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Overview of Canoe & Kayak Qualifications

Canoeing & kayaking are governed by British Canoeing, the official National Governing Body.

They are also the umbrella organisation for Canoe Wales & Scottish Canoe Association

These include the disciplines of all types of kayaking, canoeing and more recently paddle boarding. You may want to refer to our guide to becoming a paddle boarding instructor

The fact that there is one NGB for canoeing & kayaking makes it easy in some respects, however, there are well over 50 different qualifications making numerous possible career paths and routes to get them.

We’re created some useful guides to help you navigate the qualifications

Types of Qualifications

British Canoeing has 4 main types of qualifications:

  1. Personal Development awards – E.G. Star Awards which test your personal skills
  2. Coaching awards – E.G Paddle Sports Instructor. Allows you to look after and coach paddlers
  3. Leadership awards– E.G Whitewater Leader. Allows you to lead (and not coach) paddlers in various environments
  4. Safety – E.G Whitewater Safety & Rescue. Keeps you and others safe!

Many qualifications are prerequisites for others. i.e. you need Safety & Personal Development qualifications to get Coaching qualifications. You need some Leadership qualifications to coach in particular environments.

Understanding the various disciplines

There are many different aspects of canoeing & kayaking and a basic understanding will help you choose the right path for you.

When you start getting qualifications there are really only  2 disciplines:

  1. Kayaking – General purpose kayak for flat water
  2. Canoeing – An Open Canoe

When you progress qualifications start to get more specialised.

Within kayaking you have:

  1. Touring kayak – Cruising lakes & estuaries & rivers
  2. Whitewater kayak – Paddling down whitewater rivers
  3. Sea kayaking – Paddle on the sea!
  4. Surf kayaking – Surfing waves on the sea.

You then have the competitive disciplines:

  1. Slalom – Racing in and out of gates on a whitewater river
  2. Freestyle – Do tricks on a waves or stoppers
  3. Marathon & Sprint – Going as fast as you can in a straight(ish) line
  4. Polo – Kayak version of football!

Within canoeing you have:

  1. Canoe Touring – Cruising
  2. OC1 – A smaller Canoe for 1 man and with straps. Used for whitewater
  3. Whitewater Canoeing – Canoeing down white water
  4. Open Water Canoeing – Canoeing in more exposed waterways

Water Environments

It’s important to understand that many of the disciplines have different environments.

  • Sheltered Water – Generally inland, flat, slow-moving water with no exposure
  • Moderate Water – Single multi-day trips with some tidal flows, some exposure and white water
  • Advanced Water – High degree of exposures, high level of personal skill required.

The sheltered, moderate and advanced framework is applied in more detail in the following environments: Whitewater, Sea, Surf and Open water.


We’ve created a few guides to help you navigate the qualifications

With thanks to..

Darren Joy who runs Fluid Skills. They run lots of quality canoe & kayak training course, qualifications and trips all over the world. Darren is a Level 5 coach (it doesn’t come higher than that!) and has lived and breathed kayaking for over 20 years. He runs a vast amount of course and would be happy to advise you on the best one for your needs