Changes to the British Canoeing Sea Kayak Leader Award

Changes to the British Canoeing Sea Kayak Leader Award

From January 2021 our Sea kayak Leader (SKL) courses change to reflect the new British Canoeing SKL syllabus.

The fundamental changes are:

The Sea kayak leader award now gives paddlers two options:

Sea Kayak Leader (Tidal waters)

Successful candidates will be able to lead groups in moderate waters. This is defined as; Moderate sea. This includes a stretch of coastline with some areas where it is not easy to land. But there will always be straightforward landing points a maximum of two nautical miles apart. Crossings do not exceed two nautical miles, up to 2 Knots of tide stream (but not involving tide race or overfalls). Wind speeds do not exceed Beaufort force 4. Launch and land through surf (up to 1 metre, trough to crest height).

In Jersey, we will be able to assess to this level. I’d advise any paddler who expects to lead groups in UK waters to select this option.


Sea Kayak Leader (Non-tidal waters)

This means leading in moderate seas where there is little or no tidal movement. There will be areas where it is not easy to land, but there will always be landing points a maximum of two nautical miles apart, crossings do not exceed two nautical miles. Wind strengths do not exceed Beaufort force 4. Launch and land through surf (up to 1 metre, trough to crest height).

The UK and many northern European paddlers are likely to struggle to find non-tidal waters that fall within this remit. If you often operate in the Mediterranean, the assessment of the non-tidal water might be a suitable option to consider. However, this option will limit your areas of operation.

It’s unlikely we’ll be assessing the non-tidal waters option in Jersey because we do not have enough locations with little or no tidal movement!

Our training courses for Moderate water SKL will tune-up your skills and leadership for either award. With tides of up to 12m and some excellent coastline around Jersey, there is always somewhere that will be within the moderate water remit.

Attending a Sea Kayak Leader training course is no longer a prerequisite. If you have enough experience, you can therefore go directly to SKL assessment.

Read the Sea kayak Leader syllabus here.

SKL assessment is now at the top end of the moderate water remit

The new SKL award clearly says that at your assessment, you are expected to be assessed at the upper end of the remit. It’s therefore vital you get some experience of leading, dealing with incidents and paddling at this level. Our SKL training weekend will cover a lot of these areas.

Another way you can develop your skills and experience is by leading paddlers from your club or a group of friends on trips. Remember to ensure you are paddling in a wide range of conditions and not just with novice paddlers.

Alternatively, sign up for our Advanced Kayak trails or Big Tides weeks to develop your experience and paddle skills.

When you book and pay for one of our 5-day courses, there is also the opportunity to play a more active role as a leader, providing you arrange this in advance. You’ll get insights into leading groups, dealing with incidents and all the other factors that happen behind the scenes and support and advice on leading groups. If you find it hard to get practical leadership experience, this is an excellent option to consider.

SKL Assessment Registration and Prerequisites

There is still be some paperwork and a few prerequisites!

You must register before the assessment with your Delivery Centre, e.g. Canoe England (CE), Welsh Canoeing Association (WCA), Scottish Canoe Association (SCA)or Canoe Association of Northern Ireland (CANI). International candidates will need to register with Canoe England.

Complete the registration process at least 2-weeks before your planned assessment. Ideally, aim for at least one month before, in case you encounter any problems.

Registration requires;

Full National Association Membership, e.g. be a current member of British Canoeing.

a valid 2-day First Aid Award for Moderate Water Environments.

Safeguarding Training. This must be up to date and is recognised by British Canoeing.

The Coastal Navigation & Tidal Planning certificate.

For all of the prerequisites, the good news is that if you think think you have another award that is equivalent or at a higher level; you can apply to have them accepted as Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL). Expect to supply a copy of the certificate and syllabus (in English) and allow a bit more time for your APL to be considered.

If you turn up for your Sea Kayak Leader assessment without your registration, you will not be able to take part and are unlikely to get any refund of your course fee.

Leadership experience

Ensure you have experience in leading and managing incidents in more complex conditions.

The new award suggests candidates need a minimum of;

12 trips/sessions as an active, capable member of a group


12 trips/sessions acting as Leader

These trips need to be in a variety of moderate tidal waters and not just one sea area. Large lakes are not accepted for this award.

Keeping a logbook that records your trips is essential as evidence and a personal record of your progress. Use your log to highlight areas that need further work. A BC logbook is available to download. Strava, Garmin and other online systems are great ways to record your trips.

You can now choose bespoke learning opportunities to support your development.

For example, you may have completed the International Sea Kayak Guide Alliance (ISKGA) modules, already guide and lead in a club or commercial environment, or have just gained loads of experience over the years. Removing the requirement to complete the SKL training may save some paddlers a lot of time (and money). However, this means you must have enough experience and understand what the new award requires you to demonstrate.

Should you attend a Sea Kayak Leader training course?

Many paddlers may prefer to attend one of our SKL training courses. Remember, only approved BC SKL assessors can advertise these events as Sea Kayak Leader training courses.

Any leadership training during this course will be based on the BC leadership model, so you will understand what your assessment requires. There is also the opportunity to get feedback from coaches who assess the award.

As part of your development pathway and action plan, we offer the option to be mentored through face-to-face meetings or online.

Sometimes, you may consider booking 1:1 training sessions to focus on specific elements of your action plan.

Remember, if you decide to go directly to the assessment, you might overlook a key area of your development plan.

Read the SKL documents!

Ensure you understand the new syllabus and expected standards because this is more than an assessment of your paddle skills. Don’t just read the syllabus! The Leadership and Raft Guide Awards. Sea Kayak Leader Assessment Guidance tells you what the assessor expects candidates to demonstrate and their level of competency.

The British Canoeing Sea Kayak Leader syllabus is here.

The Sea Kayak Skills checklist

You can quickly get an idea of whether you are ready for the Sea Kayak Leader assessment by filling in the Sea Kayak Leader Skills checklist.

The checklist will help you identify areas that need more training and practice. If you find areas that need development, I’d advise you work on these before attending an assessment.  Consider attending a sea kayak leader training course or other suitable courses, e.g. our guide modules, safety and leadership courses etc. Alternatively, you may be able to develop your skills and experience by helping to organise and lead club trips, get more paddling experience in a wide range of conditions or arrange to be mentored.

If you are honest and think about what needs developing and then you work on these areas, passing your Sea Kayak Leader award is more likely. The key is to reflect on what you do as a paddler and a leader. Aim to get as many sections of the checklist as possible into the “Strong” section before you attend an assessment. If you have been honest and realistic about your skills and experience, you may find that your checklist matches your assessor’s!

During the first few years of this new syllabus, I suspect we’ll see a few paddlers going directly to an assessment who have not taken time to fill in the sea kayak leader checklist or, having done so, did little work to develop the areas that needed improvement. Some will discover they have excellent paddle skills but little leadership experience at the level required for the award. Plus, with a candidate needing to be more involved in the planning and leading element of the assessment, some will find this daunting, especially if they have not previously operated at this level.

Under the old assessment system, I often saw a few candidates who lacked the experience of leading and managing incidents in moderate water and whose range of leadership skills were limited. They had usually been acting as an assistant but had not led the group.

Is the Coastal Sea Kayak Award a better option for you?

If you decide the Sea kayak Leader award is not for you, it’s worth considering the Coastal Sea Kayak Award. This focuses on your personal paddle skills, and experience and less on leadership. Think of this award as evidence that you are a competent and experienced paddler who will be an asset on any trip in moderate waters.

I expect many paddlers will arrive at the Sea Kayak leader assessment over the next few years, having already passed the Coastal Sea Kayak award.

It will be possible for paddlers to arrange for us to assess you on our Big Tides weeks, Advanced Jersey Kayak Trails, and specific assessment dates.

See our course diary or email us to discuss options.

I’ll write about what you can expect on your sea kayak leader assessment shortly.

The new Sea Kayak Leader Syllabus and course outline is here.

Dates of our courses:

Sea Kayak Leader Training

Sea Kayak leader Assessment dates.

Intermediate courses

Coastal Sea Kayak Award dates

Jersey Kayak Trail (Advanced) courses.