Paddlesports Guidance for Leaders

  • Planning
  • Equipment (boat/craft)
  • Equipment (Coach/Guide)
  • Clothing
  • Group Size and Supervision
  • Preparation of Participants
  • Water Hazards
  • Other Recommendations
  • Considerations for Surfing and Racing Craft
  • Environmental Considerations

Careful planning and preparation contribute greatly to the safe and enjoyable outcome of any activity. The council?s generic risk assessment for your chosen activity is designed to help you plan that activity safely, and must be referred to in the early planning stages. If the site or nature of the planned activity poses additional risks which are not covered by the generic risk assessment then these must be considered in an additional site specific risk assessment:

Specifically, the following should be considered:

  • Prior Knowledge of the location to be used should preferably be first hand, but if not then it should be from a reliable source.
  • Flexibility in planning programmes to allow for last minute modification taking into account changing conditions and unforeseen circumstances.
  • Prior knowledge of the group, in particular their experience and their physical capabilities, including relevant medical problems.
  • A weather forecast before setting out.
  • Communication: notify relevant bodies of plans. e.g. Coastguard, Harbour Master, Landowner, Colleagues at base.
  • River Levels: White water rivers are generally graded at medium levels. By their very nature, such grading systems are to some extent subjective and may change suddenly with fluctuating river levels.
  • River Mouths & Estuaries: The mouths of rivers often look placid but may be subject to strong rip currents extending a considerable distance out to sea. Local knowledge should be sought and caution exercised. Hazards caused by rapid “drying out” of mud flats may cause difficulties for groups and should be recognised.
  • Other Constraints: Be aware and take account of any other influencing environmental factors with which you will have to work. e.g. tides, available daylight, rainfall, snowmelt etc.


The circumstances in which equipment is to be used will determine minimum acceptable standards in terms of its design and state of repair. Whilst safety is primarily a function of thought and attitude, the careful selection of the most suitable equipment will make a significant contribution to safety. All craft must be suitable in terms of their design and their condition for the purpose for which they are to be used.

There are certain basic minimum requirements with which all groups and their craft must conform before venturing out on any adventurous water activities. These are:

  • All Canoes and Kayaks must have sufficient inherent or added buoyancy to ensure that they remain afloat if waterlogged (MIN. 25 Kgm) and distributed so as to allow the craft to float horizontally.
  • All group members must wear an approved buoyancy aid or life jacket that is rated to the appropriate EN standard. (EN 393 for Buoyancy Aids and EN 395 for Life Jackets).
  • All canoes and kayaks must have end grabs at bow and stern designed so as not to trap the hand and to which a karabiner can be quickly and easily attached.
  • All rafts must be fitted with a grab line, securely fixed and extending completely around the boat. Bow and stern lines must be fitted and neatly stowed when not in use. All lines must be of at least 8 mm in diameter and bow/stern lines should be floating rope.
  • All safety equipment must conform to current legislative requirements. In addition to the above, when operating on anything other than sheltered water, coaches/guides should consider the following:



A full plate bulkhead footrest or blocked foam are the best systems currently available, and in conjunction a keyhole cockpit and backstrap (Glossary) is recommended for white water and surfing use.

Additional Buoyancy
Air bags fitted in the bow, forward of the footrest and in the stern are recommended, except where kayaks are already fitted with water-tight bulkheads. On the sea and on other open water, the fitting of additional buoyancy makes deep water rescues quicker and easier to perform. On white water it significantly reduces the chances of the boat becoming pinned on an obstacle and of the paddler becoming entrapped.

Spare (Split) Paddles
Sufficient split paddles as spares in case of breakage should be carried.

Spray Decks
A tight fitting and secure spray deck will make a significant contribution to a paddler’s safety as well as their comfort.

On rivers, for coastal rock-hopping, surfing, and in any other situation where capsize in shallow water is likely, a safety helmet is essential. Helmets are also strongly recommended for experiential sessions involving games and where head injury from paddles and other equipment is a possibility. On open water or sea journeys, a warm hat or sun hat is usually more appropriate.


Additional Buoyancy
Air bags or alternative foam wedges will significantly enhance the buoyancy of the boat when swamped. . On open water, the fitting of additional buoyancy makes deep water rescues quicker and easier to perform. On white water it significantly reduces the chances of the boat becoming pinned on an obstacle and of the paddler(s) becoming entrapped.

In situations other than on sheltered water, consideration should be given to fitting 8 - 10 metres of 8 mm floating line to each end of the canoe.

If fitted the line should be stowed in such a way as to avoid entanglement in the event of a capsize.

Spare Paddles
Sufficient spare paddles should be carried.

In many open canoeing situations a warm hat or a sun hat is the most appropriate headgear. On journeys where moving water is likely to be encountered students must be provided with safety helmets. The sound judgement of a Level 3 Coach should be relied upon to determine when the helmet should actually be worn.

Consideration should be given to carrying a bailer in each canoe particularly when operating on open water.


Safety Equipment. Each raft should carry a minimum of:

  • throw-line
  • first aid kit
  • bail bucket (if non-self bailing).

Helmets. On rivers or in other rough water situations all raft passengers must wear a safety helmet.

The equipment a coach chooses to take in order to enhance a group’s safety and comfort will vary according to:

  • Nature of the activity
  • Location
  • Time of year
  • Age range of the group
  • Experience of the group
  • Aims of the session

Kayak and Canoe Coaches should carry or have direct access to the following basic items:

  • Spare clothing including hat and gloves
  • Survival bag
  • First aid kit
  • Hot drink
  • Towing system
  • Throw line
  • River knife
  • Spare paddle
  • Whistle

Raft Guides should carry about their person the following basic items:

  • Whistle
  • River knife
  • Flip line

and should have direct access to:

  • Spare clothing including hat and gloves
  • Survival bag
  • First aid kit
  • Hot drink
  • Throw line


Depending on the circumstances, the coach / guide should consider selecting other items to be carried within a group.
The following list is not necessarily exhaustive:
Map; chart; compass; whistle; torch; repair kit; knife; folding saw; slings; karabiners; pulleys; throw line; paddle hook; flares; radio; lighter; matches; mobile phone; emergency food

It is the responsibility of the coach / guide to ensure that a group is adequately and appropriately clothed for the type of activity and the prevailing conditions. The coach / guide should take account of the following;

Wind and Water-proof Shell. Most warm clothing will insulate the body even when wet but must be supplemented by a wind and waterproof shell if it is to be effective in preventing heat loss. Due regard should be given to the layering principle in which a number of thin layers are more effective and adaptable than one thick layer.

Wet Suits. Recommended in circumstances where frequent capsizes in cold water are likely. They also afford a level of protection against bumps and grazes, which frequently result from swimming in rapids. Wet suits for paddle sports should not restrict movement of the upper arms and shoulders.

Wet suits are not normally windproof in their own right. It is recommended they be worn in conjunction with a windproof paddle top.

Dry Suits. Beyond the budget of most groups, dry suits are only effective if suitable thermal clothing is worn under them.

Paddle Sports in winter. Paddlesports are no longer seen solely as summer activities. Particular attention should be paid to clothing during the colder seasons. Wet suits, dry suits and other specialised protective clothing must be regarded as essential where risk of capsize exists or where prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions are anticipated.

Footwear. It is important that paddlers wear suitable footwear. Old trainers with thick woollen socks or wet suit boots with a sturdy sole are good options. For Open Canoe journeys involving wading and portaging, stronger footwear which provides more protection for ankle and foot may be more appropriate


The table identifies maximum ratios that must not be exceeded. It should be recognized that there will often be circumstances in which these ratios should be reduced and that this should be informed by the risk assessment process.


Level Sheltered Water Moderate Water Advanced Water
New UKCC Level 2 Coach 8 students or up to 12 students with L2 coach trainee or when paddling doubles N/A N/A
New UKCC Level 2 Coach with Moderate Water Endorsement 8 students or up to 12 students with competent adult paddler or when paddling doubles 6 students or up to 8 with competent adult paddler holding new 4* leader award N/A
New UKCC Level 3 Coach 10 students with up to 12 students with competent adult paddler or when paddling doubles 6 students or up to 10 with L3 coach trainee N/A
New UKCC Level 3 Coach with Advanced Water Endorsement 10 students or up to 12 when paddling doubles or with competent adult paddler 6 students or up to 10 with L3 coach trainee  
Old BCU Level 2 Coach Trainee 6 students or up to 8 with competent adult paddler N/A N/A
Old BCU Level 2 Coach 8 students or up to 12 with L2 coach trainee N/A N/A
Old BCU Level 3 Coach 10 students or up to 12 with competent adult paddler 6 students or up to 10 with L3 coach trainee N/A
Old BCU Level 4 & BCU Level 5 Coach 10 students or up to 12 with competent adult paddler 6 students or up to 10 with L3 coach trainee 4 students or up to 8 with L3 coach


Minimum Numbers

 For kayaks and canoes there should be at least two craft on the water at all times.

River rafting

Each raft will be guided by a qualified person and rafts should not be loaded above manufacturer’s recommendations. Where a raft is carrying more than a crew of 8, a second guide or a trainee guide should be in the raft.

Minimum numbers and single rafts:

  • On water up to Grade 1 it is acceptable for a single raft to operate alone.
  • On Grade 2 water or above, two rafts or a single raft with kayak or canoe support should be regarded as a minimum requirement.
  • Where a single raft is operating with kayak/canoe support, the trip must be led by a Level 3 (Trip Leader)
  • Where a kayak or canoe is used as safety back-up for a raft, the kayak or canoe must be paddled by someone competent and experienced in carrying out rescues on the type and grade of water being paddled.
  • Rafts should be paddled by at least two persons in addition to the guide.


Maximum Numbers


i) Kayaking and Canoeing
It is recommended that the total number of participants in any one group should not exceed twelve.

ii) River Rafting
It is recommended that the total number of rafts operating as a flotilla should not exceed four.

1. All Paddle Sports
Participants should normally be able to swim 50 metres. In the case of non-swimmers, the instructor   should be satisfied that the participant has a reasonable level of water confidence when wearing a buoyancy aid.

2. Kayaking and Canoeing
All participants should undergo some basic training on simple water.

3. River rafting
All participants should be given a safety briefing as recommended by the SRA and as detailed in their training syllabus.

Any crossing which requires more than a simple step across a small stream should not be underestimated and should only be contemplated when no significant risks are posed by doing so. When managing risks associated with water hazards, leaders must operate within the scope of their training and experience.
The council´s in house Lowhills Award does not provide formal training in dealing with water hazards, and leaders who are qualified in this capacity are required to ensure that any water crossings carried out under their supervision are of no more than ankle depth, able to be carried out easily and are inconsequential in the event of a slip.
Leaders who have undertaken national awards such as the Summer Mountain Leader Award will be more able to apply a reliable risk benefit analysis when faced with these hazards; however the overriding consideration should be avoidance of such hazards wherever possible.
The key to a successful outcome lies in the planning and risk assessment stages. Contingency plans should be drawn up for those situations where water is above ankle level or where the outcome of a crossing is uncertain. These should include alternative routes or waiting until water levels recede.

N.B Leaders who have undertaken training in any relevant capacity must lodge a record of that training with the management of their establishment.

Contaminated Water: Careful consideration should be given to the dangers associated with polluted or contaminated water. Coaches / Guides should be aware of the dangers of blue/green algae and the causes and early symptoms of Weils Disease and Lymes Disease.

  • During surfing activities there should always be an appointed shore party in signal contact with the coach. The shore party should act as look-outs to safeguard students on the water. A good way to achieve this is to organise the group in a ‘buddy system’.
  • One competent paddler should be stationed seaward of the breakline to act as sweeper. They should be in signal contact with the coach and the shore party.
  • Coaches should take the greatest care to ensure that conditions are well within their own capabilities and suitable for the ability of their students.


Measurement of surf
The “surfers” measurement is used throughout both this document and the BCU awards in surf.
The surf forecast obtained from telephone surf lines the internet or wave buoys is in feet and refers to the ride-able mid section of the wave, not the peak to trough height.

As a bench mark “4 feet “ is head height for a board surfer and on an average British beach break would provide conditions only suitable for the most experienced and capable kayak surfer.

A swell of 6 inches to 1 foot is both appropriate and more than adequate for any novice group. Intermediate kayak surfers would find 2 feet of surf more than suitable for a learning experience.

Wave Character
The physical height of a wave is only part of the picture. The following factors all individually have a profound effect on a wave (but combined can change swell dramatically):

  • Wind direction and strength
  • Beach shape
  • Type of break
  • Height/ State of tide
  • Swell character (age, period, speed)


All of these contrive to make 1 foot of swell a potentially serious and dangerous environment to take inexperienced client groups into.

Although the coaching awards give the Level 3 surf coach a remit to operate in up to 3 feet of surf, it would be unwise to take novice groups into such conditions. If appropriate the “reform or secondary break” might prove a suitable site for inexperienced or novice groups to work.

Racing Craft

Open cockpit Racing Kayaks and Racing Canoes are unsuitable for use on open water in windy conditions (greater than force 3) or on white water, except in the hands of those who are highly experienced in their use.

The impact of paddlesport on the environment must be considered. Particular attention should be given to:

  • Bank / land erosion at access and egress points
  • Rights of access at access / egress points
  • Disturbance to wildlife
  • Disturbance to other water users
  • Parking of Vehicles and Trailers
  • Discrete changing before / after activity

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