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Sea Scouts Ship 459
(Mt. Holly, North Carolina)
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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:

Paddlesports: Sea Scouting’s Next Frontier

800px-Teaching_paddlesportsPaddlesports is one of the fastest growing forms of recreational boating in the United States. The Outdoor Industry Association reported in 2008 that about 17.8 million people participated in some type of paddlesports activity getting out on the water more than 50,000 times daily. With nearly one half million paddlecraft being sold annually, the US Coast Guard anticipates that by 2020 as many as 47 million paddlers will be using paddlecraft for touring, physical exercise, fishing, hunting or other activities. With an investment of just a few dollars people can gain access to the nation’s waterways and therein lies the problem. Most of these paddlers lack experience. They overestimate their skill level and fail to properly assess environmental conditions. Worse yet they often lack the proper safety equipment and the training needed to use that equipment to stay safe on the water. Consider as well, the potential for conflict as this multitude of paddlers interacts with all manner of motorboats, sailboats, and commercial vessels navigating the same nearshore waters.

The paddlesports community thus becomes fertile territory for the Sea Scout program. Unfortunately, the explosive growth of this segment of recreational boating has led to a disturbing upward trend in the number of injuries and accidents. Between 2005 and 2009 the Coast Guard found that canoe and kayak fatalities rose by nearly 70 percent. The sad part is that this loss of life could have been avoided with proper education. Most paddlers want to learn to how to be safe on the water, but don’t know where to go to get the necessary guidance and training.

This creates a tremendous opportunity for the Sea Scouts. Although the potential audience is quite large there is little doubt that effective safety training and counseling will lead to a marked reduction in the number of paddlesports accidents and fatalities. Initially, the workload will be significant, but remember all of those paddlers have the potential to become Sea Scouts and leaders easing the burden of this new endeavor.

Auxiliary Promotes Paddlesports Safety

aca_logoThe American Canoe Association (ACA) and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary promote safety among those who use kayaks, canoes and other paddlecraft. The agreement establishes cooperative efforts broadening outreach and education to the paddle sports community. Paddlesports boating is one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the United States. This presents an opportunity to support Sea Scout paddling.

Reaching Out to the Paddlesports Community

Slide Presentation: Educating the Paddler

Paddlesports Resources

ACA | Canoe – Kayak – SUP – Raft – Rescue

aca_logoThe ACA National Paddlesports Instruction Program has been acknowledged as the “Gold Standard” of paddlesports education throughout the United States and abroad. The ACA has developed a wide variety of curriculum, trainings, and resources to serve paddlers of any skill level and discipline. To take advantage of these great tools and opportunities, begin by finding an ACA certified instructor:

  • Search for nearby instructors using the ACA Paddle Ready App; it’s free in the App Store or Google Play. The app also includes useful features such as instructional rescue videos, surf and tide forecasting, river gauge levels, safety and gear checklists, accident reporting forms, float plans, and more!
  • The Paddle Smart Web TV Series is designed to provide you with the need to know information required to make smart decisions and stay safe on the water. The series cover the paddlesports disciplines of Stand Up Paddleboarding, Recreational Kayaking and Kayak Fishing and each series consists of 12 episodes that are entertaining and to the point.
  • Use the ACA website to find instructors all over the country – include a skills course in your next vacation or locate instructors for family and friends out of state.
  • Need more assistance? Contact the ACA Safety Education and Instruction Department to ask more questions and get expert guidance.

Paddlesports Standards and Best Practices

General Media Articles on Paddlesports

Paddlesport Safety / Educational Videos

  • Top 10 Tips for Canoeing & Kayaking Safety (YouTube)
  • Top 10 Tips for Stand Up Paddleboarding Safety (YouTube)
  • SUP: Leashes & Lifejackets – When to Wear, When Not to Wear (YouTube)
  • Life Jackets Float. Do You? (YouTube)
  • Rescue for River Runners – R3 (YouTube)
  • Decide to Return (YouTube)
  • It’s Your Turn – A Defensive Boating Primer (YouTube)
  • Coastal Kayaking – National Paddlesport Safety System (YouTube)
  • Whitewater Kayaking – National Paddlesport Safety System (YouTube)
  • Whitewater Rafting – National Paddlesport Safety System (YouTube)
  • SmartStart for Paddlers – A Paddlesport Safety Orientation (Vimeo)
  • Cold Water Boot Camp (NWSC)
  • The Ultimate Guide to Stand Up Paddling trailer

Paddling TV on YouTube channels

Sea Kayaking

Marine Radios for Safety

Story about VHF radio and a rescue:

Paddling Tips: Float Bags:


Reading list

The Reading List is a compilation of print and web resources that will be of useful to instructors, vessel examiners and others involved in paddlesports safety. This list is a living document that will evolve as time goes on.

The Kayak reader

  • Alderson, Doug. Sea-Kayakers Savvy Paddler. Camden: Ragged Mountain Press, 2001.
  • Burch, David. Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation. Old Saybrook: Globe Pequot Press, 1993.
  • Diaz, Ralph. Complete Folding Kayaker. Camden: Ragged Mountain Press, 1994
  • Dillon, Pamela and Jeremy Oyen, eds. Kayaking, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2009.
  • Dowd, John. Sea Kayaking, A Manual for Long Distance Touring. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd, 1988.
  • Gronseth, George and Matt Broze. Sea-Kayaker Deep Trouble and Their Lessons. Camden: Ragged Mountain Press, 1997.
  • Gullion, Laurie. Canoeing and Kayaking Instruction Manual. Birmingham: Menasha Ridge Press, 1987.
  • Hutchinson, Derek. Eskimo Rolling. Camden: Ragged Mountain Press, 1992.
  • Hutchinson, Derek C. Expedition Kayaking on Sea and Open Water. Old Saybrook: Globe Pequot Press, 1995.
  • Johnson, Shelley. The Complete Sea Kayaker’s Handbook. Camden: Ragged Mountain Press, 2002.
  • Killen, Ray. Simple Kayak Navigation. Camden: Ragged Mountain Press, 2006.
  • Robison, John. Sea Kayaking Illustrated, A Visual Guide to Better Paddling. Camden: Ragged Mountain Press, 2003.
  • Seidman, David. The Essential Sea Kayaker: A Complete Course for the Open Water Paddler. Camden: Ragged Mountain Press, 1992.
  • Snyder, Rocky. Fit to Paddle: The Paddler’s Guide to Strength and Conditioning. Camden, ME: Ragged Mountain Press 2003.
  • Wyatt, Mike. The Basic Essentials of Sea Kayaking. Old Saybrook: Globe Pequot Press 1990.

The Canoe reader

  • Dillon, Pamela, ed. Canoeing. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2009.
  • Foster, Nigel. Open Canoe Technique. Guilford, CT. Falcon Guide, 2004.
  • Jacobson, Cliff. The Basic Essentials of Solo Canoeing, Merrillville, IN. ICS Books, Inc. 1991.
  • Mason, Bill. Path of the Paddle. Buffalo, NY. Firefly Books. 1999.
  • McGuffin, Gary and Joan McGuffin. Paddle Your Own Canoe. Ontario: Boston Mills Press, 2005.
  • Ray, Slim. The Canoe Handbook. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1992.
  • Rounds, John, ed. Basic Canoeing. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 2003.

The Stand Up Paddleboard reader

  • Burgoyne, Nate. The Stand Up Paddle Book. Lava Rock Media. 2010.
  • Casey, Rob. Stand Up Paddling: Flatwater to Surf and Rivers. Seattle: Mountaineers Books. 2011.
  • Marcus, Ben. The Art of Stand Up Paddling: A Complete Guide to SUP on Lakes, Rivers, and Oceans. Falcon Guides. 2011.

Paddling groups

Keeping current

Developing Paddlecraft Seamanship

There’s a huge difference between boat handling and seamanship. There’s a whole lot more to boating than how to handle one under near ideal conditions. I learned a lot about this difference when learning how to handle a motor boat and a sailboat as part of the Sea Scout program. Only at the time, it seemed I had to learn a whole lot more than I did to handle my canoe. It wasn’t until I reviewed the requirements for Canoeing, Kayaking, and Whitewater merit badges and asked myself, “What else should a paddler know?” The difference between boat handling and seamanship is knowing how to handle the boat, or a fleet of them, in a wide variety of conditions.


Our Ship, Ship 378 S.S.S. Dawn Treader spent every Saturday during the summer with Aquatics Mania 2014, 8 Merit Badges this Summer. We taught Swimming, Lifesaving, Motorboating,Small-Boat Sailing, Rowing, Canoeing, Kayaking, and Whitewater merit badges. In addition, we helped young Scouts complete rank requirements for swimming. Before launching into this adventure, we all became lifeguards and spent three years mastering seamanship, mostly with sailboats.

With the perspective of knowing the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA’s) aquatics rules along with the Sea Scout and merit badge programs, we were able to see a bigger picture of what BSA’s aquatics program attempts to achieve. What became obvious relative to boats is that it is mostly about handling the boat safely in near ideal conditions—especially with regard to paddlecraft.

The Question

I admit, I was very unhappy to find out that after completing all the other requirements for Whitewater merit badge that we were essentially limited to Class I & Class II water. It seemed to me at the time that the difference was wearing a helmet for Class III+ water. Only later did I figure out there was much more to it than that.

This discontent, more than anything led me on an adventure that continues to this day to figure out what paddlecraft seamanship looks like. I’m looking for the middle ground between a boat handler and a well-equipped professional. The Sea Scout program by no means expects a Sea Scout to have a Captain’s license, yet he or she has more experience and broader responsibilities than a Scout with a merit badge. The question is, “What basic professional skills could/should a paddler possess beyond boat handling?”

Sea Scouts and Paddlecraft

When our Ship started, our primary and only vessel was a canoe. Someone said we could actually get our Scouts to Quartermaster using only canoes. At the time, we didn’t know anything about kayaking, but we had been in rafts. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t see how the Sea Scout requirements could be applied to a canoe. For example, what does a fire drill look like on a canoe? Falling out of a canoe is common. When we fell out, we recovered our boat, got back in, then went on. What then did man overboard look like? I have to laugh when thinking about using ded reckoning on a twisty, windy river. In short, there are several requirements a Scout handling a power vessel or sailboat routinely uses with no apparent practical application in the paddling world. It was a lot easier to switch vessel types than figure out how to use our canoes to complete them. After all, there is no relief for requirements that make no sense when using a canoe or kayak.

New Sea Scout Experience Base

Our Ship is somewhat unique because we need to travel more than one hour to get to water big enough to operate a motorboat or sailboat on. All of our members are familiar with high-adventure skills on land, which we affectionately call dirt scouting. Anyone joining our ship is likely to come to us with a similar background. This, as it turns out, is a great advantage when it comes to paddlecraft seamanship.

Getting Answers

To answer my own question, I got the opportunity to train with the experts—firemen with swift water rescue training. These are the professionals we rely on when our communities are flooded or our cars float away or other otherwise plunge into the water. They train for much more hazardous conditions than a Class I or Class II river—the BSA limit for canoe and kayak float trips. Their gear is specialized and techniques well developed since their training first began in the 1970s. Clearly, what I learned was way more than what Scouts need to know for managing a fleet of paddlecraft on a float trip. Implementing Our Program. How to implement what I learned is the subject of another paper as it is our year-long training program for our Ship—maybe even two. With it, I hope to upgrade the skills of Venturers and waterfront staff in our Council and maybe the surrounding area. However, here, I will discuss the broad skills needed and how to use them with a float trip.

Paddlecraft Seamanship Skills

Basic swift water seamanship requires communication, swimming, lifesaving, climbing, paddling, teamwork, and first aid skills. On-water paddlecraft operations also include navigation, float planning, weather adaption, gear choice & maintenance, situation awareness, environmental responsibility, and survival. All of these have a counterpart in the dirt scouting world.


For a Sea Scout, a radio is a lifesaving device. For a paddler, a whistle is too. We promise to know how to use radios for routine and emergency communication. Fleet coordination is much easier with radios. Did you know rivers were loud? When crew members end up in the water, knowing how to use a radio and whistle is imperative for just about anything beyond a routine capsize in shallow, slow water.


When training with the firemen, I swear I joined the river swim team. I didn’t even know swimming was really possible or necessary in a river. I never tried to do more than get back to my boat or swim to shore. It never occurred to me to learn to read the river to figure out better and safer ways to get out. Then, I never tried swimming for a quarter mile or more.

It was only in learning how to swim a river did I begin to fully appreciate all the hazards a person forced to swim a river was exposed to. I also learned how to read a river and understand how water physics (hydrology) changes as I float/swim trying to get me and my survivor out. It’s a far cry from learning only defensive swimming without really knowing why to keep your feet up without any explanation about when it was okay to stop swimming. I just about got thrown out of the course because I had a difficult time grasping the principle. Knowing how to swim a river is basic for self-rescue, lifesaving, and many other in-river tasks.


Lifeguarding, as taught for swimming pool and waterfront lifeguards, is basic but woefully inadequate for boating rescues in all moving water environments including rivers, lakes, and oceans. Here, participants are supposed to be wearing life jackets. Our ship had to adapt lifeguarding skills for use with sailboats because it’s key for completing a man overboard rescue—especially in cold water. We didn’t develop our tactics strictly on our own. The makers of LifeSling helped us with that. In the same way, many lifeguard skills have to be adapted for the river environment. The swift water rescue folks have developed products and practices we can easy learn and use safely.


I’m looking forward to learning line handling skills used for rock climbing, not because I ever intend to climb rocks, but because the same lines, knots, accessories, and techniques are used over rivers. The skills are handy for getting a boat unwrapped from around a rock. On our last float trip, those skills would’ve been handy to help move two people who flipped out of their canoe out of the water they were forced to stand in for 20-30 minutes while we got their boat back to them. I’m looking forward to it because these systems can be great fun to play on otherwise. Have you ever ziplined while floating in a river? Our Council routinely teaches rock climbing & rappelling skills.

Paddling (Boat Handling)

Though I paddled for several decades, I realized I had 1 years’ worth of experience over 35 times. Eddying in and ferrying out are basic river skills. The Whitewater merit badge gets around to requiring them. Yeah, we did and taught them, but until I had to swim a river, I didn’t fully appreciate them. The best way to minimize capsizing is to learn how to handle your boat in moving water. Flat-water boat handling skills are basic, but not adequate for moving water. Thankfully, Class II water is plenty to learn a variety of swift water boating handling. Did I mention the definition of swift water is water flowing 1 nautical mile an hour or faster?


Teamwork is crucial on and in swift water. Sailing with a crew of two more is demanding and the results of ineffective teamwork are readily apparent. It’s useful for developing critical thinking skills. Sea Scouts need protocols for operating as a Ship on a river.

Just as station bills are created for man overboard, fire, and abandon ship drills, they can also be created for river emergencies too. Someone has to watch for things flowing through a rescue area. Sometimes it takes a couple of people to safely get to a stranded paddler. How is the boat and other gear going to be retrieved? Who’s scanning the river to figure out what’s downstream in case it’s easier to get out or the team has fallen and ends up swimming? What better place to get a team to start working together better than COPE? I’m already scheming low-rope COPE skills that directly relate to what might need to be done in a river.

First Aid

I haven’t found anyone yet who doesn’t groan when the idea of practicing or studying first aid comes up. However, first aid, including CPR, is a key paddling seamanship skill. The first of the last two steps in any river rescue is first aid. This not only includes the assessment and treating of wounds, but it’s also about preparing the victim for transport. The good news is that Wilderness First Aid now comes with an Afloat option: Wilderness First Aid Afloat.


Piloting and navigation skills were developed by mariners and adapted by land travelers. Thankfully, topo map handling and orienteering, along with other land navigation skills are adaptable to water navigation too. I like orienteering from the water. Have you ever tried it? Unfortunately, the way mariners do navigation and hikers do it are vastly different. However, those who learn both do it much better in either environment than those trained only in one. In our area, we have the Georgia Orienteering Club, who sponsors monthly events for the public. What I do know is that a river chart is more like a topo map than it is a harbor or off-shore chart. Because of what I know from both arenas, I’ve created easy-to-use tools—especially for GPS navigation and float planning.

Float Planning

Like backpacking, float trips require more planning than is needed for a short walk or splash in a pond. There’s not a whole lot of storage space in canoes and even less in kayaks. In addition to efficiently carrying the absolute minimum of essential gear, there is route planning. A float trip at Northern Tier drives the need for them as much as Philmont does for backpacking. In our area, there are weekend training sessions to prepare paddlers for Northern Tier in terms of handling their boat and packing gear. What’s missing is filling out the Guard’s Float Plan form].

I understand filling out the float plan form is obnoxious for short trips. However, the principle is at least letting someone know where you’re getting out along with the time frame for doing so and how you intend to get there. It helps to build in times for checking in with someone offshore.

Often, our float plan for a short river trip is we’re getting in here, going downstream (we’ll pick which way to go around islands when we get there), and expect to be at the takeout by dinner time. Be there to pick us up by a certain time. That’s a float plan!

However, when things get more complicated, better planning is needed along with the discipline of communicating with folks not on the trip. The Coast Guard’s float plan is good for all of them. However, a lot more skills are needed for planning anything longer than a short, one-way trip. These skills must be taught and the discipline needs to be there to ensure they’re completed.

Weather Adapting

Knowing how to use weather forecasts to plan for adapting to changing weather conditions should be a key skill, not only for sailors but anyone operating outdoors. In reality, in my experience, an understanding of weather is rare. It’s strange but weather requirements are pushed late into the Sea Scout program.

Very early on, our shipmates are taught how to read 48-hour weather graphs for the area we’re operating in. All of them have completed Weather Hazards training. However, knowing how weather is made and the predictability about how it changes is missing. Weathermen can predict rainfall, but cannot predict squalls. We have to do that. I recently found a computer-aided training available from BoatUS that explains these phenomenon. There is simply no excuse for not having a better understanding of weather than the general population anymore—because Scouts spend so much of their time outdoors.

Gear & Gear Use

Though I knew a lot about paddling safety and lifesaving gear, it didn’t occur to me there was more appropriate gear and better methods of using gear I learned for merit badges.

I didn’t pay attention to the types of personal floatation devices (PFDs) until I got into Sea Scouts. Perhaps it was because the only thing I really ever used was a Type III and had to carry a Type IV boat cushion. It wasn’t until I got into swift water training to realize a Type III is really appropriate only for relatively calm water. I now have a Type I more comfortably wear than my old Type III, and I know it’s appropriate for almost all Sea Scout activities.

There’s a variety of other essential gear. I learned how to get more than one shot at rescuing a person with a throw bag. I know how to wear my diver’s knife. Because I’m trained on how to use it, I now have an extricating leash (cowtail) attached to my life jacket. My whistle is loud and nearly foul proof.

The handling of every piece of a properly equipped Type III life jacket and a throw bag needs to second nature for anyone operating on a river. A Sea Scout does not go on a float trip as a well-equipped professional. Our gear and practices must be limited to scant swimwear; Type III life jacket; whistle; throw bag; diver’s knife; a basic first aid, survival, rescue kit, the appropriate paddle; and the boat being used. I would like a helmet to be required too. This is how we enjoy a day on the river. Our practices need to be limited to what we’re expected to have on Class I/II river.

Situation Awareness

Awareness of winds and currents are basic for any boat. Though they’re crucial for a paddler, there’s the added dimension of topography because the rocks and landscape shape the behavior of the water. Currents are more predominate than wind because the landscape constantly changes the behavior of the water. Though I have taken many physics courses and have studied plumbing and HVAC system airflow, it never occurred to me to apply what I knew to river behavior. Understanding river hydrology is imperative for making wise decisions on or in the water. River runners really need to learn how to read a river with only their head above water, because that’s how one figures out where it might be safe to get out when forced to river swim. Hydrology also figures into how to operate effectively in and on the water to avoid water accidents or to render aid.

Environmental Responsibility

For a Sea Scout, learning the laws about dumping and handling oil spills are necessary because it’s clear what the impact is on navigable waters. However, everyone needs to learn Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. For a river float trip, the principles are applied similar to backpacking. BSA has LNT training programs.

Water & Land Survival

There is a reason I didn’t join the Navy. It wasn’t clear to me how I was going to survive if submerged or otherwise found myself separated from the boat. What was I going to do if marooned? BSA has plenty of opportunities to learn how to survive in the backcountry. I know from experience these tactics have to be adapted to water environment. Within days of starting our Ship, I was reading the Annapolis guide, How to Survive on Land and Sea. When we join other Venturers for the survival campout required for Ranger, we showcase these skills.

The only reason I got over my fear of being on or in open water was because I obtained and learned how to use a dive knife. In my opinion, and swift water rescue professionals, is that no one should be without one. I should be able to cut myself free of entangling webs and ropes in the time it takes to hold one breath without passing out.

Training Paddlecraft Seamanship

Our Reality

Firemen are not usually readily available when we need them on a river. By the time they get there, the situation may have already transitioned from rescue to recovery. If we’re lucky, the responding firemen are trained in swift water rescue. Don’t bet on it. For wilderness first aid, we’re acutely aware we might have to treat our patient well past the golden hour before qualified help arrives. I don’t propose a Scout be a professional rescuer, but let’s apply the same logic we do for training them in first aid. Let’s train them to do enough safely to handle their buddies in moving water until qualified help arrives. This is the training level a Venturer or paddling Sea Scout should be trained to.

Our Opportunities

Many high-adventure skills taught in BSA’s program can be adapted to paddlecraft seamanship. In addition to canoe and kayaking handling, let’s train our Sea Scouts in COPE, climbing, Wilderness First Aid Afloat, BSA Lifeguard, orienteering, LNT, CPR for Healthcare Professionals, and wilderness survival. These programs already exist. Our challenge is to creatively adapt them to the paddling world.

Apparently, BSA also offers Swimming and Water Rescue as well as Paddlecraft Safely. I’m not aware of these programs, but I’ll ask my Council’s Waterfront Director about them. These need to be considered too.

There are some things we’ll have to make up for, such as adapting to weather and river swimming. There is not a program in place I’m aware of in BSA.

To ensure training is adequate and doesn’t cross unsafe boundaries, Ship Consultants (and hopefully the Skipper) are trained in appropriate swift water rescue skills. It’s every bit as important as Seabadge Underway.

Filling Program Gaps

I came to Sea Scouting with the belief that I could get Scouts to Quartermaster without motorboats or sailboats. I’ve yet to figure out how. I also know the Sea Scout program does require enough seamanship skills for paddlecraft. A lot of the missing components are part of Venturing Ranger.

Post Quest Conclusion

As Skipper, I’m well aware of what’s needed to operate on a variety of water types. I know Sea Scout advancement requirements are lacking in a number of areas, besides not being easily adaptable to paddlecraft. When our Ship was started, we figured out many of the gaps were closed with the Venturing Ranger program. In attempting to answer the question about what paddler seamanship looks like, I figured out how to close the remainder of them. In the process, I found ways to make Sea Scouting exciting for dirt Scouts too!

Contributed by

Sam Young, Skipper, S.S.S. Dawn Treader, West Point Lake, Georgia

Preparing for a Sea Scout Canoeing Long Cruise

paddlesports-WhitewaterSea Scout Ship North Star (Ship 90), located in the Endless Mountains region of northeastern Pennsylvania, has been canoeing as part of its program since the ship was established in 1943. Through the years the ship has endured badly designed canoes, high water, low water, fierce storms, and now no cell phone reception for most of the trip. The many experiences through the years have resulted in the adoption of strategies that improve our canoeing trip experience.

Most of our long canoe trips occur on the upper Delaware River which marks the boundary between Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. The National Park Service has jurisdiction over recreational activities on the river but most of the land in the river corridor is privately owned. A railroad right of way runs along the river crossing from side-to-side. The land between the river and the tracks is generally available for camping but the steep, rocky banks make finding a suitable campsite a daily adventure.

Route planning

The first preparation step is planning a route and selecting possible dates to give us the most participation. Achieving maximum distance has not proven to be a productive goal. Most of our crew is not interested in a down-river dash. Most are still learning canoe handling skills and learning to read the river. For us a long day would be 20 miles. Our last day is normally less than ten miles because of the time needed to get the canoes and gear loaded and traveling home.

When selecting dates it is a good idea to select alternate dates in case bad weather is predicted on the primary dates. A canoe or a tent is not a good place to experience during a major rain event. Scattered thunderstorms are not uncommon and may considerably alter your planned progress.

A normal day is about six hours of paddling. We plan to be off the river about 3 PM. This gives us sunlight to dry our clothes if we went swimming in the rapids, an unhurried camp set up, time to collect firewood, time for fishing, time for hiking and exploring, and time for swimming.

Transportation to the river

paddlesports_calm_waterAfter the water route is set, vehicle transportation needs to be mapped out. We normally elect a drop-off and a pick-up, taking all our food and gear in the canoes. We have talked to others who use vehicles to transport their gear from campsite to campsite. Both systems work. Our campsites are free and generally are not near roads. Campsites with road access normally require significant nightly fees. Keeping our trips very affordable is one of our goals.

Food planning

Food planning is the next preparation step. We prepare a meal-by-meal menu and figure purchase quantities based on the number of crew going. We try to stay away from items requiring refrigeration. When we want to incorporate meat into a meal, we use canned meat. Our goals for each meal are fast, easy, inexpensive, filling, and teen friendly. A typical day might be:

Sample menu


  • 2 instant oatmeal packets
  • Pop tarts
  • Coffee/tea/hot chocolate

Morning snack

  • Individually wrapped cookies or crackers


  • Canned chicken sandwiches
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Cool aid
  • Cookies
  • Pringles

Afternoon snack

  • Granola bar


  • Canned stew
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Green beans
  • Choice of beverage

Evening snack

  • Trail mix

We use squeeze bottles for jelly, mustard and mayo. The opened mayo is discarded after the meal. Deli rounds have replaced sliced bread as they stay fresh longer, pack in a smaller space, and resist crushing.

After the food is purchased we have learned from experience that each day’s food must be packed separately. If this isn’t done, finding the right food for a given meal is nearly impossible. We use screw-top plastic, 5-gallon containers to transport food that would be damaged if submerged.

The food committee also selects the appropriate cooking utensils and cookware for the trip. They also ensure that we have enough water containers. Water is very heavy but rather than boiling or chemically purifying river water we haul a two- to three-day supply in collapsible plastic jugs – some two gallon and some five gallon. We can normally find water every two days.

Skills preparation

Before the trip the scouts participate in a canoe training held on a pond or the normally peaceful Susquehanna River. This acquaints the new scouts with basic canoeing skills. Real experience will be gained navigating the rapids of the Delaware.

Equipment preparation

Several weeks before the planned trip date we distribute and discuss a gear list like the one below:

Gear list

Personal Gear Requirements

  • Sleeping bag and ground pad
  • Canteen or water bottle
  • Swimsuit
  • 1 Pair Long pants
  • 1 Pair Shorts
  • Chambrey Scout shirt – long sleeve
  • Ship T-shirt
  • Ship Ball cap
  • Underwear
  • Extra Shirts and shorts
  • Get wet sneakers – to wear canoeing
  • Trail shoes/sneakers – to wear in camp
  • Duffle bag or bags to pack double-bagged gear in
  • Toilet gear (soap, washcloth, towel, toothbrush & paste, toilet paper)
  • Foul weather gear, rain suit or poncho
  • Extra garbage bags & twist ties
  • Safety strap for glasses
  • Medications
  • Ammo box

Optional Recommended Gear

  • Flashlight
  • Camera
  • Insect repellant
  • Sunglasses
  • Pencil & notebook
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Pajamas
  • Spending money

Packing recommendations

All gear not worn or carried or in your ammo box must be double- plastic bagged and secured with twist ties.

Using the gear list we spend part of several meetings explaining the use and proper packing of the required gear:

  • The items most ignored are wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants that are needed to protect against sunburn. Sunburn has been our most common and painful issue.
  • Shoes – We start the trip wearing socks and the wet pair of shoes. When we camp the wet shoes and socks are removed and the nice dry ones are used in camp. The next morning the wet socks and shoes are put on and the dry ones packed with our dry clothing ready for use at the next camp.
  • We use a double bag process for packing clothing and sleeping bags to keep them dry. Place two large, black plastic garbage bags, one inside the other, into your duffle bag (knap sack, gym bag, book bag, suit case, etc.). Put your clothing into the inner plastic bag until your duffle bag is full or you have everything in. Twist the inner plastic bag closed tight. Double the twist over and secure it with a twist tie or a rubber band. Then repeat the twist closure process for the outer plastic bag. Now, the duffle can be closed securing the double bagged gear inside. The duffle or other type bag is there to protect the plastic bags from damage and to give you handles to secure the gear inside the canoe. It is generally easier to pack clothing and sleeping gear in separate duffle bags.
  • A military surplus ammo box works very well for keeping gear dry and handy. This is where medications, cameras, wallets, IDs, pencils, notebooks, money, flashlights, snacks, get put. Each paddler ties his ammo box and water bottle to the canoe where he can easily reach them while on the water. Our first aid supplies are also packed in an ammo box and assigned to a leader.
  • Toilet paper is at the top of the “must be kept dry” list. We recommend that each scout make several waterproof packets of toilet paper. There is no need for full rolls of toilet paper. Over the course of the several weeks before the trip I recommend the scouts keep on the lookout at their house for rolls of toilet paper getting near the end. These now reduced rolls will contain enough paper for the trip and are easy to pack. We recommend at least two packets of double zip locked toilet paper, one in the ammo box and one with the clothing or sleeping bag.
  • Foul weather gear is kept available for quick access.
  • We don’t make a gear list for each canoe, but if we did it would include:
  1. Two large bailers made from plastic laundry soap containers cut so that the handle remains. The bailers are tied at each end of the canoe with enough rope so that each paddler can bail without untying the bailer. Note, when the canoe is filled with water it cannot be bailed and must be gotten to the shore or shallows where it can be tipped. The bailers will finish the job.
  2. Three paddles – one for each paddler and the extra one within reach of the sternsman because he steers the canoe and is more likely to lose or break a paddle. A sternsman without a paddle would potentially have the greatest consequences.
  3. Three lifejackets – Two worn, strapped tightly to the paddlers, and one carried just in case.
  4. Lots of ¼” braided nylon rope to hold all the gear in the canoe even if it goes through the rapids upside down. We know it won’t get wet – we just don’t want it to get away.
  • Our ship provides the tents for our trip by borrowing them from scouts, parents and leaders. This has worked very well for us. We always use a tarp under the floor of the tent to prevent sticks or rocks from damaging the floor. The tarps are tied over our loaded canoes and act as a second line of defense to keep gear aboard.
  • We have used wood fires in the past for cooking but the last two trips we have included propane stoves for cooking. The stoves have earned a space in our canoes.


paddlesports_Canoeing_the_rapidsWell, that in a nutshell is my take on what it takes to prepare for a Sea Scout long cruise paddling canoes. Can all that planning and preparation be worth it? You bet. Youth and adults will be ready to do it again next year. Maybe it is because our river is great but I don’t think it is much different than most rivers. It does have rapids and whitewater that create excitement, so you may want to look for that when planning your trip. Even without whitewater this slow, quiet trip into nature will be enjoyed, talked about, and looked forward to by everyone.

Contributed by

Chuck Jaget, Skipper, S.S.S. North Star, New Milford, Pennsylvania