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British Canoeing (BC) performance, leadership and coaching system by James G

British Canoeing (BC) performance, leadership and coaching system by James G

I have been asked on numerous occasions about the British Canoeing (BC) performance, leadership and coaching system and heard many people say they don’t understand it. I have been through a few of the qualifications recently and feel like I have a reasonable grasp of the system, so will try to explain its current version.

It is worth saying, that the club operates its own, specific sign-off system, for its coaches and leaders for each of the environments it operates in. Coaching Courses and Training run by the Club…… ****

This article refers to the British Canoeing qualifications for those wishing to formalise their own journey, for personal satisfaction, to achieve formal qualifications or progress a career in paddlesport.

This may seem overwhelming and when I first looked at it I felt the same way, but once you establish if you want to lead or coach, then you pick your environment and craft then there is a qualification that allows you to go direct into that area. There are many providers who can be found on and the club operate a Bursary system for those that are already established leaders and run sessions for the club, full details of this can be found on the club website:

If this is something you are interested in, start recording all your sessions now. Log everything. This logbook will become your evidence of experience and any training you have undertaken. But it will also serve as a good reference point for your own decision-making, for example, if you find yourself in Penrhyn Mawr on a spring tide and expect it to be bouncing, but the wind from the NE flattens it….that may be worth writing down for future record so you can remind youself! Or Town Falls gets really bumpy at 0.45m compared with 0.95m where it’s big and bouncy.

I will start by addressing three separate areas of awards:

Performance – your own personal development journey.

Leadership – you leading groups who are reliant upon you.

Coaching – you coaching groups to achieve their goal in the environment they wish to operate in.

Performance Awards: These are for your own personal development; they are not a prerequisite for anything. Historically 1 and 2 stars were pass or fail. Paddle Start, Discover and Explore are the modern-day equivalent and are no longer pass or fail. However, before signing off you have to have achieved the standard set by the performance criteria which is available from the award website. So no, they are not pass or fail, but you won’t be awarded it until you have reached the standard. They are about promoting independence and will take people from their first trip on the water (Paddle Start) right through to performance in tide races and open water crossings (Advanced Sea Kayak Award). They are discipline specific so if Grade 4 White Water (WW) is your thing, there is a performance award for that. There is no requirement for you to progress through these awards in any order, you can go straight to Advanced Canoe Award or equivalent if you like, but as per the above, you will only achieve the award when you meet the performance criteria.

More details:

Leadership Awards: Historically these were referred to as the 4* and 5* awards. They are now addressed as Leadership awards in sheltered, moderate or advanced water.

(Very)& Sheltered water qualifications for leadership have remits to consider but include Paddlesport Instructor, Paddlesport Leader.

Paddlesport Touring Leader sits slightly out of this with a wider remit to take groups upto 500m from shore and into easier WW.

As the environment progresses so do the leadership awards, as far as Canoe, WW Kayak, Sea Kayak and Surf go they have leadership awards in the Moderate and Advanced water. SUP also has moderate water qualifications in Open Water and Coastal remints, I suspect White Water won’t be far behind.

So, if you want to lead on Grade 2 with occasional bits of 3 WW, then WW Kayak Leader would be the suitable qualification for kayak and Canoe WW Leader for canoe.

If you want to lead on the sea in tideraces then Advanced Sea Leader would be the appropriate qualification. If you hold an advanced leader qualification you can also lead in the moderate water remit, which makes sense – if you are leading on Grade 5 you can lead on Grade 2!

To be a leader you must hold BC membership, valid first aid certificate within 3 years and safeguarding training. You then agree to continue with CPD for your qualifications to remain valid over a period of 3 years.

Leadership qualifications are delivered by (generally) 2 days training and 1- or 2-days assessment with a consolidation phase between, however in reality this is the final stages of your long term development with a mentor and your experience to get you to this stage.

With leadership qualifications there is no need to attend training if you have suitable experience, you can present direct for assessment if you wish. Each is direct entry so you could attend straight for Advanced Sea Kayak Leader assessment, however evidence of significant experience would be required by assessors.

More Details:

Safety and Navigation: Currently only Sheltered Water and White Water leaders are required to complete safety training, however these are all assessed during an assessment. However BC are introducing training, Sheltered Water leaders will have to complete Paddlesport Safety and Rescue (Formerly FRST/CST). Moderate Water White Water have to complete White Water Safety and Rescue and Advanced leaders AWWSR. Changes are being made to Sea, Inland and Open water and these are likely to change in the future.

More Details:

Sea Kayak Leaders and SUP coastal leaders are required to complete Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning (CNTP) whilst advanced leaders also must complete Open Water Navigation and Tidal Planning (OWNTP).

More information:

Coaching Awards: Leaders give helpful hints and participants are dependent upon leaders, coaches are there to give participants independence and develop skills.

Prior to coach training you must attend a 2-day Core Coach training course, this teaches you the theory behind coaching, completed in person or online it’s a highly informative two days.

To coach in Sheltered Water, you can go straight into Canoe, Kayak, SUP coach training. (Having completed Core Coach) kayak and canoe can be combined but SUP sits separately. Then assessment following consolidation, there is no direct to assessment with Coach qualifications, you must attend training.

In Moderate and Advanced waters, you must be a leader in the environment you wish to coach in. If you want to coach in moderate sea conditions, you must be a Sea Kayak Leader, if you want to coach on Grade 4 WW Canoe, then you must be an Advanced Canoe WW Leader. The environments both hold their own coaching qualification in Moderate and Advanced conditions, so its just a case of deciding what level you wish to deliver at and work towards it.

More Details:

Beyond Coaching then the next step is Performance Coaching, I won’t go into this other than to say these are the coaches operating at the top of their game and have gone through a significant process to achieve the status of Performance Coach, but they are learning journeys and open to any coach of any discipline.

Now is probably a good point to explain the BC definitions of water, I have touched on them already but to clarify.

Very Sheltered Water

Quiet canals with easy bankside access and egress; small lakes, which are not large enough and do not have difficult landing, where problems could occur if there is a sudden change in conditions; gentle, slow-moving rivers. The definition implies weather conditions that are not in themselves likely to cause problems. At any point, the paddler should not be more than 50 metres from the bank.

Enclosed swimming pools are also defined as very sheltered water environments.
Note: The definition implies normal conditions and care is advised when water and air temperatures are low.

Sheltered Water

Ungraded sections of slow-moving rivers where the group could paddle upstream against the flow (not involving the shooting of, or playing on, weirs or running rapids). Areas of open water (e.g. lakes and lochs) where the paddlers are no more than 200 metres offshore and the wind strength does not exceed Beaufort force 3, avoiding the group being swept/blown out of the safe working area. Slow-moving estuaries (less than 0.5 Knots).

Examples: Small enclosed bays, enclosed harbours where there is minimal possibility of being blown offshore, defined beaches with easy places to land throughout, no tide races, overfalls or surf.
Note: The definition implies normal conditions and care is advised when water and air temperatures are low.

Moderate Water
Large areas of open water that exceed the sheltered water definition, where the paddlers are no more than 500 metres offshore and in wind strengths that do not exceed Beaufort force 4.
White Water: Grade 2(3) white water or equivalent weirs.
Sea: A stretch of coastline with some areas where it is not easy to land but there will always be straightforward land points a maximum of two nautical miles apart. Crossings not exceeding two nautical miles. Up to 2 Knots of tide (but not involving tide race or overfalls). Wind strengths do not exceed Beaufort force 4. Launching and landing through surf (up to 1 metre, trough to crest height).
Surf: Sections of sandy beaches free from significant hazard (e.g. rocks and strong rips) and easy access. Gentle, sloping and spilling waves, preferably peeling. Not pitching or dumping. Wave height should be no more than double overhead when seated in a kayak in the trough of the wave (head high for a stand up surfer).

Advanced Water

Large areas of open water which exceed Moderate Inland Water and/or have winds in excess of Beaufort force 4.
White Water: Grade 3(4) white water for canoe. Rivers up to and including grade 4 for kayak.
Sea: Any journey on the sea where tidal races, overfalls or open crossings may be encountered and cannot be avoided; sections of coastline where landings may not be possible or are difficult; winds above Beaufort force 4; launching and landing through surf (up to 1.5 metres trough to crest height).
Surf: Reefs, points, offshore breaks and sandy beaches, which may have significant hazards (e.g. rocks, strong rips, etc.) and may be remote and/or have difficult access. Waves may be powerful, steep, pitching, fast, hollow and heavy. Up to and above double overhead when seated in a kayak in the trough of the wave (or head high and above for a stand up surfer).

Source: Environmental Definitions and Deployment Guidance for Instructors, Coaches and Leaders (British Canoeing, 2023).

More information:

That’s it! Any Questions let me know, drop me an email and I will help out where I can. Having been fortunate enough to experience the old Level 1-5 coach then miss out the UKCC system and come back to the current system I was quite overwhelmed at first with what was a potential journey, but I genuinely see the reason behind the current set-up. There are numerous points of contact within the club if you are interested in a leadership or coaching journey and there are a number of providers of Performance awards, if you are unsure, please let me know and I will try to assist where I can. James G.

2 thoughts on “British Canoeing (BC) performance, leadership and coaching system by James G”

  1. Silly but from the BC description and examples above the Docks, being an enclosed harbour……… are a ‘sheltered water’ environment NOT a Very Sheltered Water environment. Confusing !!!!
    This is confusing a lot of Leaders and coaches in the club as well as paddlers

    1. Not really Allan. Liverpool Docks is our home water where all our paddling takes place and is FULLY enclosed. The article refers to “enclosed harbours where there is minimal possibility of being blown offshore” eg Holyhead Harbour which is open to shipping and the Irish Sea on one side. Coburg and Queens Dock are fully enclosed, and you are always very close to an access point (ladder or beach) as per the club’s sheltered water training course at the Docks. In addition, there are often other clubs or groups operating rescue boats and the watersports centre who hire out SOTs and SUPs to the general public and keep an eye on their progress from these boats. Most club coaches I speak to feel it is very sheltered water and have honed their craft there before moving on to run trips further afield on sheltered water such as Coniston or the Inland Sea on Anglesey weekends.