Swiftwater Rescue Program Instructor Notes


The American Canoe Association (ACA)

Address: 7432 Alban Station Blvd., Suite B-232 Springfield, VA 22150

Phone: 703-451-0141

Web address: www.acanet.org


Founded in 1890, the ACA is a broad-based, multi-faceted organization. We run events and work on conservation, access, and safety issues. Instruction is a major part of our program, and the ACA has many publications that support it. The Safety, Education, & Instruction Committee (SEIC) manages the program with oversight from the ACA board.


The advantages of instructing for ACA

        a) You will teach a nationally-recognized program, created by top experts

        b) Insurance is available at a reasonable cost

        c) You get free publicity for your courses via the ACA web site

        d) Participation Cards are available to hand out to students


Your duties as an instructor

       a) Maintain your membership (Instructor Level)

        b) Register your courses with the ACA.

        c) Participate in instructor updates


Use the web site: www.ACAnet.org. Click on “instruction” to find

        a) course outlines

        b) course registration forms

        c) policies

Instructor email contact: Sarah Mason (secretary SEIC)


The ACA River Rescue Class teaches rescue skills

to whitewater paddlers using the gear they are likely to carry.


Student Prerequisites

          a) Intermediate paddling skill (can catch eddies and make ferries in Class II+ water)

          b) Strong swimming ability (can make good progress in flat water, and are comfortable swimming underwater)

NOTE: Since we do not teach water reading, hazard recognition, or boat handling in the ACA swiftwater rescue program non-paddling groups like park rangers or first responders should arrange to take a day or two of whitewater instruction in a raft or inflatable kayak before taking the course


Certification vs. Participation Courses

The ACA Certifies their instructors, but not their students. This allows us to tailor the program to different groups. With advanced groups we can move quickly over basic skills. With beginners, we can spend most of our time on basics, and cover advanced skills with quick verbal presentations. Instructors must all meet


ACA Rescue Courses:

          a) Essentials of River Safety and Rescue (1 day)

          b) Swiftwater Rescue (2 Days)

          c) Advanced Swiftwater Rescue (1 day)


Instructor Training

There is a two-day Instructor Development Workshop (IDW) and a two-day Instructor Candidate Exam (ICE). The prerequisite is the ACA two-day Swiftwater Rescue program or equivilent training from club programs, outfitters, or first responders.


NOTE: ACA Swiftwater Rescue Instructors never teach alone. Our Instructor/Student Ratio is 6:1


We can use Instructor Aides (2 maximum) to meet this requirement. An instructor aide is a competent river runner capable of providing backup for the instructor in an emergency. One instructor and one aide can teach a class of twelve or more.


Personal Paddling Gear: River gear: PFD, Helmet, Cold Water Protection, Footwear, and your boat. Rescue Gear: 70’ Rescue Bag, 2 carabiners, whistle, knife, 10’ webbing


Group gear: 3 Rescue PFD’s; Extra rescue bags 2 Z-drag sets: (2 webbing, 2 prussik, 4 carabiners, 2 pulleys) Strainer Simulator (6+ feet of heavy-duty PVC pipe) A Pin Boat (a ducky is perfect; remove walls from kayaks and flotation from canoes


Opening the class

          a) Introduce yourself

 b) Ask your students to introduce themselves,

     giving their paddling experience and course goals

 c) Explain the waiver. Minors should have the form countersigned by a parent or guardian.

 d) Ask about health problems


Class structure: Typically the morning is used for lecture

and dry land practice, the afternoon for in-water work.


Weather and Water issues

          a) Extreme weather requires you to modify your course

          b) Minimize water contact on cold days or when the water is extremely cold.

             I mostly teaching during the warm months.

          c) In case of extreme weather, teach "all classroom" on day 1, "all river" on the day 2

          d) If water levels change, evaluate your site again before proceeding.


Instructor Safety Guidelines

       a) People do get hurt in our program, but we do all we can to can minimize the risk

       b) Insist on Proper Gear:  

                  a) Students and staff WILL ALWAYS WEAR THEIR PFD & HELMET near water

                  b) Insist on adequate COLD WATER PROTECTION

                  c) Bare feet are not allowed. Wetsuit booties or sneakers are safer than sandals.

       c) Pick your site conservatively.

                  a) Look for a deep class II+ rapid with good eddies. Waves & holes are plus

        b) The current should be powerful but manageable.

        c) Look for a configuration that allows you to set up safety easily

                 d) Inspect the site for hazards.

                    Instructors always enter the water and demo skills before the students.

                 e) Set safety. Plan for accidents First aid gear & training is strongly recommended


Learning Consideration

                a) Class Comfort (Sun, Rain, Temperature

                b) Be aware of the noise level. Get everyone close when working around rapids

                c) Set up your presentations so students look away from the sun.


Instructional Theory

          Learning has three components, each one may appeal more strongly to different people.

 a) Explain it (Learn by Hearing) - often preferred by adults

 b) Demonstrate it (Learn by seeing)

 c) Do it (Learn by doing) - often preferred by kids

 d) Ask lots of questions to keep your students engaged!


Last Word: Be Prepared!

a) Know your subject

b) Bring the necessary Handouts

c) Check and organize your gear

d) Use Books & Videos to supplement your program whenever possible


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