BCU/UKCC Canoe/kayak Coaching Pathway

orange square First step on the road to becoming an instructor is the BCU/UKCC Level 1 Coaching certificate. It stands to reason that you should already be a pretty good paddler, and will need to hold a 2 Star certificate as a minimum pre-requisite, the Foundation Safety & Rescue Training certificate, and your first aid certificate too! The star awards are skills awards and they play an important part when it comes to the coaching levels in so far as they determine where you can coach once you do start moving through the coaching pathway.

There is nothing to prevent you being a 5 Star paddler before you take your coaching certificates, but if you are only 2 Star then you are still considered a beginner rather than a intermediate paddler. Competant in the base techniques for flat water, you are only going to be able to teach other students on flat water. If you hold the 5 Star then you can add white water to your teaching skill set. For the full course requirements and outline you are best heading over to Canoe England (or your relevant country) as is it rather detailed. We can tell you that the training course for the certificate includes both practical water based tuition, and classroom theory.

Foundation Safety & Rescue Training: 1 day / £70
BCU / UKCC Level 1 Coach: 4 days / £350

Level 2 and beyond

As already mentioned above, there are five levels you can achieve as a coach. So why would you want to progress from Level 1? A Level 1 coach can only really work as an assistant under the supervision on a more qualified coach. Also, levels 1 and 2 are not discipline specific. The disciplines covered by the BCU include sea kayak, surf kayak, closed and open cockpit kayak, closed and open cockpit canoe, racing boat, wave ski, sit on top, flat hulled boat, v-shaped hull, slalom boat, and polo boat. While this means your training will be as relevant to sea kayaking as it is to open canoes, only once you get to Level 3 do you start to specialise and become better qualified to teach people to a high standard in a specific discipline.

The first stage of coaching does allow you to plan and teach sessions, but you are accompanied by a more senior coach. For the kind of coaching you can do, think taster sessions. As with any qualification, the more entry level it is, the more people will hold it. That means more competition. You will be rightly proud of your Level 1 certificate, but hundreds of people every year qualify to this level. It is not surprising then that most people who are serious about developing a career in canoeing are looking to progress up through the various levels of coaching certificate available.

Level 2 also comes with pre-requisites. As well as Level 1, assuming you are wanting to hold the boat-based instructor qualification (it is possible to become a qualified coach without having to be a paddler yourself - much like some football managers who have never played themselves) then you need to hold a 3 Star certificates for canoe or kayak. You also need to log twenty hours of coaching experience which can be completed between the training and the assessment. And finally you need to either get a further 3 Star certificate, or pick up knowledge of an additional disclipline. This award allows you to teach independently on sheltered water following the BCU's Long Term Paddler Development pathway.

BCU / UKCC Level 2 Coach: 5 days / £350

White water rafting guide

Rafting also falls under the control of the BCU, and Canoe Wales, and the Scotish Canoe Association and the English White Water Rafting Committee (EWWRC), and also the International Rafting Federation (IRF). The BCU recognise instructor training couses Level 1 - 3, which are designed to help you become a competant guide so that you can take groups safely down stretches of white water in inflatable rafts.

The first step is to get some experience of rafting. You only really need to go on a taster session before you can think about taking the Level 1 Raft Guide qualification, which makes it a relatively easy paddlesport to get involved in. Between the training and the assessment you are expected to consolidate with further experience in the form of 10 logged guided trips. You can train anywhere, but your assessment will take place at the specific location at which you will be guiding. With this qualification are considered a trainee guide. At level 2 you will initially be able to guide on water to grade 3. And then with enough experience you will be able to work on all rafted grades of water. Unlike the BCU Canoe/Kayak qualifications above, once you pass the assessment, you still need to gather more experience before you are fully endorsed as a coach.

Level 1 Raft Guide: 4 days / £350

canoe infographic

Types of job available

Actually the job market for a canoe teacher is not as varied as you might expect. Most adventure activities are the same, though some may provide employment in other industries who happen to require those skills as a sub section of the role. For example you may be a police officer most of the week, but you may be called in as a specialist diver too. Typical employment includes:

Canoe / Kayak Coach - probably a seasonal role, and often piecemeal. Teaching mainly youngsters how to start or develop their paddling skills. Level 1 or Level 2 would get you into a role like this.
Chief Instructor - as above except you are probably going to be session leader and guiding the other coaches on how you want the sessions to progress. Level 2 or higher is a realistic grade for this role.
Open canoe guide - rather than being stuck on the same old lake day in, week out, if you work as a river guide, you get to explore different stretches of water. Taking small groups along gentle to moderate rivers, or across lakes and into coastal stretches, in terms of excitement, this is perhaps the one to aim for.
White water raft guide - we are mentioning this one because it is a paddle sport, though it has its own unique qualification structure. See the section below for more details. Definitely a seasonal role, as the types of water sections you will be navigating in the UK are more prone to flood during the winter, which may make the river grade too difficult.
Paddlesport Development Officer - probably won't come available very often, though as we write this, the BCU are currently recruiting for this very role for the London area. This one is more out of the water than in, though we are sure plenty of opportunities to get your spray deck on during the year. You would be helping promote and champion the sport, with the aim of getting more people involved. To be honest, when you consider the level of involvement and influence you would have, it is probably the ultimate job in British canoeing.


Teaching people how to canoe or kayak probably isn't going to make you super rich, but the job satisfaction alone is probably worth an extra nought on your pay cheque. The most common job that will become available would be for a Canoe or Kayak coach based at an activity centre. More often than not the salary listed will say something like, "excellent", or, "competitive". This allows employers to have a look at your experience and whether you would fit in, before attaching a salary. We'd love to be able to tell you exactly how much you could earn, but we will have to stick to a rough guide in order to be realistic. We will also assume you are working full time, but in reality quite a few UK canoe jobs are seasonal and at some centres you may even be paid on an hourly basis.

Canoe / Kayak Coach £12,000 - £15,000 / £300 per week
Chief Instructor £18,000 - £22,000
Centre Manager £26,000 - £30,000
Paddlesport Development Officer £23,000

What's it really like to be a canoe/kayak coach?

Often when you read about a course, or a job description, it is written by someone who either has never actually done the course or work themselves, or by someone who isn't really thinking about who is going to be reading it. If you are thinking about obtaining any of the paddlesport instructor qualifications listed on this page, you are going to want to know what it is actually like. Not a list of bullet points, but a first person account that will hopefully make it all seem a bit more real. With this in mind we spoke to a canoeist and a kayaker. We asked them about their motivations and the choices they made along the way. First up, Open Canoeist Dave Magson, then Kayaker Laurence O'Riordan.

Interview with Dave Magson: Open Canoe

The first time I stepped in a boat was at school, it may have been on local flat rivers but it whetted my appetite and the rest, they say, is history.

What made you want to become a coach/ instructor in the first place?

Dave: Although I initially worked as a carpenter for 6 years, I found this career lacked the adventure that I craved and once I realized there is only so much you can fit into a weekend decided to shake things up by moving to Canada. This introduced me to a new way of living so on return, reluctant to return to my old lifestyle, I applied to PGL and started working my way up from there.

Did you have much canoe or kayak experience before you started your skills training and coaching qualifications?

Dave: It is safe to say I could stay in a boat and make it go in a straight(ish) line but apart from that everyone I know has been learnt on courses in the past few years, intensive maybe, but it's been a crazy ride.

What pathway did you take, i.e., which qualifications did you achieve and in what order?

Dave: Working in maintenance in the South of France gave me plenty of spare time to spend on the water and luckily the centre was very canoe focused giving me plenty of opportunities to learn. By the end of my first summer there I had gained my 2* and FSRT. Having shown dedication to learning I was placed on a course early in the following year to allow me to gain my Level 1 and 3* OC, which enabled me to become an instructor the same year in the Ardeche. Following that was an intensive two month course over winter covering large areas of Scotland and Wales and enabling me to gain my 4* OC and 4* Kayak Training, White Water Safety & Rescue and Level 2. Going through my 5* OC Training in the Alps put my skills to the test as did the assessment in Scotland at the end of 2012.

How did you decide which discipline you wanted to get qualified in?

Dave: I have always been drawn to the adventure of multi-day trips, and while I have had a lot of fun and exciting trips in a kayak, there is nothing better than loading a canoe with everything you need and heading off into the distance.

How hard was it to achieve 5* status?

Dave: Although working on the Ardeche provided me with plenty of experience of running a river, it was the paddling that I did in my own time that really helped broaden my knowledge. It wasn't necessary an easy process but I got out there any opportunity I could and at the end of the day any canoeing is good and it all helped me gain the skills to pass my 5*

Was there anything particularly difficult about any part of your training/ assessment?

Dave: The main difficulty I find is the expectation before the assessment, after all the days out honing my canoeing I know that the skills I need are in there but being able to bring them out in any situation under pressure can be intense. Practically, the less used traditional skills such as tracking, sailing and night navigation always need a little extra attention in training as they are generally not used on your average instructing day. But, at the end of the day I trained and carried out most of my assessments in the Alps where the paddling and surroundings are incredible, so there can't be too many complaints.

Do you have any advice for budding paddlesports instructors looking to start their training?

Dave: Although some may find benefit in the intensive instructor courses that are on offer my personal opinion is that is more to gain in attempting to get employment with a larger company. If you show enough enthusiasm often you are provided the qualifications in return for the work and in return get first hand experience in group control and paddling in a range of conditions and with different people, allowing you to have the base to move on further later in life. Try and paddle in as many different crafts and on different waters as possible to give you a breadth of information and will help you decide what route you want to take, but most importantly listen to and question every coach, trainer and paddler you come across to find out what decisions they made to get them to where they are at the moment.

Where is your favourite place to paddle in the UK and overseas?

Dave: This is easy, Scotland, it has the best water and the beautiful scenery provides such a feeling of isolation that doesn't compare. Paddling the Great Glen Canoe Trail, even in the snow, was one of my most memorable trips mixing rivers, canals and huge open expanse of lochs (and the obligatory sighting of Nessie), and hopefully is one of many multi-day trips up North. Overseas the Alps is very different to anything in the UK with big and bouncy rivers, always good for an adventure. But as this is only the start of what will, hopefully, be a long paddling career there are many more places to explore and enjoy.

Interview with Laurence O'Riordan: Kayaker

I have always had a passion for passing on the joys of paddling to friends but ask anyone that has been taught a sport by a friend, tuition can be a little brief and basic, especially from a Kayaker desperate to get in the water. I really wanted to learn how to pass my knowledge across in a safe, structured manner. Like so many people in the UK, I was always away each weekend paddling, but over the years becoming a coach has been the best thing, as seeing what others have achieved in paddling with the knowledge myself & and the rest of the crew who work for me at Laurence Coaching have passed on has been very satisfying, and I hope this will continue for many more years.

Did you have much canoe or kayak experience before you started your skills training and coaching qualifications?

Laurence: I started Kayaking for the first time in school when one of my teachers planned an outdoor trip to a kayaking centre in London back in 1998. I took to it like a duck to water so I asked the teacher how I can learn more and was told to come back at the weekend for more lessons. I did this for a number of years and was taken to lots of different locations throughout the UK which was a great eye opener and allowed me to progress with the support of the some of the best coaching in the UK. This progress really spurred me on to develop a career in paddlesports.

What pathway did you take, i.e. which qualifications did you achieve and in what order?

Laurence: My first qualification was my 1 Star, I was really happy to get my first qualification under my belt and from that point I just wanted more and more. Now I'm a Senior Coach within paddlesports, Safety & Rescue provider, First Aid Provider, I cover a wide range of skills within paddlesport ranging from paddling a boat in a straight line to paddling down some of the biggest rivers in the UK, and I can find cover assessment for the highest award with the sport, the 5 star. Now I run my own company which can provide any level of award within the sport.

How did you decide which discipline you wanted to get qualified in?

Laurence: I tried a few such as canoeing and enjoyed them, but after I went on my first white water trip which was at a weir I decided kayaking was the one for me. I was inspired by the more advanced paddlers in the group surfing the waves and breaking in and out, so I made up my mind there and then!

How hard was it to achieve 5* status?

Laurence: Very hard with lots of training and I was over the moon when I was told I had passed. I was going away most weekends to get the time in for training and to improve my skills, so having put in all this hard work, to reach the highest personal ability award with the BCU is a fantastic and very satisfying achievement. But having done my 5 star it doesn't end there, it only gets bigger and better because in October I'm looking at taking on some of the worlds best at the Addidas Sickline events which means going up against the best 150 paddlers from around the world. I'm currently training 6 days a week to get my skills way beyond the level to take part.

Was there anything particularly difficult about any part of your training/ assessment?

Laurence: Mentally preparing yourself to attempt the 5 star training/ assessment was the hardest part, I had to constantly tell myself I could do it, to train hard and to always keep my eye on the end goal. If you really believe you can succeed and you work hard at it, you'll get there eventually.

Do you have any advice for budding paddlesports instructors looking to start their training?

Laurence: Get your personal skills way beyond the level you are Instructing at, this will give you greater confidence when providing demonstrations and taking questions. Don't rush into becoming an instructor, learn your personal skills first, follow the BCU guide lines and you'll find you're a better paddler/ instructor in the long run.

Where is your favourite place to paddle in the UK and overseas?

Laurence: Scotland, I run a course here each year and enjoy it so much because you are away from the rest of the world and doing something amazing in some awesome locations. You simply can't explain the feeling when you are going over a 9 meter waterfall miles from anywhere, that last second when you know there's no turning back, and then you can say to yourself "wow, I've just done that". It's what keeps me going back for more and more!

Laurence O'Riordan runs laurencecoaching.com, offering personalised canoeing / kayaking courses. More information from info@laurencecoaching.com or by calling: +44 (0) 07780 333579

International work

We are lucky in the UK to have some great stretches of water, plenty of lakes and easy access to some wonderful coastal stretches. But there is no denying that whether you pop across the channel to France or half way around the world to the United States, you will find some rivers that will blow your mind and make you question whether you ever want to go home. If suitable jobs in the UK are difficult to come by, how about widening your search to the rest of Europe, or even further afield? As the BCU is a member of the International Canoe Federation (ICF), the British coaching qualification is recognised abroad. If you are applying to work with a British company who are based overseas then you will certainly be in the running. Whether you would be able to convince a New Zealand paddlesports operator to employ you over someone with their own national qualification, is it a bit more difficult to say. The best thing to do would be to email some companies in the country you are interested in and ask them directly. The BCU offer a sort of conversion course for instructors wishing to come and teach here in the UK, other countries may well have something similar.

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