Sea Scouts BSA


Sea Scouting has traditionally focused on sail and power boating, with little emphasis on paddle sports.  However, each year, more than 20 million Americans paddle, raft, canoe, kayak or stand up paddleboard  (SUP), making paddle sports one of the most popular outdoor activities in the U.S.  There are many reasons a Sea Scout Ship might add this popular activity to their existing programs.  Paddle craft are relatively easy to store and transport.  Compared to larger craft, they are inexpensive to obtain, operate, store, and maintain. Paddle craft can go into areas other boats can’t because they can be carried and they have a draft measured in inches, rather than feet.  Therefore, they can be carried to waterways that can’t be reached by a trailer, and can be paddled in a foot, or less, of water.  If they run aground, paddlers simply get out and move them to a spot with deeper water. Like any boat, safe use requires proper training, and paddle sport training is widely available from many sources.  Incorporating paddle craft into existing Ship programs or creating new Ships focused on paddle craft can create new opportunities for current Sea Scouts, while also helping to recruit new ones.  The use of paddle sports also can enhance the ship’s current sailing or power boating program as an added fun feature when docked or anchored. The information below will help any Sea Scout Ship incorporate paddle sports into their annual program.

Overview of Craft

Paddle craft include canoes, kayaks, rafts, and stand up paddleboards (SUPs). Some paddle craft are designed for a wide range of conditions, but they’ll often have design features to help them perform in specific conditions. For example, a kayak designed for the ocean wouldn’t have the same features as one built for whitewater rivers. When you choose a boat for paddling, make sure it’s designed for your intended purpose.

Canoes are probably the most common type of paddle craft. Canoes are generally open, and are paddled by one or two people who sit or kneel. Canoe paddles have a blade on one end and a grip on the other. Kayaks generally are paddled by one person who sits in the boat. Some kayaks are open.  Others have a deck that covers the kayaker’s legs. Many kayakers wear a spray skirt that attaches to the deck and helps keep water out of the boat. Kayak paddles are longer than canoe paddles, and have blades on both ends. SUPs look like large surfboards. They’re almost always paddled by one person who can stand up, kneel, or lie on the board. SUP paddles look like long canoe paddles. Rafts are open, inflatable boats most often used on rivers and paddled by two or more people with canoe paddles.

Advancement and Awards

Several Sea Scout advancement requirements are written specifically for paddle craft, and many others can be met using paddle craft. Boat handling requirements for the Small Boat Handler award also can be met using paddle craft. Finally, Sea Scouts are eligible to earn the BSA Kayaking and the BSA Stand Up Paddleboarding awards. Paddling is fun, great exercise, and gives boaters another way to get on the water. Paddling also opens up non-coastal areas to the benefits of Sea Scouting. A Sea Scout’s ability to earn awards and meet advancement requirements just adds to the reasons to consider paddling.

Paddling Trips

When Sea Scouts decide to go paddling, they have a huge range of options available to them.  If a Ship wants to get a first taste of paddling, a one-day rafting trip on a river or a guided canoe or kayak trip on a lake is a great place to start. On trips like this, Scouts will learn some basic boat handling skills and be introduced to the knowledge they’ll later need to run their own trips.

If a one-day trip sparks interest in more paddling, the next step might be to try a more challenging guided trip. A longer trip on a lake or a whitewater trip will expose Scouts to harder paddling venues and give them a chance to further develop skills. There are many commercial outfitters that can help a Ship arrange these trips and can help settle on a trip that best fits their needs, interests, and budget.

Guided trips are a great experience, but Sea Scouts may also want to spend time developing their personal skills by taking paddling classes.  Classes are offered by camps (including BSA camps), Parks and Recreation programs, university outdoor programs, paddling schools, paddling clubs, and individual instructors.  An excellent site for paddling resources is the website of the Sea Scout paddle sport partner, the American Canoe Association (see below). Once a Ship’s members have learned the basics of paddling, a world of paddling adventures becomes available.

Sea Scout Paddle Sport Partner

The American Canoe Association (ACA) is the oldest and largest paddle sports organization in the U.S.  Their mission is “Making the world a better place to paddle!”  Since 1880, ACA has supported paddle sport education, recreation and competition, as well as waterway stewardship to ensure clean water for boating.  ACA has established partnerships with a number of like-minded organizations including Sea Scouting, Boy Scouts of America, and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.  A copy of the Memorandum of Understanding between Sea Scouts and the ACA is available on both the Sea Scout and the ACA website. There are more than 7000 instructors certified by the ACA to teach paddle sports, and more than 350 paddling clubs are affiliated with the ACA.  The ACA’s website,, is a great resource for any Sea Scout Ship that wants to learn more about paddling.  The website includes links to find instructors and clubs, as well as many links to paddling resources.

ACA certified instructors offer instruction in coastal, surf, and river kayaking; canoeing; SUP; rafting; swiftwater rescue; prone paddling; and adaptive paddling. ACA courses are offered in as many as five levels of difficulty, ranging from level one (calm, protected conditions such as a pool or small lake) to level five (class IV whitewater rivers or small craft advisories on open water).  Most Scouts will take level one, two, or three courses, although adventurous and experienced Scouts might eventually consider level four and five programs.

ACA instructors offer three types of classes – skills, assessment, and certification classes. Skills classes teach paddling techniques but do not include any type of formal test or skill assessment. Boaters can (and often do) take the same class several times to develop their skills.  Assessment classes are similar to skills classes, but they include a formal test and assessment that must be passed to complete the course. Finally, certification courses certify a paddler to teach skills and assessment courses.

There are three types of ACA instructors – Instructors, Instructor Trainers and Instructor Trainer Educators. Each type of instructor is certified at a specific level, in a specific discipline. For example, an instructor who paddles several types of boats might be a level four whitewater kayak instructor trainer and a level two sea kayak instructor. To be certified as an instructor, a paddler must complete a challenging certification course and demonstrate their ability to teach and demonstrate a wide range of skills. Instructor Trainers (ITs) are experienced instructors who complete an extensive mentorship process and who are allowed to certify new instructors.  Instructor Trainer Educators (ITEs) are experienced ITs who have demonstrated long standing excellence as Instructors and ITs, and as ambassadors for paddle sports. ITs and ITEs undergo a rigorous independent screening process before they receive certification. If anyone in Sea Scouting is interested in earning certification as an ACA instructor, the best place to start is the ACA website, under the “Become an Instructor” section of the Education/Instruction area.

Wrap Up

If you’re reading this, you’d probably agree that being in a boat is one of the best things you can do.  Adding paddle craft to your Ship’s program gives you another type of boat to try, and allows you to go boating in areas that can only be reaching by paddle craft.  Sea Scouts and the ACA are here to help you!

Robin Pope, Sea Scout Paddling Specialist

Skipper, Ship 957, Sylva, NC

ACA Instructor Trainer Educator

Level 5:  Advanced Whitewater Kayak

Level 5:  Advanced Swiftwater Rescue

Level 3:  Prone Paddling

ACA Instructor

Level 1:  Canoeing

To learn more or request how you can start your own Ship with an emphasis on paddle sports, contact us at:

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