How do I become an instructor?

If you've ever taken a clinic from the Carolina Canoe Club or from any other paddling club, you may have wondered what it takes to become an instructor.  The following is an outline of the process.  It may seem a bit overwhelming at first but many paddlers find that they learn and develop a lot as a paddler through the process of becoming certified instructors.  Many instructors also find that teaching others to paddle is an extremely rewarding experience and a great way to give back to the sport.

For clinics within CCC, the instructors are ACA (American Canoe Association) certified instructors.  The ACA certification process is widely recognized not only in the US but abroad as well.  

The ACA has a few basic requirements to become an instructor:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Be a full member of ACA and then join the ACA SEIC (Safety, Education, and Instruction Council)
  • Maintain current first aid and age-appropriate CPR certifications
  • Present the paddling skills, technical knowledge, rescue ability, teaching ability, group management, and interpersonal skills commensurate with the level of certification

Those are the basic requirements to sign up for an instructor class.  Instructor classes are broken down into two phases:  IDW (Instructor Development Workshop) and ICE (Instructor Certification Exam).  Basically, the first part is a class on how to teach paddling and the second part assesses the candidate's ability to paddle and teach paddling knowledge and skills. For whitewater certifications, these two parts are sometimes taught as a single event but are frequently taught on separate weekends, with some time in-between to work on teaching and paddling skills from the workshop before demonstrating the skills during the exam.

These classes are taught by ITs (Instructor Trainers), who have been certified by the ACA to teach instructors.  There is even a higher level called ITEs (Instructor Trainer Educators) who can also teach the ITs as well as instructors.

There are multiple levels of Instructor certification that can be earned.  The levels of certification range from Level 1 (L1) to Level 5 (L5).  Each level allows the River Canoeing or River Kayaking instructor to teach on whitewater successively more difficult venues with L1 being flat, calm water and Level 5 being class IV whitewater. (e.g. an L4 Whitewater Kayaking instructor could teach on sections of rivers rated up to Class II- III whitewater). An instructor can teach any course in their discipline up to their certification level (i.e. an L4 instructor can teach L1, L2, L3, or L4 courses). Following completion of an ACA IDW/ICE, the instructor candidate can be awarded certification up to the highest level of the course, or receive a lower level of certification based on their performance in the course (i.e. a candidate takes an L3 course but only meets L2 criteria and receives an L2 certification).  The candidate can also be continued if they don't quite meet the certification criteria for a certain level.  These two can also be combined (i.e. a candidate taking an L4 course receives an L3 certification and is continued at L4).  If a candidate is continued, they receive a list of skills they need to work on to meet that level of certification.  The instructor criteria can be found on the ACA website (whitewater is listed under river canoe and river kayak sections):  ACA Instructor Criteria

The costs of these courses can vary by instructor trainer.  The club does offer reimbursement of some of these costs for candidates that agree to teach at least 3 courses for the club over a 4 year time period:

  • 50% of the course fee of up to $550 payable at time of course registration.  (i.e. for a course with $550 tuition, the club would pay $275)
  • an additional 25% of the course fee up to $550 after teaching the second course for the club (i.e. for a course with $550 tuition, the club would pay $137.50)
  • an additional 25% of the course fee up to $550 after teaching the third course for the club (i.e. for a course with $550 tuition, the club would pay $137.50)

The CCC offers additional financial incentives to those who support our education mission as Instructors and Safety Boaters.

The ACA keeps a calendar of available courses at their find courses page.  Not all instructor trainers use the ACA calendar to schedule courses.  If you are interested in finding a course, e-mail me at and I can help you find additional courses.

Once received, the certification is valid for four years (it can be extended for an additional year by appeal prior to expiration).  During that time to maintain the certification, the following is required:

  • Teach at least two courses that meet ACA standards within the four-year certification period and report the results to the national ACA office. At least one of these courses need to be at the the highest certification level (i.e. an L4 instructor has to teach 2 courses, and one must be at the L4 level)
  • Successfully complete an Instructor Update, at the highest level of certification, at some time during the four-year certification period
  • Maintain ACA membership and SEIC registration annually
  • Maintain certification in First Aid and CPR

Instructor updates vary in cost by instructor but the club will reimburse up to $150 towards the cost of an instructor update for any instructor that has taught a course for the club within the last 12 months.  Once you meet the requirements and finish an update, your certification period extends for another 4 year period.

If you have ANY questions about becoming an instructor, PLEASE email me at: