These guidelines provide the minimum requirements for the safe conduct of Recreational Paddling activities. This document gives a guideline to help operate a safe fun paddling activity. All Leaders are responsible to ensure that they undertake a thorough risk assessment prior to activities to ensure that additional requirements are considered and if required undertaken.
These guidelines do not apply to competitive paddling such as Flatwater Racing, Marathon Racing, Ocean Racing, Slalom Racing, Freestyle, Wildwater Racing, and Canoe Polo. Requirements for the safe conduct of these activities are detailed in the applicable competition rules and other relevant policies issued by the ICF and AC.
The guidelines do not address the many varied requirements of State and Federal Legislation, much of which applies to general boating activities and not just paddling activities.
AC Leaders are required to know and operate in their leadership capacity in accordance with these guidelines. Likewise, AC National Training Providers must operate in accordance with these guidelines.
(a) All on-water activity involve a level of risks and hazards, most of which can be eliminated by thorough planning, good Leadership skills and effective management.
Well run activities will:
(b) The purpose of these guidelines is to promote safe, well run and enjoyable paddling activities. These guidelines play an important role in fulfilling AC’s goal to pursue high standards of safety, education and training in all aspects of the sport. The Guidelines:
AC – Australian Canoeing Inc.
Guide – A person who leads or guides a group without the intention of imparting skills or knowledge beyond that which is necessary to participate safely and adequately in the activity. At the end of a session or program with a guide, the intent is not for the participant to have acquired the skills to independently participate in the activity.
ICF – International Canoe Federation.
Instructor – A person who facilitates skill transfer or development to participants in order that they may act independently or with minimal supervision. This requires the instructor to be able to critique technique, apply a variety of appropriate instructional strategies and may require them to assess participant’s skill acquisition at the end of a program or session.
Leader – A person giving direction and guidance to a group. This includes, Instructors, Guides, leaders and Lifeguards.
Participant – A person who participates independently or under supervision in an outdoor activity. The ability to demonstrate participatory skills to the appropriate standard is a pre-requisite to performing as a Guide or Instructor in outdoor recreation.
SOT – Sit-on-top kayak
SUP – Stand Up Paddleboard
An activity plan assists a leader to identify and achieve a programs goals and objectives while helping to foresee and minimize risks and hazards. There are many ways to develop and record an activity plan and everyone and every organisation will have its own way. Below is a list to consider in your planning that will help you develop a plan that will help maximize an activities success and reduce risks to participants.
Having the ability to gain an up to date forecast is vital to any planning and risk management while in the field. Forecasts can be gained form a number of locations including, news papers, radio, Marine VHF radio and internet.
Bureau of meteorology (BOM) is the Australian Canoeing recognised source of weather forecasts www.bom.gov.au . Ensure that you have a system in place to gain forecasts if you are on a trip.
The risk management process should be directly applied to the management of safety risks associated with planning organised paddling activities and must be undertaken prior to each organized activity occurring.
Australian Canoeing recommends all foreseeable risks for a program should be identified under logical headings People, Equipment and Environment. These risks should be rated in the level of risk by using a documented likelihood verse consequence table. The hazards that then lead to these risks can be identified and a management strategy determined to minimise the likelihood or consequence to achieve an acceptable level of risk.
A risk management sample template can be found in Appendix F
AC Leaders are educated in Risk Management processes.
AC recommends that all personnel or organisations conducting paddling activities develop an Emergency Management Plan that allows them to establish a programmed response to incidents that reduce the consequences should such incidents occur.
An Emergency Management Plan should consider:
The persons or positions with which a leader should communicate or report to, in the event of an emergency response.
Emergency responses in outdoor environments can be assisted by various technological modes of communication. These may include mobile phones, radios, satellite phones, PLBs and EPIRBs, etc. While all can assist in the activation of an emergency response, consideration should always be given to their limitations (e.g. mobile telephone network coverage, battery failure).
When activating an emergency response requiring external assistance, the following information should be accurately provided to the recipient of such calls for assistance:
(c) Emergency Procedures
AC recommends that for every trip that leaves the immediate launch area, details of the participants and the trip should be lodged with a responsible person or authority so that in the event of an emergency, a detailed description of the group and its activity is readily available. AC refers to these details as a Float Plan.
For trips, full details of the route and any contingency plans should be noted.
A float plan can also be accessed through Australian Canoeing’s Paddle prep app
Leaders have the following minimum responsibilities:
Before commencing the trip, it is the Leader’s responsibility to ensure that each party member has the knowledge, ability, skill and equipment to participate safely.
AC Instructors and Guides are trained to conduct paddling activities. All AC Instructors and Guides have been assessed acting to the full capacity of their Award in the Award context. Details of the requirements for each of AC’s qualifications can be found at http://canoe.org.au/education-safety/australian-canoeing-award-scheme-acas/
In addition to achieving the minimum level of competence, AC Instructors and Guides must re-register with AC. Accreditation re-registration is a policy that requires AC Instructors and Guides to undertake a prescribed amount of continuing education. Re-registration is required to retain any rights as an AC Instructor or Guide.
Re-registration is part of the continuing education of paddling Instructors and Guides. Its purpose is:
All AC Instructor and Guide awards are valid for three years from the date of accreditation registration or re-registration.
Instructors and Guides are also required to comply with and observe the constitution, by-laws, and regulations of AC, including the AC Member Protection Bylaw and these Safety Guidelines.
A Statement of Attainment, listing the achievement of units of competence under the National Outdoor Recreation Industry Training Package, is recognition of learning and not always a demonstration of current skills and knowledge. Holding an AC award demonstrates currency in technique, safety, injury prevention and enrolment in ongoing education, and is the appropriate registration for a paddling leader.
First aid qualifications, personnel requirements and equipment/kit requirements are regulated at state level by the work cover of OH&S government regulatory body.
All Instructors and Guides should have a current state government regulating body approved first aid qualification.
All Guides and Instructors should carry a first aid kit that contains the appropriate contents for the activity or trip.
AC also recommends that trip Instructors or Guides should hold a current wilderness/remote area first aid certificate, in addition to their first aid qualification, for any trip, which is, at any point, more than one hour from medical attention.
Leaders and participants should use an agreed and understood system of communication. AC recommends that the National Standard Signals be understood and used by all paddlers. Details of the National Standard Signals can be found in Appendix A.
Prior to any program, it is the responsibility of the leader to brief the participants on a number of factors to help ensure a safe, fun, successful program. This briefing will help participants understand the expectations of the program and decide if they still wish to participate.
Briefings may include but not limited to.
Group size is an important consideration from group management and more. Things for a leader to consider when deciding on group size may include
Large groups may be split into smaller groups to help with many of the factors above, but all groups require individual planning and leadership.
The following ratios are provided as a baseline for the calculation of operating leader/guide to participant numbers. A risk analysis must be conducted for all paddling activities to determine the appropriate ratios for the group and its activity.
In adverse weather, the conditions on a large body of inland water can become dangerous due to large seas, overtopping waves and strong gusts of wind.
Water temperatures, even in summer, can be quite low.
Control of a group can be rapidly lost as conditions deteriorate, and capsizes occur. Under such conditions, it can be difficult to keep the group together unless they are able to respond skillfully and effectively to instructions: the larger the group, the more so.
The starting point for determining the ratio of leader/guide to participants for conducting group paddling activities on inland water are 1:6, or 1:8 in double craft.
Supervision should be increased towards a ratio of 1:4 considering the following conditions or variables:
Supervision should be relaxed towards a ratio of 1:12 considering the following conditions or variables:
Communication problems caused by water noise, helmets covering ears, and a shortage of safe, ‘assembly points’, will always make the management of a large group extremely difficult. The value of a qualified assistant (to bring up the rear, or pre-shoot a rapid, or deal with individual problems) cannot be over-emphasised when paddling on moving water.
The acceptable ratio for conducting group paddling activities in moving water up to, and including, Grade 3 is 1:4.
Supervision should be increased under the following conditions:
On Grade 2 water, the ratio may be relaxed to 1:6 in the following circumstances:
The effect (not always obvious) of winds and currents on novice paddling groups at apparently benign- looking beaches, can be dramatic. Local knowledge, and experience in this type of environment is vital for leaders.
Control of a group at sea can be rapidly lost as conditions deteriorate, and capsizes occur. Under such conditions, it can be impossible to keep the group together unless they are able to respond skillfully and effectively to instructions: the larger the group, the more so.
Some tidal estuaries, whilst sheltered at times, at other times can present severe open sea hazards.
The acceptable ratio of leader/guides to participants for conducting group kayaking activities at sea is 1:6, or 1:8 if using double kayaks.
Supervision should be increased towards a ratio of 1:2 considering the following conditions or variables:
Supervision may be relaxed towards a ratio of 1:10 considering the following conditions or variables:
Refer to ratios for Sea kayaking above
Note: Where a group has to pass a crux point, travel a rapid, launch or recover through surf or performs any activity that increases the level of risk only one participant should be in the danger zone at any time, and a dedicated leader will be attendant to the participant in the danger zone
The leader should take all reasonable steps to ensure that participants are competent to participate in the proposed activity. In this regard the leader should conduct an on-water familiarisation session to demonstrate and practice relevant skills and procedures including, but not limited to, rescue, self rescue and capsize drills. If the leader judges that a person is not sufficiently capable or responsible (e.g. by virtue of their age) to participate in the activity, then that person should not be permitted to participate.
Equipment requirements vary with the objectives of the trip plan and the environmental conditions likely to be encountered. When planning equipment requirements for a paddling trip it is important that leaders consider all possible eventualities.
It is the responsibility of leaders to ensure that all participants carry with them all necessary equipment for the activity. They will also ensure that they have adequate emergency supplies to handle any likely contingency. In some situations such as Flatwater Lifeguards operating on very small bodies of water it is sufficient for much of the equipment to be available on shore and not carried in boats.
These Safety Guidelines are concerned primarily with recreational craft, not those used in competition, where rules govern safety features, use of rescue craft, etc. All craft should be used in the environments and conditions for which they were designed.
Open canoes are best suited to sheltered inland waters as they are badly affected by wind and wave. They are normally paddled with single blade paddles.
Those used on whitewater, up to Grade 2, are fitted with large airbags taking up any space not occupied by the paddlers.
Specialist whitewater canoes are used on higher grades.
Kayaks cover a large range of craft from decked, Sit on Tops, Inflatables and more. These craft are normally paddled with two-bladed paddles. Spraydecks are used on enclosed kayaks to minimise water into the cockpit, providing better protection for paddlers to the elements and reducing the likelihood of hypothermia. Safe use of spraydecks requires training. Training in rescue procedures is required for all kayaks, and techniques vary according to craft type and environment.
They are suited to flat, sheltered waters only.
They are suited to open waters such as estuaries and bays, but not the open sea.
The ability to remove water from a sea kayak cockpit is essential since the addition of water:
To help ensure your safety in a sea kayak:
It is recommended that a pump or self-bailer system is fitted. Choice of pump needs to give careful consideration to the skills of the paddler, the vessel and expected operational use (expert advice in this regard is recommended). No pump system is failsafe and all pump systems require regular inspection and maintenance.
Paddle craft must be constructed specifically to reduce the risk of bending, folding or entrapment. Specifically, craft should be fitted with internal supports to resist folding. The cockpit setup should be such that the craft grips the occupant firmly for maximum control and so that the occupant can exit the craft easily.
SOT kayaks are a popular choice among recreational paddlers. Recovery after a capsize is easy; right the boat and re-board. On the other hand, paddlers are more exposed to the elements and more care is needed to minimise sunburn and hypothermia.
Damaged or loose fittings and hatch covers or hull damage may allow the entry of water: these craft are not unsinkable.
Several categories exist:
On open water, tethers can prevent separation of craft and paddler after capsize. There is the danger of entanglement. This is true also of paddle leashes and fishing lines.
SUPs are now in use on many types of water from flat to surf. As with SOTs, paddlers are exposed to the elements, even more so.
SUPs are required to use a leg leash at all times to connect them to the craft
Inflatable craft range from little more than toys to rafts for use on serious whitewater. Others are intended for open water, where tethers may be advisable. Craft should:
Kayak paddlers are to wear spray decks on white water and the sea. Decked canoe paddlers are to wear spray decks on white water: they are optional on open canoes.
Rudders, skegs or retractable fins are recommended for use on sea kayaks, but paddlers should not be reliant on them for directional control of their craft
Paddles are to be appropriate for the type of craft and environment in which they are being used. Paddle selection needs to be the appropriate length, style and size for participants to enable safety and skill development.
One or more spare paddle(s) shall be carried by the group as appropriate for the activity, notably at sea and in remote areas.
Australian Canoeing recommend that all participants wear an appropriate Lifejacket whose construction meets or exceeds Australian Standards for Lifejackets Level 50 or Level 50S at all times while on the water. Paddlers must also comply with local equipment regulations, which vary from State to State.
Lifejackets should be the correct size for the wearer and be adjusted correctly whilst on the water.
A whistle attached to the buoyancy aid for emergency use is recommended to enable a person to attract attention.
Rescue Lifejackets should comply with the previously mentioned standards for Lifejacket Level 50S. Towing cowtails must be quick release. The Lifejacket must not contain any pocket or other component that may impede paddling, normal rescue practices or exit from craft. It is highly recommended that all Lifejackets be of a bright colour.
Inflatable Level 150 Lifejackets are not considered suitable. They provide no buoyancy without action by the wearers, who may be incapacitated and therefore unable to inflate them.
A tow line should consist of:
Waist tow systems are not recommended for use at sea because of the forces involved. Consideration needs to be given to the thickness and stretch characteristics of the rope in terms of safety, ease of deployment and recovery and repacking.
Paddle parks or leashes are recommended for all participants while sea kayaking or in other exposed conditions such as large lakes.
Consideration needs to be given to the length of the leash and safety aspects of tethering the paddle to the kayak
Spraycovers (also called spraydecks or sprayskirts) must correctly fit the craft and stay fitted during all aspects of Whitewater and Sea paddling.
AC recommends that helmets comply with the CE EN 1385:2012 standard and:
A paddling helmet which meets these requirements must be worn while paddling water Grade 2 and above and while surfing and paddling among rocks or in sea caves. The helmet should be securely fixed whenever it is worn.
Maps and/or marine charts, compasses, and GPS receivers shall be carried as deemed appropriate for the navigational requirements of the activity, and shall be treated and/or stored in such a way as to make them water resistant.
No single navigation system should be relied upon. Where an electronic system such as a GPS is used, spare batteries and another position fixing method should be available.
The following communication equipment should be carried as appropriate for the activity and area of operation. Electronic and other equipment that can be damaged by water is to be carried in water resistant containers. Leaders are responsible to determine the equipment to be carried by all participants:
Basic rescue equipment should be carried where it is quickly and easily accessible. Paddlers should receive training in the use of any rescue equipment that they carry, and regularly practice its use.
All leaders are to have an appropriate towing system easily accessible so that it can be deployed quickly when needed. Other participants may also carry towlines, as appropriate for the activity and at the discretion of the leader. All towing systems must be quick-release, and should be set up so that they do not restrict the manoeuvrability of the towing boat.
Whitewater Rescue kit contents
Throw bags must be carried by all leaders on any activity involving moving water. They may also be carried by some other participants at the discretion of the leader. All participants should be trained in their use.
It is recommended that a rescue knife (safety knife) should be carried by all leaders on Whitewater and Sea.
Knives should be quickly and easily accessible, but it is generally not considered appropriate to carry them on the outside of a lifejacket.
SUPs are recommended to use a leg leash at all times to connect them to the craft
A basic repair kit should be carried by all leaders and by other participants at the leader’s discretion. A roll of duct tape is considered a minimum requirement. A comprehensive group repair kit appropriate for the boats that are being used should be carried on all expeditions, particularly in remote areas.
All equipment used in canoeing activities should be used, maintained and stored according to manufacturers’ specifications where applicable. An equipment register is a good way to track equipment’s wear and tear as well as replacement dates.
The reporting of accidents and incidents with the maintenance of an incident database allows all paddlers to benefit from the experiences of others. AC maintains records of canoeing incidents and accidents that resulted in injury or had the potential to result in injury.
AC Instructors and Guides are encouraged to complete an incident report form and forward it directly to AC for processing. These records are stored centrally and regularly reviewed to identify trends. Incident and accident reporting is a valuable risk management tool that assists AC in identifying injury trends. The timely and accurate recording of incident or accident-related information can also help AC and its insurer to defend possible liability claims resulting from injuries that may have occurred during an organised activity under AC’s control.
Many different reasons exist to document parts of an activity plan. These reasons can be for search and rescue situations, activity information is available and clear to all leaders and evidence for any legal proceedings.
Pre activity documentation may include but not limited to:
The outer layer, whether lifejacket, cag or other, should be of a colour that makes it easily visible for other water users or rescue services.
Clothing is to be of a material and design that give adequate protection from the weather conditions that are expected during the activity. The protective qualities of the clothing shall not be significantly reduced when the material is wet.
Suitable clothing includes but is not limited to wetsuits, dry suits, thermal underwear, synthetic fleece, and paddling jackets for cold weather, and Lycra® rash shirts, stinger suits, and synthetic water-sports shirts in hot conditions.
Note that compression clothing (Skins™, 2XU™, LineBreak™, etc) provides no thermal insulation, and should not be worn in conditions where body heat must be retained. Footwear is to be accessible while paddling. It is to provide adequate protection when the wearer is walking both in and out of the water. The design should be such that the footwear cannot come off easily, especially while walking in water or mud. Heavy boots of any style shall not be worn.
In situations where helmets are not worn, hats should be worn to provide adequate sun protection and/or warmth. Beanies and similar headwear may be worn under helmets to provide additional warmth. Broad brimmed and legionnaire style hats provide suitable sun protection. Baseball caps do not, and should not be worn without additional sun protection.
Sunglasses and prescription spectacles should be secured with a suitable restraint.
Leaders should carry extra dry clothing, as appropriate, for the participants, the paddling conditions and the duration of the activity.
Leaders should adhere to and promote best practice sun protection behaviour. In the case of UV protection, best practice includes:
Adequate food and drink supplies as appropriate for the nature and duration of the activity for all participants should be carried. It is recommended that high-energy foods should be carried, particularly in colder weather.
Guides and Instructors are not qualified by virtue of their AC qualifications to determine the suitability of lake or river water for human consumption. The condition of water should be checked with the relevant body and if any concerns exist water should be carried or an acceptable water purification method should be used.
AC is the Peak National Sporting Organisation responsible for the management, coordination, development and promotion of paddle sports in Australia. One of its primary responsibilities is the promotion of safe canoeing practices.
AC is governed by a Board of Directors who are elected by the six State Association Members of AC.
The Board is advised by the education manger and the Education and Safety Advisory group whose powers and authorities are delegated by the Board of Directors. It is the responsibility of all group members to act within the parameters of these delegated powers and authorities. The group was previously known as the Australian Board of Canoe Education. In summary the role of the group is as:
For further information on this standard or other information on AC, contact: Australian Canoeing
PO Box 6805
Silverwater NSW 2128
Tel: (02) 9763 0670
Australian Canoeing follow the “Leave no Trace” principles
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Canoeists, like others who use the outdoors for recreation, have a responsibility to minimise their impact on the natural environment, the enjoyment of others and on public and private property.
Australian Canoeing Guides and Instructors agree to comply with these guidelines and any additional National Park, council or other authorities’ regulations and fire bans.
These signals are widely used and understood, but should be covered in leader’s briefing before departure.
Whistle signals need to be confirmed with the group prior to paddling. More or less signals can be used by a group if required as long as all have a good understanding of their meanings.
One whistle: All clear (ok)
Three whistles: Emergency
Leaders of sea kayaking activities must adopt a series of signals appropriate to the context that is simple and allows communication amongst their group in sea conditions. Those shown here are in wide use. Where appropriate, they can also be made by a paddler in a kayak.
Whistle signals need to be confirmed with the group prior to paddling. More or less signals can be used by a group if required as long as all have a good understanding of their meanings.
One whistle: Look at me (follow paddle signals)
Three whistles: Emergency
The International River Grading System has been designed to provide an indication of the degree of difficulty of a rapid and/or river. It is not an absolute scale and should be used with the understanding that the scale does not indicate the full extent of hazards that may be encountered on a river:
Experienced local paddlers are the best source of information about rivers.
The following descriptions are a basic guide to each grade.
Grade 1: Easy Slow to medium flowing water with very small, regular waves or riffles. Relatively few obstacles, with an easy path to find and follow. Suitable for novices.
Grade 2: Medium Rapids are straightforward with medium sized, regular waves. The path through rapids can be clearly seen from the water and is often indicated by well-defined chutes or Vs of water. There are some obstacles that require manoeuvring around, but paddlers with a good command of basic strokes can easily miss them.
Grade 3: Difficult Rapids have moderate, irregular waves and strong currents. Manoeuvring is required to follow the preferred route. Small to medium sized stoppers may have to be negotiated. The route is difficult for inexperienced paddlers to see and scouting is advisable. Suitable for experienced Whitewater paddlers, with the ability to roll an advantage.
Grade 4: Advanced Rapids have large waves and powerful confused currents. Drops are big and stoppers can be large and unavoidable. Fast manoeuvres may need to be made. The route is not clear, and scouting may be needed. Suitable only for very experienced Whitewater paddlers with consistent skills and reliable rolls.
Grade 5: Expert Extremely long, obstructed or powerful rapids. Rapids may contain very large unavoidable drops, waves, and stoppers and turbulent, unpredictable currents. Fast and accurate manoeuvring is necessary. Eddies may be very small, turbulent and scarce. The route is complex and scouting is highly recommended. Suitable only for expert paddlers, who are willing to accept the higher level of risk. Rolling in adverse conditions is essential. Swimming is very dangerous.
Grade 6: Extreme Rapids are extremely technically difficult, powerful and unpredictable. They are rarely paddled, and if they are paddled successfully they are usually downgraded to Grade 5 plus.
The river cannot be paddled without severe risk to life.
Sea conditions vary according to many factors, including the following:
This Safety Code is for any current or prospective paddler written by AC Inc.
Purchasers of Paddle craft
If you accept, give the leader a frank assessment of your skill and experience and your full cooperation.
On lakes or the sea
In the event of a capsize
As a rescuer
Go after the crew. The craft can wait until the crew and you are safe.