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ACA Beginners Kayak Class

This packet of articles and links to further resources covers all of the ACA River Kayaking subject matter. Additional cover-age on some topics is provided that you may find useful as you gain more experience. If you have time, read through the various articles and jot down any questions you might have. After the class, you can review subject areas you want to brush up on. The packet also has a large number of web resources such as links to gauge and river descriptions that you will probably want to bookmark. I hope you come to enjoy kayaking as much as I have.

Introduction & Logistics

Planning and leading a Beginners Class is a significant undertaking. This section of documents provides an overview on what to expect and various administration issues.

Introduction of instructors and participants
Overview with expectations & limitations
Student registration forms: Liability waivers, Organization forms, and Medical Disclosure:
ACA Adult Waiver Form
ACA Minor Waiver Form
CCA - Canoe Cruisers Association Form Package
An example of a medical disclosure form
Site specific procedures, regulations, times
Warm Up and Stretching To Reduce Injury
ACA Safety Resources
Alcohol/Chemical Substance abuse
Group Responsibilities/ No peer pressure

Personal Preparation

A great deal of this subject comes under trip planning. Think about the gear you and others need to bring. What will the weather be like? Where can I get good information on the streams I plan to paddle. Who will I be boating with - will I be safe paddling with them?

Learning Judgment
Continue Learning from other Experienced Paddlers
Responsibility to support other paddlers (no peer pressure)
Group Equipment: extra paddle, rescue sling, dry bags, maps, first aid kit, rescue gear
Guidebooks, local knowledge
Assessing Current environmental conditions, including Water, Weather, Time of Day, Temperature, Accessibility
Assessing personal and group dynamics (Skills, Equipment, Group makeup, Logistics, Group selection, Leadership)

Safety & Rescue

Safety and rescue training is a whole major topic of its own. The ACA has a separate Swift Water Rescue (SWR) course that is taught over a two day period. Each of our clubs provide the ACA SWR Class several times a year and I highly encourage you to take advantage of this training. When you venture into class III Intermediate paddling, I really feel this class is mandatory for your protection and your fellow paddlers. Besides various rescue techniques, you will learn a great deal on how to avoid incidents in the first place.

Principles of Rescue
Types of Rescue


Kayaking can be an expensive sport but it doesn't have to be. A great deal of money can be saved by purchasing excellent used gear. You can find used gear on the various local club web sites and the BoaterTalk GearSwap Forum. The basic 5 pieces of gear are:

Lifejacket or PFD
Kayak: types, materials, flotation, parts (including safety features: walls, foot braces, grab loops)
Kayak outfitting: comfort & safety; back rests, hip pads
Paddle: types, parts, length, blade size & shape, fitting, hand position
Spray skirts: types & material, grab loop!

Care of Equipment

Personal Equipment: water, food, shoes, sunscreen, bug spray, sun glasses, eyeglass straps, protective clothing for heat or cold, sponge, hat, whistle
Car topping: Loading and unloading, racks, tie down
Life jackets (PFDs): types, fit
Helmet: types, fit

Getting Started

This section provides some background information to prepare you for the all important strokes section. We also cover logistics like getting your boat to the put-in, capsizing, and basic rescue concepts.

Launching, carries, landing
Water confidence and comfort
Rescue Priorities: People, gear, & boats
Wet exits
How to empty a kayak
The Terminology of Paddling
Types of strokes: power, turning & bracing
Stroke components: catch, propulsion, recovery, control and correction
Effective Body Usage and Bio-Kinetics
Use of larger torso muscles
Arms as struts connecting paddle to torso
Avoidance of positions that contribute to shoulder injury or dislocations

The Paddling Environment

The paddling environment has quite a variety of features. Some are friendly and useful like waves and holes. Some are not like strainers, sieves, and low head dams. The following article is excellent and contains examples of many more features: Paddling Features. The following online book has great descriptions for river reading in chapter 2: River Reading. A shorter article on river reading with great diagrams is: River Reading Article.

I also highly recommend William Nealy's KAYAK book. This book does an excellent job of describing river reading in depth and is absolutely hilarious. Here it is on William Neely's Kayak Book.

Characteristics of Current
Downstream and Upstream V's / Chutes
Eddies / Eddy Lines
Waves / Wave Holes
Effects of Obstacles
Ledges / Horizon Lines
Strainers & Sieves
Rocks / Pillows
Holes / Hydraulics
Other Hazards
Power of the Current / River Level
Cold Water
Dams / Flow Diversion Structures / Pipelines
Undercut Rocks / Ice
International Scale of River Difficulty

River Running

River running covers various topics like strategy, paddle signals, and scouting.

Strategies in Running Rivers
Group Organization on the River
Emergency Procedures


This section covers the basic paddling strokes you will need to safely navigate whitewater.

Forward Sweep
Aggressive and Reactive Techniques
Reverse Sweep
Stern Draw
Bow Draw
T (Eskimo) Rescue
High Brace
Low Brace
Stationary Draw
Sculling Draw
Duffek and other draw variations


Now that you have a basic understanding of strokes, it is time to put that knowledge to good use. During the class, we will have you perform a number of flatwater maneuvers to develop solid boat control.

Spins (onside and offside): boat pivots in place
Forward: boat moves in reasonably straight line
Reverse: boat moves in a reasonably straight line
Stopping: boat stops within a reasonable distance
Turns: boat turns in broad arc made while underway
Veering, Carving, and paddling the “inside circle”
Abeam: boat moves sideways without headway
Sideslips: boat moves sideways with headway
Other exercises

Whitewater Practice

We will now venture onto whitewater. Whitewater is significantly more complex as you need to deal with currents, waves, eddies, and a number of obstacles. Obstacles like rocks and boulders form a number of useful features that we work with. One of the most important features on a river is an eddy. We use eddies for resting, scouting, and planning our next move. This section of the course will teach you how to work with eddies, waves, and current so these features can assist you in running whitewater in control and have a great deal of fun doing so.

Eddy Turns
Sequences of Maneuvers

Next Steps

This is our wrap-up section. We will quickly review key concepts such as how to stay in control and avoiding risks. Taking further training is also highly recommended, especially the ACA SWR class. It doesn't hurt to take basic first aid and CPR training as well - better safe than sorry. I highly recommend hooking up with a local club so you can find many boaters to paddle with at your present and future boating levels. Take your time exploring this great sport, there are many interesting trips at all river classifications. We will also cover a surprising large number of other paddling options like racing, canoeing, and play boating.

Emphasize the need for further instruction, practice and experience
River Reading
Hazard Recognition and Avoidance
Boat Control
Managing, Reducing, Eliminating Risks
Recommendation for First Aid, CPR, and rescue training
River Etiquette
Other Paddling options
Local paddling groups/clubs
ACA Membership Registration
Student Packets/Participation cards
Evaluation of course

The Final Exam

What - A Final Exam? We need to measure comprehension of key safety topics. The exam results will help us in future classes and give us one last try to better communicate challenging issues.

Beginners Class Exam