Kayaking Technique Forum

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The value of certification

Someone else mentioned this (buried deep in another thread), but I think its
important enough for discussion on its own merits.

Certification gives us a concrete way to communicate our skills to others. For
this reason alone, I think they are really valuable.

When I tell people that I am an ACA certified coastal kayak instructor, that
says that I at least know about currents, navigation and basic strokes. It
confirms that at some point in the past, I was deemed competant to rescue
myself and others in moderately rough conditions. It provides a somewhat
concrete lower bound on the skills I was able to demonstrate at one point
in my paddling career.

I contrast this with any scheme of self assesment -- whether based on years
paddled or type of conditions one paddles in.

For example, when I took my river rescue course, on the first night we all
sat around and watched videos of dead people being extracted from rivers and
listening to lectures about river rescue techniques. At one point, we all
went around the table and described our paddling skills. Most of us -- myself
included -- called our selves class III paddlers. Like many people in the
class, I paddle in class IV water from time to time, but its not easy or
omfortable for me. Its in class III rivers where I can relax and truely
enjoy the water.

At any rate, one student in the class claimed to be a class IV paddler who
occaisionally paddled in class V. "Whoaa", we all thought, "this guy must
be good".

The next day we hit the river and practiced all sorts of rescues. It was a
blast. After wading in white water, unsticking stuck boats, playing with
throw bags and swimming rapids, we hopped in our boats and ran down river to
work with some different rapids. We came to a slightly tricky class II rapid
(or maybe an easy class III). We all went through it no problem --- accept
for our class IV paddler. He not only flipped, he couldn't roll and had to
swim. This happened throughout the day until he finally got so exhausted from
all his swimming that he quit for the day. As far as most of us were concerned,
our class IV hot-shot was probably at best a class II boater.

The moral of this overly long story is any kind of self assesment is suspect --
at least as a means of concretely communicating skills to other paddlers. A
certification program -- whether its ACA or BCU --- has great value as a
method of clearly communicating skills.

I guess this point is rather obvious, but I felt it was important to bring it
out since there seems to be so much negativity about these ACA and BCU programs.