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Canoeing - Recreational

Version control: Original 1986 / Updated 1999 / Updated 2003 / Updated 2015




You must refer to the Requirements for All Sport and Physical Activity (PDF 466KB) to understand your overall compliance responsibilities.

Canoeing includes KAYAKING (whitewater and flatwater activities)

Many schools engage in canoeing as part of environmental education, competitive sport, outdoor recreation, physical education programs or as part of Department of Sport and Recreation camp programs.

Canoes are ideal recreational vehicles. Their use should however, be commensurate with the students’ skills and abilities and need to be gradually and thoughtfully programmed.

It is strongly recommended that primary school students undertake lead-up activities to canoeing. The choice of craft must be suitable to their age and physical development. Activities should be conducted in protected waters only.

More challenging canoe trips, often described as 'expeditions', where long distance paddling is required, can be for one day, overnight or multi-day activities and can involve lightweight camping.

Parents must be informed of full details of the location, supervision to be provided, activities to be undertaken, degree of difficulty, the contact system, cost and intended departure and return times before their written permission is obtained. The permission note must contain a clause authorising medical aid if it is considered necessary by the supervising teacher. The note should also include a section where the parent advises the school of any illness or medical condition that the student suffers from, or any medication the student is currently taking (including asthma sprays, etc). Preparation of the alert list and distribution of student medication is the responsibility of the teacher. The alert list must be collated from information on medical consent forms prior to departure.

Students are to be instructed to use adequate sun protection, e.g. an SPF50+, broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen reapplied regularly and a hat.

Students must be able to swim 50m wearing a PFD.

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Leader/Instructor Qualifications and Supervision

General recreational canoeing activities

For general canoeing which is:

  • Of an introductory or elementary nature and is of low demand on participants or
  • Conducted in very specific and protected locations and within 100m of the shore or
  • Conducted where transport and communication is readily available or
  • Conducted with the assistance of a power boat with a propeller guard.

The leader/instructor must have:

  • Appropriate experience and a thorough knowledge of the technique and safety procedures involved
  • Personal canoeing experience which is documented
  • Experience in the area to be used by students
  • Recognised current practical training in rescue and emergency procedures
  • Training in group management procedures appropriate to canoeing.

For canoeing/kayaking on flat water where a power boat is not being used, a maximum of six canoes (1:12) or eight kayaks (1:8) are to be on the water at any time per instructor.

Flatwater Expeditions

For down river trips there should be a minimum of two (2) suitably experienced and qualified leaders with any group. This should be increased to three (3) for remote area trips which might require a split party in the event of an accident. Where male and female students participate, the principal should attempt to have both a male and female adult accompany the group.

The teacher or the instructor must be qualified as a Basic Skills Instructor (or as per industry standards for these water conditions). There must be one (1) qualified teacher or instructor to every twelve (12) students. The flat water area to be used must be clearly defined to assist the teacher in controlling the group. Large lakes open to wind, current or large tidal movement require at least two (2) instructors or leaders with each group.

For expeditions/trips on moving water grade one and two, leaders will require a higher level of technical skill and should only be undertaken by leaders with considerable experience. The teacher or the instructor must be a qualified White Water Instructor or possess equivalent industry qualifications. The ratio is one (1) suitably qualified teacher or instructor to every six (6) students.

On occasions, supervision will need to be higher than that prescribed. Principals and organising teachers should take into account such factors as age, experience and maturity of the students; environmental concerns; and other challenges likely to be encountered; experience of the adult supervisors.

Leaders taking groups into remote or isolated areas need to be trained in long term management of casualties where immediate assistance is not available and adverse conditions may prevail.

All leaders and instructors should ensure that they keep their skills and knowledge up to date and their operations in line with current best practice.

Where an adult other than a teacher accompanies the group to provide instruction or to assist with supervision, a teacher must still take overall responsibility for the supervision of students.

The teacher must have recognised current training in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and emergency care, such as the St John Ambulance Emergency Care Module or the Senior First Aid Course.

The teacher-in-charge, in consultation with the instructor, must produce a documented risk assessment for overnight trips prior to the activity being approved by the principal. This assessment will identify major risks and hazards and make judgements as to the likely occurrence of difficulties, their severity and consequences. It will indicate any actions that are being taken to minimise or reduce risks and hazards. Teachers should refer to the Risk Management Procedure outlined on page 71 of this document and Appendix C.

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It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that all students are adequately equipped and that all equipment is in good order prior to departure. If at the time of departure a student does not have an item of equipment or it is not in satisfactory order, the leader must decide whether the student can further participate on the basis of whether there is a safety issue.

Each student must wear:

  • An approved canoeing type 2 or type 3 Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Buoyancy enhanced wet suits or other flotation aides must not replace the use of PFDs.
  • An approved helmet (with drainage holes and covering the forehead and nape of the neck) for all activities except where canoeing is on safe flat water
  • Sandshoes, gym boots or neoprene type booties
  • Wetsuit, thermal, and cold water protective clothing where appropriate
  • Adequate sun protection, e.g. an SPF50+, broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen reapplied regularly and where appropriate, a hat.

Each canoe or kayak must:

  • Be of a design approved by the teacher-in-charge or the instructor for the type of canoeing activity being undertaken and not carry more persons than it was designed to seat.
  • Be inspected by the teacher-in-charge before canoeing commences.
  • Be fitted with handholds at stem and stern in the form of loops or toggles except for flatwater racing kayaks as used for competitive events. Handholds must not be taped down, must be in good condition and securely anchored to the canoe or kayak at the ends. Superlight decks incapable of resisting the pull of a rescuer on the end loop in an emergency situation are not allowed.
  • Be unsinkable and be able to support a person in the water by the addition of fixed buoyancy such as air bags, foam blocks or poured urethane foam.
  • Have footrests, where fitted, which will not trap the canoeist if the feet override them in a collision, e.g. 'fail-safe type'.
  • Canoes must be fitted with seats.
  • Where spray decks or skirts (fitted with a suitable release strap) are used, students must have had adequate practise in their use, including capsize and exit drill.
  • When kayaking in white water, spray skirts shall be used.

For any canoeing activity not at a fixed location, the following items are required to be carried on the trip:

  • Repair kit
  • Spare paddle
  • Throw-bag
  • Tow-rope
  • First aid kit
  • Spare dry clothing
  • High energy food
  • Rescue kit (whitewater).

The rescue kit (for whitewater) should include 20m of floating, non-absorbent static rope 8-10 mm in diameter, four karabiners, two Prusiks and a tape sling. The addition of two lightweight caving pulleys is desirable. In addition, wherever ropes are to be used, a sharp knife must be handy.

A direct means of communication back to a base must be available to the leader of the activity. This could be a mobile phone or two-way radio. The leader must allow for the fact that mobile telephones may not operate in all locales.

A waterproof bag similar to a 'drysac', or any other waterproof container, must be used to ensure the safe working condition of the above equipment at all times.

Where power boats are used to accompany canoeists, they must meet any Waterways registration requirements and be fitted with an appropriate propeller guard.

A well-equipped medical kit must be carried by an appropriately trained teacher. For larger parties or extended trips, two kits should be carried.

All gear should be correctly waterproofed, and stowed in or tied securely to the canoe.

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The instructor must have current knowledge of the area to be used and be certain of its suitability for the program and the group.

Selection of venues must take into account the age, fitness and medical condition of students.

For any location chosen, the appropriate prior permission must be obtained. Check with the local National Parks and Wildlife Service office, police or other local authorities about current restrictions, fire bans, etc.

When selecting the venue and planning the program, the teacher-in-charge will seek to minimise the group’s impact on the environment. The party size should be chosen keeping in mind safety, minimal impact on the environment, and disturbance to other canoeists. Students should be briefed beforehand on nature conservation issues and the need to protect all flora and fauna.

These guidelines do not apply to sea kayak touring. This is a specialised area and the activity should only be undertaken by appropriately qualified instructors or leaders.

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The teacher-in-charge, in consultation with the instructor, must:

  • Ensure that all students are appropriately attired for the type of canoeing activity being undertaken particularly in cases of low water temperature or white water conditions. Great care needs to be taken to avoid extreme weather conditions, including hot, cold and wet. It is incumbent on the teacher to check the weather forecast to determine that conditions are acceptable for the duration of the activity
  • Ensure that inexperienced students are not taken on water which is beyond their capabilities
  • Not permit canoeing on open water in strong winds or during a storm
  • Ensure that personal flotation devices of appropriate size are correctly fitted prior to entering the water
  • Accompany the group on the water either in a canoe or other craft
  • Ensure that all students have a thorough understanding of what to do in the event of a capsize by any member of the group for the type of water being canoed and prior to moving onto that water
  • Ensure that all students on wilderness trips have a good knowledge of first aid and the dangers, prevention and symptoms of hypothermia (exposure to cold), heatstroke (exhaustion) and understand wilderness treatment methods. Ideally, students should have training in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.
  • Ensure that on wilderness trips safety equipment such as a torch, map, compass, first aid and survival kits are carried and that a plan of the trip is left with experienced persons including the estimated time of arrival
  • Have a sound knowledge of the Australian Canoeing (AC) safety code
  • Ensure that the students stay together as a group and not become separated (except for approved racing competitions)
  • Ensure rescuers are in position as required for whitewater activities
  • Declare areas not required for canoeing as out of bounds
  • Hold a roll check each time the students enter and leave the water.

Trips need to be well planned. Students must be briefed in regard to safety issues. The group leaders must carry a card detailing procedures to follow in emergencies and contact numbers. All party members should know how to put these procedures into practice.

Throughout the instruction sequence emphasis should be placed on group responsibilities and communication, the buddy system, rescues from both water and land, hypothermia and its prevention/treatment, weather and water dynamics, and the proper use and care of equipment.

Prior to extended expeditions on flat or protected waters, students should be able to demonstrate satisfactory levels of performance in:

  • Buddy checking gear
  • Emptying a canoe
  • Self and T-Rescues
  • Turning a canoe using sweep strokes
  • Support bracing
  • Rafting up or coming along side bank or canoe
  • Forward and reverse strokes
  • Emergency stops
  • Capsize techniques
  • Communication practices including hand and whistle signals

Prior to wilderness expeditions on moving water, students should be able to demonstrate a satisfactory level of performance in all of the above, plus satisfactory levels of performance in:

  • Combining strokes
  • Launching, embarking, landing and disembarking in moving water
  • Breaking into and out of faster flowing water
  • Holding position in moving water
  • Setting in moving water
  • Reading Grade 2 water
  • Emergency rope rescues eg. use of a throw bag
  • Capsize procedures in moving water. It is recommended that this training take place in a controlled setting selected following a risk management assessment.

All rapids must be assessed by the leader and appropriate navigation strategies outlined to the group. There should only ever be one canoe on a rapid at any one time.

During the activity:

  • A ‘whip’ system of travel is recommended with one teacher leading the group and another teacher trailing the group
  • Students must keep continual visual and verbal contact with other members of the group, ie. "buddy" system
  • Students are to be instructed to drink plenty of water, especially on trips and during long instructional sessions to avoid effects of dehydration
  • Water in streams running from urban areas should not be drunk. Water from other areas, including national parks, should be treated (eg. with iodine tablets or Puritabs). Students should carry personal food and water.

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Special features

Teachers planning canoeing activities need to be familiar with the procedures detailed in the Excursion Policy

Where canoeing is part of a wilderness expedition and involves either bushwalking or overnight camping, the teacher-in-charge must refer to the bushwalking guidelines for further advice concerning supervision and camping organisation.

The range of activities undertaken in outdoor recreation pursuits is extensive. Principals need to ensure that participating staff have levels of first aid training appropriate to the excursion activities, location and any student disabilities, and that adequate and appropriate first aid kit(s) are available on the activity.

All accompanying teachers must have recognised current training in emergency care, such as the St John Ambulance Emergency Care Module or the Senior First Aid Course. For groups involved in overnight stays, at least one accompanying teacher must also possess recognised current training in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.

Remote Area First Aid (or similar), where medical aid may take several hours or longer to reach a casualty, is highly desirable for extended walks in remote areas.

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