bit. It is the kind of award you get given after completing a taster session in a swimming pool so that you have a certificate to show your Mum. If it encourages more people to take the sport further then it serves a good purpose. The next step up is BCU 1 Star. Again this is really just a basic boat handling skills award. While perhaps not always necessarily a pre-requisite for an activity centre job, this would tell your potential employer that you know what a canoe looks like and that you probably wouldn't flip over and sink if they put you in one.
Next up is BCU 2 Star. This course can take up to a week to achieve, depending upon who is giving the course, and lasts for life. This is the foundation for a lot of canoe and kayak qualifications. Consisting of completing a number of strokes in both open canoe and kayak to set levels of skill and all of the basic care and maintenance involved, it also has a strong and committed side to the safety and rescue of both crafts and students. This is a pre requisite for United Kingdom Coach Certificate (UKCC) Level 1 coaching course.
The Foundation Safety Rescue course can takes 2 days and the qualification lasts for 3 years. It is a follow on from BCU 2 star and it enhances the safety and rescue skills already learnt to a greater standard. This is also a pre requisite for the UKCC Level 1 coaching course.
At this point it could be argued that you are at a bit of a junction. If you wish to continue your own improvement, developing your skills for your own benefit, then you can go on and gain the BCU 3 Star, the difference being this time you take an award specific to the type of boat, ie 3 Star Sea Kayak, or 3 Star Open Canoe. On completion of a three star award you are considered an intermediate paddler. From here you can get your 4 and 5 Star 'Leader' awards. On the other hand, you may decide to go down the coaching route with UKCC. There is nothing stopping you getting the 3 Star award as well, but you can start collecting your first level coaching certificate once you have your 2 Star.
BCU UKCC Level 1 is a course designed to teach coaching in paddlesport. This course takes four days and the qualification lasts for life, if membership is kept current and a three yearly update day is completed. This course consists of four days of learning and applying the skills in coaching canoe and kayak group in both craft and in various situations and water conditions. Both this qualification, and the Level 2, are not discipline specific, so you can teach people in either canoe or kayak. The final one is Level 3 and at this point you qualify to teach a specific discipline, be it Canoe Slalom, Surf Kayak, or something else.