Demystifying Courses - British Canoeing Paddlesport Leader

Demystifying Courses - British Canoeing Paddlesport Leader

Over the next few months, we'll be putting together some blogs on the outdoor qualifications and awards that we offer, to help clarify the pathways for progressing your personal paddling or for entering the outdoor industry as a career. First up, is the British Canoeing Paddlesport Leader Qualification! Reach Outdoors is a British Canoeing Delivery Partner and offer a variety of activities and courses throughout the year.

The Paddlesport Leader is an entry-level paddling leadership qualification for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding. It is a great place to start if looking to work in the watersports industry. The qualification is put together by British Canoeing, who are the national governing body for paddlesports in the UK.

It provides an excellent start point for outdoor instructors and a great platform to build and develop your paddling leadership skills.

What can do you with a Paddlesport Leader Qualification?

It gives you the opportunity to lead groups on kayaks, canoes and paddleboards on short trips or journeys in “sheltered water”. This could be working independently, or through a group or organisation. 

“Sheltered water” is classed as typically:

  • less than 200m from an entry/exit point,
  • in winds not more than force 3 or 12mph, and
  • with limited or little water flow.

This can include lakes, canals, rivers or the sea, providing the relevant conditions are met.

As the learner, you choose your preferred craft to lead from. So, if you pass the assessment, you are qualified to take out a group of canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders from your chosen craft only. For example, if you choose to be assessed in the Paddlesport Leader on a paddleboard, you can take out a group of paddlers on any craft, but you must be on a paddleboard yourself.

Most centres, clubs and organisations will have policies to assess whether you could run a session from a different craft than what you were assessed in. This could be through an in-house induction to a role, or through holding Personal Performance Awards, such as the Sea Kayak Award, SUP Sheltered Water or Canoe Award. For example, if you did your Paddlesport Leader from a paddleboard and also held your Sea Kayak Personal Performance Award, you might be able to lead a group from a kayak or a paddleboard in sheltered water also. It should be noted that each organisation will have its own policies for deploying staff and assessing their ability, so this might not hold for all situations.


How can I get the Paddlesport Leader qualification?

Firstly, there is an optional 2-day training, which many providers recommend to ensure you’ve had a chance to cover all skills required. This training provides a good introduction to the award, an opportunity to get familiar with rescues, practice some leadership scenarios and identify areas of development before your assessment.

Then there is the assessment, which is typically one-day and arranged separately to the training.

The assessment covers the following cateogories:

  • leadership skills
  • personal paddling skills
  • rescue skills

You’ll need to be able to rescue each craft from your chosen craft for different scenarios, show good decision making, be prepared with the correct equipment and show you can motivate the group. The full leader checklist can be found here:

Are there any pre-requisites?

There are no-formal pre-requisites for attending a Paddlesport Leader Training, although it is generally assumed that you are confident paddling on your chosen craft in the conditions. 

Before assessment you must:

  • be aged 16 years or older (*see note below if under 18).
  • be an “On the Water” member of British Canoeing in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland (annual membership, currently £45 for an adult, with discounts for 22 year olds and under, couples and families)
  • hold a valid First Aid Qualification (minimum 1 day course)
  • hold a Safeguarding qualification (one can be provided through British Canoeing for about £10)
  • be registered for the award with British Canoeing (currently £39) – this is separate to arranging an assessment with a provider

*while you can complete this qualification when aged under 18, you cannot be responsible for a group until you are 18.

It is recommended that prior to assessment, you’ve had some experience in leading groups, so getting some shadowing in with qualified leaders could be beneficial.



What if I only want to focus on one paddlecraft, e.g. paddleboard?

It’s worth considering what you want to get out of a leadership qualification before limiting yourself to a single craft. The advantage of a multi-craft award like the Paddlesport Leader is that it makes you more versatile in a multi-activity centre. If you can only instruct paddleboarding and a centre does canoeing and kayaking too, then it limits what work could be available to you.

If you’d prefer to focus on a single paddle craft, then other awards may be more suitable.

British Canoeing do a number of other courses that are more specific, such as “Sea Kayak Leader” or “Stand Up Paddleboard Coastal Leader”. These two specifically are a bit more advanced in personal skills and conditions than the Paddlesport Leader and there are lots of others that are environment specific. There is also due to be a new entry-level “Stand-Up Paddleboard Instructor” award starting in January 2023, which is for “very sheltered water” only and introductory or starter sessions. For more information on all other courses available by British Canoeing, check out

What’s the difference between Paddlesport Leader and Paddlesport Instructor?

British Canoeing also offer a Paddlesport Instructor course, which is also entry-level and covers multi-craft but it is slightly different.

Firstly, the remit, or conditions limit, for paddlesport instructor is “very sheltered water”, which is typically canals, lakes or very gentle moving rivers and not more than 50m from the bank.

Secondly, it covers taster and introductory sessions only for new paddlers, not journeys.

Thirdly, it prevents you from working independently, so you cannot take out a group on your own without an organisation “deploying” you.

The Paddlesport Instructor can be done by anyone aged 14 or over and is a great award for supporting leaders in sessions.

Full information on it is:

How do we run the Paddlesport Leader at Reach Outdoors?

We run a 2-day training course for Paddlesport Leader throughout the year. This training provides a really good introduction and base to the qualification, and runs you through different scenarios, leadership skills, rescues and journey planning. If you aren’t sure whether the training will be beneficial to you and your experience, please get in touch to chat through options.

We also do assessments, which are arranged on an enquiry basis currently. Assessments are typically 1-day and we can assess up to 2 people on a day. We can help with finding participants for your group to lead for the assessment or you can provide these yourself. We provide all personal and group kit required for the training and assessment, including any craft you may need.

To find out prices and dates for our next Paddlesport Leader, visit For other queries, please email

Reach Outdoors is based in the English Riviera. Check out for accommodation or other fantastic things to do when you are in the area.

To find full information on the award, visit



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