Organized below are materials and resources to help you prepare for an American Canoe Association (ACA) Level 4-Whitewater Kayaking Instructor certification workshop. This material will be covered in your course, but it will help immensely for you to have read over and become familiar with (if not practiced at) this body of knowledge.

An ACA Instructor Certification Workshop is very much geared toward molding you into an instructor and most of the curriculum is geared toward that. We will be covering some fundamentals of paddling that help form the basis of your instruction but there won’t be a significant amount of attention dedicated to improving your own paddling skills. Most candidates find though, that understanding and internalizing the fundamentals we cover and the need to understand and pass along those fundamentals to their students, inherently starts to improve their own paddling.

The “target students” we will be mock-teaching  during this course will be the paddler who may or may not have much of any experience in a kayak and are taking their first “beginner” level whitewater kayaking course on a whitewater class I-II river. For many instructor candidates who’ve well-developed their own paddling skills, it is challenging to place themselves into the mind of these beginners and to help them safely learn and understand the fundamentals of paddling whitewater. That is our challenge in this course and I’d like you to spend some time before the course thinking about that challenge. We will ask you to think, and at times act as those beginning paddlers during the course and to be continually changing your mental perspective on the material you are presenting and the means by which you present it.

You’ll see that some material is directly from the ACA website, some is information that I have developed specifically for the course as it relates to the skills you’ll need to know and demonstrate and some is by others who’ve done a great job providing learning tools.

In addition to the direct links to pages on the ACA website provided below, it will help you to browse around the ACA website ( and become familiar with the location of the materials you may need, particularly in the “Education/Instruction” menu.

  • Levels 1-4 River Kayaking Instructor Criteria. That’s right, friends! When you become an ACA instructor in a discipline (e.g. River Kayaking), you are certified to a certain level, but also every lower level in that discipline. In order to be a L4 whitewater kayak instructor, you also need to know how to teach L1 and there are some differences. This material will be covered in the course but  it is expected that you enter the course with the paddling skills listed at every level from 1 to 4. There will be little time to develop skills and bring you “up to speed” during our brief course.
  • To participate in the course, you’ll need to be an ACA member. You can join here and sign up as an instructor candidate (See the asterisked footnote on this page*).
  • You will need to own a personal copy of the ACA Instructor Manual (either the spiral-bound copy ($25) or the CD ($15)). These can be purchased here but may be provided in your course (double check pre-course correspondence to be sure you’re covered). Please read and be familiar with this manual before completing the course. (See the asterisked footnote on this page*)
  • Before teaching as an ACA Instructor, you must have current first aid and age-appropriate CPR certifications (appropriate to the age of students you will be teaching, e.g. “Adult”). The CPR certification must have a hands-on component of the training (i.e. can’t be completely done on the internet).
  • Before your certification becomes effective, you must join and pay dues of $25 to the ACA Safety Education and Instruction Council (SEIC). Once certified, this is an annual due, in addition to annual ACA membership if you want to retain your certification. I’d advise you to wait until the end of our course to pay this fee to be sure your certification is in effect before outlaying these funds.
  • While it is not required that you have taken a swift water rescue course in order to be certified at Level 4, it is highly recommended and considered a community standard for L4 instructors to have had this training. Please consider it now or later. Canoe and Kayak Magazine has published an excellent series of videos called “Rescue for River Runners” that is a great overview of some of these skills.
  • Study the sample skills courses for Level 1 “Kayaking” plus all Level 2-4 “River Kayaking” Courses (including whitewater kayaking). These are considered your  “body of knowledge” that this course will prepare you to teach. Note the criteria for venue, instructor:student ratios and the fact that the use of (or teaching the use of) sprayskirts is not allowed at Level 1. You will find that time management in your courses will be one of your greatest challenges. Prepare for this course and your future courses by thinking about the most important 3, 4, or 5 “key points” you have to get across on each topic and try not to go much further. Your students are a limited-size “vessel” during a class and more information than those key points will “overflow” them. I’ve found this concept to be useful for me to organize my thoughts on teaching stroke components and we will be referring to it a lot during our course. Organize your topics in progressions: What skill needs to be taught first and what skills help to build a foundation for others?
  • For much of our work, we’ll rely on a teaching progression of:
    • Sell (why would they want want learn this topic).
    • Do (provide an actual demonstration).
    • Tell (go over your key points).
    • Try (let your students try it).
  • Study the “Assessment Courses” for Levels 1-4. In an assessment, the instructor is asking the student to demonstrate a list of skills and knowledge, rather than teaching those skills. The student can be awarded the assessment certificate by ACA if they are successful. Please read through the River Kayak Day-Trip Leading  Assessment and complete the exam at the end of the document. As an L4 instructor, you will be certified to teach this course and should therefore be familiar with the exam questions. Bring your completed exam to your instructor certification course with you.
  • A large portion of your certification course will be dedicated to learning how to teach and we will thus spend a great deal of time practicing that. You will be responsible for the knowledge and skills contained in the skills courses and assessments. Examples of small topics you may be asked to teach in the course are provided here, but anything in the L1-L4 curriculum is a potential teaching topic for you. You might also consider what kind of information you’d give a group of paddlers prior to taking them on a day-trip on a river (the “put-in talk”) and what kind of information you might want to capture in developing and filing a “float plan” with friends. I will ask your fellow instructor candidates to role-play as students and ask you questions about kayaking.
  • ACA course reporting. There are a couple of key pieces of paperwork you’ll need to be familiar with. In order to maintain your certification, you need to report at least 2 courses (at least one of those at your highest level of certification) to ACA every four years (plus a few other requirements). You can report these courses very easily using either online or hard-copy report forms. All of the forms you’ll need are on this web page. If you teach a class that is not insured with ACA insurance (Yes, that’s OK if you don’t want to use ACA insurance), you can use the EZ Skills report form online. If you do use ACA insurance, you need to provide just a little more info using the Skills Course Report Form online or via hard copyYou will not be able to maintain your certification if you do not report at least two courses every four years to the ACA office. Please report every course you teach. It helps ACA to maintain its position with government agencies like the Coast Guard as the national leader and authority on paddlesports to be able to demonstrate how many students ACA programs educate. I’ve published how-to videos on course registration and reporting as well as an article on “Maintaining your ACA Instructor Certification” for your reference.
  • ACA Insurance. The ACA provides a tremendous resource to independent paddling instructors in the form of affordable liability insurance for courses. The process of applying for, obtaining insurance and reporting insured courses is outlined on this web page. Note that every participant of the course must be an ACA member, even it is just a $5 “event member” (Exception: Students must be at least 6-month members of ACA to receive assessment certificates) (which the instructor can collect or pay fees for) and every participant, including the instructor (Yes! The insurance covers even the instructor!), must complete an appropriate (minor or adult) ACA Waiver and Release of Liability. Should any accident/injury occur, the instructor should complete and submit an accident report form to ACA. In perspective, ACA-affiliated instruction programs have an excellent safety record that speaks to its effectiveness. Let’s keep it that way.
  • Most of our work on teaching skills will occur in the course but I have published a couple of videos and descriptions of deep-water rescues that you’ll need to demonstrate during the course. Please review these and practice as much as possible ahead of time. Being proficient in them will save a lot of time and frustration for you in the course. This page also covers some guidance and external videos that give you some ideas about certain strokes, maneuvers and even teaching styles. I highly recommend this article that covers many of the basic physics of paddling as well as suggestions for how to teach those skills.


  • Equipment and supplies checklist for the course:
    • Whitewater kayak- Bring a boat appropriate for teaching beginners and is comfortable. River runners or creek boats give you the volume for rescues and stowing extra gear. You’ll have a much better experience in this class if you’re not in a play boat.
    • Paddlesports helmet
    • Kayak paddle
    • Sprayskirt
    • PFD
    • Whistle
    • Throw bag/rope
    • Flotation for your boat
    • River footwear (with heel)
    • Water bottle and water
    • Drybag/drybox for anything that needs to stay dry in your boat
    • Sunscreen/sunglasses
    • Towel
    • Change of clothes for off-river
    • Comfortable clothes for classroom sessions
    • Camping gear if you plan to camp
    • Headlamp for any evening/night needs
    • Notebook and pen
    • Toiletries
    • Prescription medication (if any)
    • Food and snacks

Borrowing a phrase coined by the candidates in one of my previous whitewater kayak instructor certification workshops, our focus in this course will be to learn to teach “safely, funly and learnly”. I think that sums it up as well as anything I could come up with. Our first priority will be to make you safe instructors and your dedication to safety will be a leading criterion for your certification. Second, I want to encourage students to have fun during the course because without this important element, kayaking will not become a life sport for them. Last, but not least, we want to do all we can to leave our students with knowledge that they will take away from the course and build on after the short amount of time we have with them. An overview of the course curriculum can be reviewed on this page.

Best of luck in your course!

* NOTE: ACA membership fee, ACA Instructor Manual and/or Instructor SEIC dues MAY be included in your course fees. Check with your instructor-trainer if it is unclear whether these fees are covered or whether you need to take care of them and when.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email