Canoeing Certification FAQ

Certification is sometimes difficult to understand.

  • Do you need it?
  • Who issues it?
  • Where is it valid?
  • How do I recertify?

These are often asked questions which we’ll try to clarify. Courses are taught by people who love canoeing, not by an organization. Experience and good judgement doesn't automatically come in the form of a certificate. But certification does play a valuable role in guiding people along the way and setting checkpoints which ensure standardization of safety practices, leadership and instructional quality, and also keep instructors up to date with the latest advancements.

Check these links for recommendations on which RCABC certification is best for:





A certificate from RCABC is a recognition that a person has participated in a course and met or exceeded the minimum skill and theory requirements. The certificate is also a guarantee to others, such as employers, that a potential employee has met basic requirements. There are several levels of certification in RCABC. The easiest levels - Paddler Level - are intended to provide basic training and encourage people to canoe safely. Obtaining Instructor or Instructor Trainer levels involve more training and dedication and include skills such as preparation, communication, teaching ability, managing a group, etc.

A Paddler Level certificate comes in paper form while Instructor and higher level certificates are permanently recorded on RCABC's database along with the paper copy.

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Your membership and certification are quite different from one another. A certificate (this applies only to instructor certificates) is a recognition of your skills. A membership is received after joining the association. Memberships have a one year expiry and instructor certificates have a 3 year expiry (for Lakewater and Moving Water) and need to be recertified during a clinic. However, if your membership is not current (paid up) your instructor certificate is not considered valid by RCABC. Other RCABC certificates (paddler level, and instructor certificates other than Lakewater and Movingwater) have no expiry and need no recertification.

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Recertification is only required for Lakewater Instructor and Movingwater Instructor certificates. They expire after 3 years. For other instructors, you need to recertify at your highest level - either Lakewater or Movingwater Instructor. Movingwater instructors do not need to recertify their Lakewater Instructor certificate.
Only "Master Instructors" who have met the following requirements do not need to recertify their instructor certifications:

  • Lakewater Instructor
  • Movingwater Instructor
  • A third instructor certificate of your choice
  • Applied to the executive and received "Master Instructor" certification

All RCABC instructors other than "Master Instructors" need to recertify either their Lakewater or Movingwater Instructor certification.
Canoeists with "Paddler Level" certifcates need not recertify unless they choose to as a refresher course.

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Recertification must be arranged by the instructor seeking it. A Lakewater Recertification is a one day clinic where all of the testing requirements are reviewed (solo circuit, tandem circuit, teaching skills, theory, written exam). A Movingwater Recertification is a 2 day clinic. Both can be done in conjunction with an appropriate course.
Every April with the RCABC Anual General Meeting a recertification clinic is held. Check the Upcoming Courses menu for instructor courses that you could participate in to recertify. You can use the Find an Instructor function to get the contact information of local Instructor Trainers (or Master Instructors) that can recertify you. Check for a Request a Course fuction on this website that the executive is considering including in the future (as of 2014).

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RCABC certified courses ensure that students receive thorough training from an instructor that is backed by a network of accumulated knowledge and experience.

Learning canoeing is more than just developing paddling skills. We canoe in a complex environment of weather, cold water, hazards, etc., that requires respect to stay safe. A canoeing course should include how to prepare for a trip, how to do rescues, gear requirements, dealing with weather, group travel, leadership and many other topics. A certified instructor has been trained to present this information, plus the instructor has benefited from the experience and knowledge passed down by the previous instructors in RCABC.

Certification is sought after by canoeists for a number of reasons, including:

  • Individuals simply wanting to upgrade their canoeing skills or try a different type of canoeing
  • Employment opportunities such as guiding or instructing
  • Volunteers or teachers in leadership roles with youth groups
  • Confidence and team building for any group
  • Part of a Outdoor Education program

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Most RCABC certification courses taught are introductory (paddler level) courses based on participation, so you needn’t feel pressure to “pass”. Even though you may be interested in taking a certified course, you needn't be concerned about the goal of obtaining the certification - it's optional. RCABC recognizes that not everyone needs a canoeing certificate, and participation just for the sake of learning is very welcome!

If you are interested in instructor certification there is obviously more assessment involved.

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There are many organizations that offer canoeing certification, from provincial ones such as RCABC, ARCA and ORCKA (BC, AB, ON), to national organizations such as Paddle Canada and American Canoe Association (US), and some that even have international scope (British Canoe Union). They are not to be confused with clubs in that their main goal is to provide a training and certification structure and instructor network.

These organizations all exist because at some point there was a need for higher safety standards and skills and no other system existed in that region. Most of them developed their own course structure, testing methods and teaching methodologies that are at least partially unique to the organization. At the same time, canoeing skills have modernized and standardized in recent decades and there are only minor variations in the actual skills outcomes.

RCABC recognizes the benfits of both provincial and national organizations, and the need for cooperation and consistency between them. For instance RCABC has been a member of Paddle Canada for many years.

The vast majority of work done by these organizations is by volunteers. Their valuable time tends to be used meeting the basic needs of their organization.

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In BC there are no government regulations which require anyone teaching or leading canoeing to have a specific level of certification. Exceptions are some BC Provincial Parks (Bowron Lakes Provincial Park) and as of 2014 Parks Canada is developing guidelines for guiding or teaching situations in National Parks that will include all national and provincial organizations. Recreational paddlers (people simply going canoeing) have no government restrictions other than Transport Canada safety gear requirements.

School Boards in individual School Districts in BC set their own requirements for leaders taking students out for instruction or trips. The requirements vary from district to district and often from school to school.

Some national organizations such as cadets that offer canoeing as part of their programs prefer to use a national certification (such as Paddle Canada) so their instructors are more transferable between provinces.

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There are no regulations that restrict a paddling certification organization such as RCABC, Paddle Canada, ORCKA, ARCA to stay within a territory. For example if someone with American Canoe Association (US) certification wanted to teach in Canada, there are no rules to prevent this. The only restriction would be whether ACA would recognize a course of theirs taught outside of their declared jurisdiction and if their liability insurance coverage would be valid outside of the US. Therefore the regional boundaries are restricted only by insuarance and voluntary conditions.

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In BC, employers independently choose what type of certification their guides or instructors should have. This can include no certification whatsoever. The main checkpoints are:

  • The ability of the company to get liability insurance (insurance companies look at training standards before insuring businesses).
  • Due diligence and the threat of legal action if negligence is suspected.
  • What clients demand or expect.

For canoeing clients (anyone taking a course or going on a guided trip) it is a “buyer beware” situation.

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It is up to non-profit or volunteer organizations and clubs to determine their own certification standards for their trip leaders or instructors. But these groups can share the same concerns as a business with respect to liability exposure. Liability insurance, due diligence and public expectations still apply!

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Because of the evolution of the various certification bodies and the huge geographical regions in BC, let alone Canada, we are left with a variety of provincial and one national organization offering canoeing certification - Paddle Canada. Canadians are free to move from province to province so people sometimes end up in BC with training from another provincial organization or Paddle Canada. For people interested in joining and supporting RCABC, we have developed an open equivalency request system, meaning the executive will consider any recognized canoe certification for transfer to an equivalent RCABC certification.

This process is sometimes easy, but sometimes very challenging for the applicant and the RCABC executive, depending on how close or far apart the certificate contents are. Cooperation and compromise from both parties are often necessary!

The following is an excerpt from the 2013, 6th Edition of the RCABC Instructor Manual.

An Instructor wanting to transfer his certification from certifying bodies outside of BC to the RCABC system will be judged on a case-by-case basis by the Instructor Coordinator. A local Master Instructor or Instructor Trainer may be required to assist with the assessment. RCABC will consider any canoe certification for transfer.

The following criteria will be examined:

  •  Familiarity with the RCABC program
  •  Appropriate skills and teaching ability
  •  Time lapse since the certification was granted or recertified
  •  Amount of canoe teaching experience since being granted the certification
  • Other relevant experience

To apply for certification equivalency, the applicant should expect to supply the following information:

  •  Copy of previous certificates held
  •  Log of canoe instruction and experience
  •  Summary and proof of related training such as first aid, kayaking certification, teaching certificates in other disciplines, etc.
  •  References

The application for equivalency should be sent to the RCABC executive through the Instructor Coordinator. Applications must be received early enough to allow the Instructor Coordinator time to examine the details and consult if needed.

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For the various canoeing disciplines, RCABC offers Paddler, Instructor, Instructor Trainer levels of certification.

  • Paddler level is a typical skills and safety based canoe course.
  • Instructor level courses certify you to teach Paddler level courses.
  • Instructor Trainer courses certify you to train people to become instructors.

There are some other categories such as endorsements and Master instructor.

Check the RCABC Program Overview for more details.

Contact the RCABC Instructor Coordinator or Executive if that doesn't answer your questions.


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