sea kayak level-1 skills course

Entry Content

The sea kayak level-1 course gives you the skills and knowledge you need to participate in  day-trips in sheltered waters with a group of paddlers of similar or greater skills. It makes you an asset in stead of a liability.

sea kayak level-1 skills

Paddle Canada Basic Kayak Skills certification or equivalent skill and knowledge
course length
two days (12 hrs minimum)
class ratio
1 instructor 4 participants (6 participants maximum / instructor)
sheltered waters with uninterrupted easy landing options
winds light (0-11 knots) current 0-0.5 knots sea state calm to light chop

Note: italicized therms are explained at the bottom of the page.

rescue skills

bow rescue

The bow rescue is a technique where a rescuer presents the bow of her kayak to a capsized paddler who can then can pull herself up and right the kayak without exiting. Some people call this an Eskimo rescue. This is a great confidence builder; waiting a few seconds for someone to come and help shows you that you can remain calm and in control while upside-down. We’ll look at some variations; the rescuer may also come alongside and present a paddle in stead of a bow. You get to rescue and be rescued.

assisted re-entry

Getting back in your kayak is a lot easier with the help of a friend. We’ll show you what to do when someone is helping you get back in your boat and also how to help a fellow paddler re-enter her kayak. We’re going to mimic a real rescue scenario. You’ll capsize, wet-exit and get back in the boat, then remove the water from your cockpit, put your spray-skirt back on, and be ready to paddle again. We’ll have the opportunity to practice variations that are not covered in basic kayak, like the T-rescue.

unassisted re-entry

Even though I would encourage you to always paddle with a group, you should know how to rescue yourself without assistance. There are several techniques we can cover, and our goal will be to find a self-rescue that you can perform reliably. We can use aids like a paddle float or a stirrup if you lack the upper body strength to pull yourself up. Like the assisted rescue, this exercise is complete when you are back in your kayak, water is removed from the cockpit, your spray-skirt is reattached and you’re ready to paddle again.

contact tow

A contact tow is a way to assist a kayaker who is still in her boat but no longer capable of kayaking. We will not use a towline, but  show you how to paddle two-person raft. There are several ways to do this. Typically, the rescuer will be facing the rescuee, who leans over and hangs onto the deck-lines of the rescuer’s kayak. This is the kind of rescue you might use when someone becomes seasick, and is throwing up in your… Eeew, no! That’s DISGUSTING! Honestly, I’ve never seen it happen.


You might be surprised at how poorly sound travels on the water, especially when it gets windy. So instead of yelling at each other, we’ll learn how to use our hands and paddles to talk. We’ll also discuss other means of communication like whistles and  flares. I’ll show you how a VHF marine radio works.

hot and cold

We need to talk about why cold water is dangerous. We consider any water below 21 °C (70 °F) cold water and potentially dangerous. That’s pretty much all water of the Great Lakes, any time. We will discuss how prevent, recognize and treat hypothermia, which means your core body temperature is too low. We’ll also talk about hyperthermia. Hint: Always wear a hat when paddling!


We’ll discuss what to do in case of an emergency, and how to prepare for one, so that an incident doesn’t turn into a crisis. That means access to food, water, shelter, and keeping people informed of your whereabouts. I’ll teach you how to make a float plan; a written description of your group, route and gear that you leave with a trusted person who will contact emergency services if you don’t return on time.


When kayaking with a group, it is essential that the group stays together. We’ll discuss communication strategies for ensuring your group stays, well… a group.

paddling skills

Level-1 paddling skills are what you need to paddle in calm water, close to shore.

lifting and carrying a kayak

I’ll show you how to use proper body mechanics to get your kayak from the car to the water without hurting your back or worse… damaging your boat!

launching & landing

In the basic course, we cover how to get in and out of your boat on the beach. There isn’t always a beach nearby, however. Here we make it a bit more interesting and practical by launching from a dock and getting out of your kayak at the dock.

forward stroke

If you’ve taken the basic kayak course, this will be familiar, and we’ll work on improving your forward stroke and take you to the next level. A good forward stroke requires the use of your entire body, including your legs. I can’t see your legs of course, but I need to see good posture, torso rotation and an extended front arm.


Your kayak will stop by itself. Eventually. But probably not quickly enough to avoid a collision. Stopping is just like paddling backwards. We practise travelling at a moderate speed (that would be 3.5 knots, but anything from  between 2 and  5 will do) then stop the kayak within 3 strokes (we count one side). Three is enough to stop a kayak at any speed. If you can do it with just two strokes, great.

reverse padding

The reverse stroke is a bit awkward. You need to look where you’re going so you need a lot of torso rotation, and you may find that it’s harder to go in straight line because your kayak doesn’t track the way it does when moving forward. We’ll explore why your boat turns in ways that you probably didn’t intend and how to make corrections to keep it going straight. That’s going to help you with your forward stroke too.

forward and reverse sweeps

You’ve learned how to pivot in the basic course. Now we’ll use a combination of forward and reverse sweeps and combine the sweeps with edging to make them more efficient. We’ll work on paddle placement and posture.

edge control

Your boat turns so much better when you put it on it’s side. Good edging control means turning faster, with less effort. Without capsizing!

draw stroke

We teach moving your kayak sideways in the basic course. This time we’ll add a new version to your repertoire and we’ll perform the draw stroke while in motion.

low and high brace

The low brace is a recovery stroke that we covered in the basic kayaking course. I like it because it is safe and very powerful and I would like it to be your reflective response to loss of stability. We’ll work on how your head and hips can contribute to a successful low brace. The “high” and “low” in high and low brace refer to the position of your hands: above or below the elbows. The high brace is useful when you have capsized too far for a low brace (because you blew your low brace) and in waves. Having both in your repertoire means you can try a low brace and if that doesn’t work, there’s always the high brace to back it up.

stern rudder

The stern rudder is a static steering stroke. It helps to keep the kayak on track in wind, waves or current. You’ll learn how to control your boat by subtly adjusting the position and angle of your paddle blade.


We’ll look at what you need to know to paddle safely with a group in a sheltered bay. In between on-water exercises, we’ll discuss these topics:


equipment required by Transport Canada

You must be aware of the Transport Canada equipment requirements.They’re here if you want to look them up

  • Sea kayak, paddle and spray skirt designs We’ll talk about the difference between North American, British and Greenland kayaks. Fibreglass, Kevlar, carbon and rotomolded boats, high-angle versus low-angle paddles, the pros and cons of nylon and neoprene spray-skirts .
  • Bailing devices When we say ‘baling device’ we mean a bilge pump, but it can also be a built-in pump or the cut-off top of a bleach bottle).
  • Life jackets and clothing We call them PDFs (Personal Flotation Devices) other people call them life jackets. We’ll cover the difference between life jackets and PFDs , what PFDs can and cannot do and how to get one that fits. Wearing one is not enough. You need one that fits or it won’t work. Just to be clear: during a course, wearing a PFD is mandatory. We’ll also discuss what kind of clothing is appropriate for kayaking and why cotton kills (feel free to read ahead).
  • Rescue Equipment It wouldn’t be kayaking if there wasn’t always more stuff you could buy. Tow Ropes, quick release tow systems, throw bags, (inflatable) paddle floats, whistles, paddle leashes, stirrups. I’ll explain what’s essential, what’s optional and what’s better left in the sales bin.

Kayaking resources

I’ll show some good books, videos, websites,  and tell you about clubs and outfitters. In fact, I already have them for you here.


For some odd reason, kayakers seem to like writing magazine articles and books, making videos and talk about their adventures at paddling symposia. Or maybe they just do it to make some extra cash. Anyway, I’ve posted a list on my heritage page.


If you hadn’t already noticed, kayaking is the most awesome way to get close to nature. We need to think carefully about our impact and how we avoid doing damage to the environment, even when we’re just kayaking. I’d like you to think of three potentially negative impacts that we kayakers have and how to mitigate them. Does that mean we have to talk about poop? Yes it does. We’ll also talk about some of the fun creatures we run into.

Journeying and seamanship

In our Basic course, we talked about how, as a beginning kayaker you can still make good, safe decisions, but now that you have a bit more experience, we’ll build on your that. You will learn to plan day-long trips in sheltered waters, identify safe locations and routes and interpret the weather forecast and how it affects paddling conditions. We’ll also talk about the role of trip leaders, and other roles in the group, like navigator and sweep.


Navigation is based on three fundamental concepts: time, distance and direction. Navigation is an incredibly complex and fascinating skill with an amazing history, but the fundamentals are easy to understand. We’ll do some exercises with map and compass and I’ll teach you how to read a nautical chart.


We’ll do safety related exercises that will help you prepare for and participate in day-long kayak trips with a group. Topics we’ll cover include how to determine people’s abilities;  your role within the group, group goals and objectives; determining safe paddling distances; predicting paddling conditions; making a float plan and an emergency response plan.


a knot is one nautical mile (1.852 km) per hour
small waves caused by wind
front of the kayak
a neoprene or nylon cover for the kayak cockpit, worn by the kayaker
a safety device that is attached to the blade of a paddle that provides extra buoyancy to make in re-entry after a capsize easier
a safety device made from webbing that can be used to make re-entry after a capsize easier by standing
15 ft of floating rope
using your hips to rotate the boat
two or more kayaks held together
bright distress signals launched as rockets
back of the kayak
a hand-held pump used to remove water from the cockpit
the last person in the group, one who ensures no one is left behind, typically one of the most experienced paddlers in the group
A rescue where the rescuer place the boat of the rescuee at a 90 degree angle upside-down over the bow so she can empty the cockpit
getting too cold
getting too hot