Demystifying Courses - Sea Kayak Leader

Demystifying Courses - Sea Kayak Leader

We're 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. Next up, is the British Canoeing Sea Kayak Leader! Reach Outdoors is a British Canoeing Delivery Partner and offer a variety of activities and courses throughout the year.

The Sea Kayak Leader is a leadership qualification which allows you to lead a group of sea kayakers on a single or multi-day journey in “moderate water” sea conditions. The qualification is run by British Canoeing – the National Governing Body for paddlesports in the UK.

There are two versions of the Sea Kayak Leader – tidal and non-tidal. Almost all sea kayaking in the UK would require the sea kayak leader (tidal) to operate on longer coastal journeys. The non-tidal award is really designed for regions of the world where there is no tide, e.g. the Mediterranean. The tidal variant of the award is more encompassing, as it covers the full remit of the non-tidal and more, whereas the non-tidal award limits your sea conditions.

What’s the conditions limit? 

Both tidal & non-tidal cover sea journeys with:

  • up to force 4 (max 18mph) winds
  • no more than 1 mile away from an easy landing point (so a maximum of 2 miles between these points)
  • launching and landing in up to 1m of surf

The difference between tidal and non-tidal is around the tidal movement of water:

  • Tidal allows up to 2 knots of tidal movement (no tide races or overfalls)
  • Non-tidal limits to no tidal movement.

There are very few coastal places in the UK where there is no tidal movement of water.

Full details on the conditions remit for Sea Kayak Leader can be found on the assessment criteria here:

How do you get the Sea Kayak Leader?

Firstly, there are some optional Sea Kayak Leader Training courses, led by British Canoeing providers, which help you work on your paddling, leadership, safety and rescue skills and help you prepare for your assessment. This can be a 2 to 5 day course depending on the provider.

Before attending the Sea Kayak Leader Training, you need some experience in paddling a closed cockpit kayak in the "moderate water" conditions yourself. If you don't already have these skills, there are lots of courses or guided sessions available. British Canoeing have some personal performance awards in kayaking which are good stepping stones, which are the Sea Kayak Award and the Coastal Sea Kayak Award. You can check out our blogs for each here for the Sea Kayak Award and here for the Coastal Sea Kayak Award.

Then you have the assessment, which is typically one-day, but might stretch to two if the top-end of the conditions is not seen on the first day.

Pre-requisites for the assessment are:

  • 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 2 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
  • Have the British Canoeing Coastal Navigation and Tidal Planning Award (normally a one-day course)

*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 does the assessment involve?

The assessment is comprised of you leading a group of 3-6 kayakers in the top-end conditions required for this award. The paddlers who are part of your group for the assessment must require leading in that environment (I.e. they cannot already hold that award or be competent paddling in those conditions without supervision).

You will need to demonstrate: 

  • Leadership skills
  • Personal paddling skills (including paddling a closed cockpit kayak, rolling a kayak and one other type of self-rescue)
  • Rescue skills
  • Suitable knowledge, understanding and experience for the award

The full assessment guidance from British Canoeing can be found here:

Before assessment, some providers may request to see a logbook of your paddling/leadership experience to support your knowledge at assessment.

How we run the course at Reach Outdoors?

At Reach Outdoors, we run a 2-day Sea Kayak Leader Training course throughout the year, which is recommended, as it provides a really sound basis for the award and guidance on areas of development. An excellent preparation course for this training is the Coastal Sea Kayak Award, which is typically run on the 3-days prior to the Sea Kayak Leader Training, giving you a 5-day block where you can get some great experience paddling in moderate water conditions, developing both your personal paddling skills and leadership skills.

We also offer assessments on request, which are typically 1-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.

For dates and prices on our Sea Kayak Leader at Reach Outdoors check out:

Further information can be found from British Canoeing here:

Paddles Up Training Guide for Tidal: Paddles Up Training Guide for Non-Tidal:

For further information, or to enquire about other dates, please email

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



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