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 ACA Skill Training Assessment Program


Our range of instructional kayaking courses and kayaking trips is designed to meet the needs of paddlers at all skill levels, from the pure novice to more advanced paddlers with several years of experience. Our goals are to help you:


·         increase your repertoire of strokes and rescue skills;

·         expand your knowledge of coastal kayaking generally;

·         enhance your awareness of – and ability to deal with - critical safety issues;  

·         develop seamanship skills such as navigation;

·         give you the opportunity to practice those skills on day and multi-day trips; and, most importantly,

·         to have a lot of fun while doing it.


There is a fairly well-established hierarchy and continuum of kayaking skills - and we can help you get from where you are currently to any level along that continuum that you have the desire to achieve.


New This Year

The American Canoe Association (ACA) has recently developed a skill training and assessment system that:


·         ranges from Level 1 (novice) to Level 5 (“expert”)

·         identifies a clear path of learning and progression for all paddlers

·         provides the basis for people to assess what they know and what they still need to learn 

·         gradually and logically builds on the skills learned at previous levels

·         offers an opportunity for formal assessment and recognition of the attainment of a particular skill level.


We at are participating with ACA in the implementation of this new system because we think it makes a lot of sense.  As a result, we have organized all our courses and trips according to the new skill levels.  This will allow you to easily identify what kind of course you want to take and what skills you need to learn – and practice - to be considered competent at each level. In addition, for those interested in going through the formal assessment/recognition process, it will allow you to focus on the specific knowledge and skill set that you’ll need to pass the assessment


Courses vs. Competence

Most people are interested in enhancing their skills so that they can have more fun and  become increasingly more competent – and safer – paddlers.  We know that formal kayak instruction is a more effective way to attain those goals than just going out and “paddling around”, whether for 2 miles or 200 miles.  However, instruction alone isn’t enough. We can teach you the skills, but we can’t make you competent paddlers. That takes experience, a lot of purposeful practice, and opportunities for feedback and advice from more experienced paddlers or coaches. If you want to maximize the benefits of formal instruction, whether you are planning on pursuing the formal Level assessments and awards or not, we strongly encourage you to get out on the water frequently and to practice your new skills every single time. One great way to do this and to get feedback about your progress is to join us on a day or multi-day trip. For those of you interested in doing the formal assessments, we would also encourage you to consider one of our refresher trainings a week or two prior to your assessment.     




ACA Kayak Training for ACA Skills Level Assessment Courses


Here’s a brief overview of the courses we offer and the kinds of skills you can expect to learn at each.  For dates and prices, please see our schedule.  For a detailed listing of the skills covered in each course, click on the course title.


Level 1 Kayak Course    Level 1 ACA Kayak Skills Assessment

This is a three hour introductory course for the pure beginner and/or for those who have only limited kayaking experience. You’ll learn about different kinds of kayaks and kayaking equipment; how to move the kayak forward, sideways, and backward; how to turn your kayak efficiently and effectively; how to perform a “wet exit” and most importantly, what you need to know to kayak safely. When you get done with this course you will have learned the basic skills to paddle safely in a group, along with more experienced paddlers, on calm, protected water.


Level 2 Kayak Course     Level 2 ACA Kayak Skills Assessment

The Level 2 course is full-day training. It reinforces and builds upon Level 1 skills. Propulsion and turning strokes are refined and expanded, high and low bracing skills (to keep you from falling over) are covered, and edging (to facilitate turns) is introduced. You’ll learn how to rescue others – and how to get rescued - in deep water, using the T-rescue. You’ll also learn how to rescue yourself, without assistance from others (paddle float re-entry).  After getting good at Level 2 skills (you need to practice, practice, practice), you’ll be a very confident and competent paddler in calm, protected waters.  Level 2 competence  also requires successful completion of at least one (and we recommend several) day trips of at least 5 miles in protected water.


Level 3 Kayak Courses    Level 3 ACA Kayak Skills Assessment offers three distinct Level 3 courses, including Advanced Strokes and Rescues, Bracing and Rolling, and Basic Navigation. Learning the skills covered in each of these areas is important because they provide the foundation for those wishing to undertake longer trips and/or paddle in more exposed conditions. For those interested in doing the formal assessment for the level 3 award, competence in each of these areas is required.  The Level 3 assessment also requires that the candidate have participated in at least three day trips of at least 10 miles each in calm to moderate open water.


Advanced Strokes and Rescues is a full day course that focuses on:


*       perfecting the strokes and rescues learned at Levels 1 and 2 and beginning to apply them in open water conditions

*       learning several new strokes and maneuvers such as sculling and hanging draws, draw on the move, bow rudder, low and high brace turns, and sculling for support

*       confidently incorporating edging into your turning strokes

*       learning new rescues, including bow- and paddle-presentation Eskimo rescues, contact rescues/tows, and use of short and long tow lines.


Bracing and Rolling is a three-hour course that focuses on mastering bracing skills and learning how to do an Eskimo roll. Several types of rolls are covered including C to C, sweep, extended paddle roll, and the re-enter and roll.  While we can’t guarantee that everyone will have a bomb-proof roll, the typical student will roll successfully by the end of this course.


Basic Navigation is a four-hour course that is part classroom and part on-water. It is designed to introduce you to the science and art of knowing where you are on the water and how to choose the best route to get to where you want to go (and back).  Topics will include the importance of navigation, reading nautical charts, compass use, paddling a compass course, use of ranges, taking fixes to determine location, an introduction to tides and currents, and trip planning.


Level 4 Kayak Courses    Level 4 ACA Kayak Skills Assessment’s Level 4 courses focus on the ability to apply all Level 3 skills in moderate to rough open water conditions. This level also introduces:


*       new technical skills such as launching, landing and holding position in moderate surf (up three feet);  dealing with currents (e.g. ferry angles, eddy turns);  rolling in open water conditions; and night paddling

*       new safety-related skills such as use of signaling devices and marine radios; knowledge of basic first aid, including prevention and treatment of hypothermia; and understanding the effects of wind, weather, current and waves;

*       new leadership skills such as effective group management practices and planning long trips in open water. 


Because of the range of skills needed at this level, offers three separate but related Level 4 courses.  These include Open Water Skills, Surf Zone and Intermediate Navigation.



Open Water Skills

This eight hour course introduces paddlers to open water conditions with moderate wind, waves and current. The goal is to learn how take skills you learned previously and apply them in open water conditions, so that you can be a competent member of a group undertaking day or multi-day coastal kayaking trips. This means, in part, being able to paddle efficiently in winds to 16 knots and in head, beam or following seas; being able to perform various maneuvers such as bow rudders and low brace turns with confident edging in rougher conditions; being able to brace and roll in open water; and being able to perform various rescues and tows in open water.


Surf Zone

This full day course is designed as an introduction to safely negotiating the surf zone and dealing with moderate currents. We will cover – among other things – safe launching and landing techniques, use of the stern rudder in surf; how to use effective edging and bracing when broached on a wave; “reading” the waves; group management in the surf zone; and paddle and hand signals. In this course, you will also learn how to deal with currents including crossing them using ferry angles and ranges, and entering and exiting currents to/from eddies.   


Intermediate Navigation

This six hour course is designed to reinforce and build upon the navigational and seamanship skills learned in the Basic course.  Topics covered will include predicting tides and currents; the rule of twelvths and the 50/90 rule and their practical applications;  correcting for wind and current in open crossings;  rules of the nautical road, use of VHF radios and signaling devices;  GPS; and multi-day navigation planning. The course will have classroom and on-water components, including a nighttime navigation exercise. It will also involve the development of a full navigation plan for a multi-day trip.


For additional information, please email us at the address below
 info @

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Last modified: April 24, 2013