How To Become A Kayaking Instructor

How to become a kayaking instructor

How To Become A Kayaking Instructor

By Carly Jones

Dreaming of days gliding down serene estuaries, discovering little nooks and crannies and being at one with the wildlife? The life of a kayaking instructor allows you to channel your inner explorer, leading your groups into new territory and showcasing rich natural history from a whole new perspective.

Becoming a kayaking instructor is the perfect opportunity to spend your days at one with the natural world. England has some of the most incredible coastline, rivers and lakes, with an array of wildlife and spectacular ecology. Kayaking routes can vary from the more idyllic and gentler to a full-blown adventure filled with rock hopping, cavern exploring and even a spot of wave riding. It is an activity for everyone and a great way to keep fit. Kayaking, when done correctly, really engages your core, think abs and obliques that would make even the most dedicated gym bunnies green with envy. You’ll feel the benefit of hours of ‘training’ each day while sitting in your boat, basking in the sunshine. Often, you’ll be listening to the birds chirping and wind rustling through the trees. You may even spot one of Cornwall’s favourite sea puppies, the Grey Seal. Sounds like an ideal way to spend your day’s, right?

How to become a kayaking instructor

What does it take to become a kayaking instructor?

First up you will need to gain your Paddlesport Leader Level 1 Award which is governed by British Canoeing. This is the entry level into the world of kayaking but will also get you set up to provide introductory lessons in Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) and Canoeing. The Paddlesport Instructor Award is one of the many qualifications offered under Newquay Activity Centre’s Outdoor Activity Instructor Course.

How to become a kayaking instructorUnder this course you will receive intensive prep for the assessment which is administered by British Canoeing. This will allow you to gain in depth knowledge of the route you will be assessed on, while also garnering a host of local knowledge. Throughout the training you will not only have time to soak in the atmosphere and strengthen your own abilities, but you will also run through drills and exercises on group management, incident handling and rescues. This will be coupled with a few games and paddle skills thrown into the mix to ensure an entertaining day out on the water for your future pupils. You will also learn your remit, this award allows you to take tours out on relatively calm water within 200m from the shoreline. It will teach you how to read tides, weather forecasts (understanding the wind is a particularly useful tool in the kayaking world) and how to plot a safe, interesting route.

There is also a prerequisite to have completed a Foundation Safety and Rescue Course, however if completing your training through Newquay Activity Centre this is incorporated into the training plan. The lead trainer on the Outdoor Activity Instructor Course, Mark Kelly, is himself an accredited assessor and trainer in paddle sports with over 26 years of experience in the industry. This includes surf, sea kayaking as well as stacks of experience in the white water arena. Mark now holds Provider Status after working his way through his personal performance under the British Canoe qualification system. He now holds leadership and coaching qualifications. So it is safe to say you will be ‘strokes’ ahead when it is time for assessment day. While it is not a necessity to have completed first aid training for the Paddlesport Leader Level 1 Award, it is highly recommended, and an incredibly important qualification to hold when it comes to water sports. Again, this is a qualification inbuilt into the Outdoor Activity Instructor Course, where you can become signed off in either the Surf Coach Safety and Rescue award or under the National Vocational Beach Lifeguard Qualification. Both are great qualifications for any watersports instructor to hold.

What does the assessment cover?

After the training period you will be booked in to run your own session with real customers and a technical assessor from British Canoeing. This is a practical exam format, where the aim for the activity is to ensure you cover off the following:

  • Practical skills, including games and activities to aid learning
  • Engagement and relationship building skills
  • Professional standards of a Paddle sport Instructor
  • Personal rescue skills


For the assessment you will be responsible for all aspects of the organisation of the day. You will take out a minimum of four students on mixed crafts, this includes:

  • Contacting students and preparing them for the day (what to wear, what to bring, where to meet, timings, and what to expect).
  • Checking the forecast and contacting the assessor the night before  the assessment in order to explain your route plan the journey itinerary.
  • Checking and packing equipment, including first aid, extra kit for the students, emergency supplies, maps and personal belongings.
  • Unloading equipment and setting up for students.
  • Getting customers set up and organised upon arrival.
  • Running through a safety briefing, the plan for the day and providing a clear explanation and demonstration on how to utilise the crafts and paddles.
  • Check on abilities and ensure constant group management.
  • Run through skills and games (group engagement will be taken into consideration).
  • Safely lead your group on your route and return to ‘drop off location’.
  • Check in and pack up of equipment.


Throughout the assessment you will be tested on a variety of techniques and scenarios. The assessors need to check on your ability to manage a group and to foresee and prevent unnecessary incidents. While you will likely have this covered, they also need to check on your physical ability to perform rescues and will create scenarios to test your level-headedness and situational awareness. The rescues that will be tested under this award include:

  • Incident Management (think group arguments, broken bones, asthma attacks)
  • Deep Water Rescue
  • Swamped craft and trapped boat recovery (game of stuck in the mud anyone?)
  • Towing and Rafted Towing
  • Carrying a swimmer
  • Rescue of an unconscious paddler
  • Rescue of a capsized paddler and equipment


During your course you will be taught a variety of rescues, it is a thorough training process as you really need to be aware of your surroundings and exit points along any given route. The exploratory nature of kayaking means that if an accident did occur, you may not always be close to road access, so you need to be in complete control at all times. This can sound intensive, but you will have trained for this and there is no need to be overly concerned. The guidance and consistent testing throughout your course will put you in good stead to respond to any emergency. As trainer Mark Kelly likes to say “train hard, fight easy”.

Mark has also provided some tips for getting ready to commence your paddlesport instructor qualification, his main takeaway is simple,

“Go paddling. The longer you spend in the kayak the better you will be. Get experience in as many types of crafts as you can, whether that is hiring, borrowing from friends, or joining a club. In fact, clubs are a great way to get experience, borrow equipment and receive advice. I started my career through school and then a local canoe club and they were there to help me get  through my first British Canoeing courses.” 

How to become a kayaking instructor Cornwall

What equipment is needed?

As far as water sports go, kayaking is probably one of the more equipment heavy activities you can do. However, most centres offering the activity will have their own slew of crafts available and usually either a good form of transportation or some strategically located storing points to make getting your equipment ready a touch easier. Most centres who offer kayaking adventures will utilise a sit on top craft, these are a lot easier to teach in and there isn’t as much of a concern about becoming trapped if the craft capsizes. Often more experienced kayakers will use a closed cockpit craft, but you will need to be confident in both.

Below is a list of equipment you will need to take to enjoy your kayaking adventures, once you have chosen your desired craft.

  • Paddle
  • Buoyancy Aid
  • Helmet
  • Wetsuit or Dry Suit
  • Seat (for sit on top kayaks)
  • Appropriate footwear (usually trainers)
  • Towline
  • Throwline
  • First Aid Kit
  • Emergency Supplies (e.g. a group shelter)
  • Phone
  • Maps
  • Whistle

Most centres have some of the above equipment available for their staff but it is always good to show your professionalism, and be prepared for your future vocation in the activity by getting your own kit together. Depending on your route, the duration of your activity plan, weather and any other personal requirements you will also need to prepare essentials such as personal food, water, spare clothes and medications.

Next Steps

Upon completion of your paddlesport instructor qualification you are set to take out customers in tranquil waters and take your new outdoor instructor lifestyle to the lagoons. You can get a ton of experience in your new career through a busy summer season, but if you do want to continue your foray into the world of kayaking and venture beyond still waters there are an array of upskilling routes. Currently Newquay Activity Centre has a few qualified instructors who are upskilling, spending their time working towards their Sea Kayak Leader Award. During this next level the course is more discipline specific, meaning that instead of the several crafts you need to understand under the initial qualification you can choose which vessel is your preferred method. This qualification leads you to be able to take on more adventurous routes in greater swell and stronger wind conditions. Maybe even catching a few waves along the way and really diving into all that the British coastline has to offer.

From here the world is your oyster. You can move up the various levels and potentially complete your own coaching and leadership awards, allowing you to become a qualified assessor yourself. Or you could take on opening your own business, fishing out the best spots across the UK and beyond. Having the knowledge that this initial qualification offers, paired with personal experience and a love for the never-ending wonder that our waterways have to offer will be the springboard to a bright and, hopefully, sunny future.

How to become a kayaking instructor Newquay

Types of Kayaking Adventures

There’s an array of activities you can take on to spice up your kayaking practises now that you have the training and experience behind you, the adventure has just begun. One of the most exciting things about kayaking is finding new destinations to explore, whether that is bobbing along estuaries, taking on open ocean, using it as a tool to enhance your coasteering escapades, finding the best spots to snorkel or a lazy afternoon of kayak fishing (just be aware of any catch and release laws in the local area). For the historians or ecologists among us there is a rising popularity for heritage and eco tours, so you can merge your passions while upping the educational ante for your groups.

For inspiration on some of Cornwall’s best kayaking experiences to get you motivated check out our previous blog Kayak Cornwall.

So if you are ready to take on your next lifestyle challenge and experience breath-taking views from your ‘outdoor office’ check out our upcoming Outdoor Activity Instructor Course dates.

If your preference is for a standalone paddlesports qualification, Newquay Activity Centre is now opening up special intensive course dates to focus on becoming qualified in two weeks. Don’t hesitate to flick us an email or give us a call to secure your spot and be ready to give yourself the ultimate work / life balance by being paid to play

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