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ACA changing - anyone have any info?


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John Huth said buried on the other thread:

"OK, a serious question. Rather than americanize BCU ratings, why not bolster the ACA ratings?

They may lag behind, but we do have an ACA affiliation, here. The BCU seems to have this halo around it as a gold standard, but we are in the US. Why not help make the ACA ratings the best we can?

I have heard of legislation that would make an ACA instructor's rating mandatory for guides in some states. Perhaps we might discuss this rather than worry about "dry cags" or leptosporisis?"

This was too important a thought to leave buried.

I only know a little teensy bit about this but the ACA is changing. Currently the ACA as we know it provides us membership cards (8 months late)and insurance for our events. In the past, it has been mainly involved in coaching standards or certification. ACA did not develop standards or certify the individual paddler. They are in the process of developing a system similar to the BCU system where in essence there are two "tracks" - one for individual paddler proficiency and another separate track for coaching. BCU uses the star system to rate paddler proficiency and levels to rate coaching.

Dale Williams of Sea Kayak Georgia has been very involved in this and perhaps when some of our local paddlers head south to Georgia for fun in October, they may ask him for more information about where this stands in the ACA.

Where in the US are they looking to make ACA a requirement for guides?

Anyone have any more info/corrections/crankiness to add?


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Here's some online info and ways to find even more.

This link to the ACA contains a lot of relevant material, though it's not terribly well organized and definitely not complete.


The personal skills assessment is down the page, under

Coastal (Sea)/Kayak Touring Certification

* Skills Assessment Overview

There are also a lot of great, relevant discussions on the paddling.net general advice message board. At least one ACA higher-up hangs out there.

Unfortunately, paddling.net's own search function is not too swift. For example, "ACA" matches "vacation". This next advice is a tad technical, but most everybody here can handle it. Google will do a nice search like this...

[blockquote]ACA site:http://www.paddling.net/message[/blockquote]

Just copy that string into the Google search box. "ACA" is the thing you want to search for, and "site:http://www.paddling.net/message" says to search only that message board. That gets 244 hits.

You can add or substitute any terms you like for "ACA", for example...

[blockquote]ACA certification site:http://www.paddling.net/message[/blockquote]

which finds 39 messages.

Or, just click this link and it will set up the search for you



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>They are in the process of

>developing a system similar to the BCU system...

If I may be so bold, "They" is actually you. As a member of the ACA and as a member of what must be one of the bigger sea kayak clubs under the ACA umbrella, it seems to me that NSPN members are in a position to exert considerable influence on what the ACA does with regards to sea kayaks.

As you probably already know in a club like NSPN or the ACA, things get done when someone has enough interest to go ahead and become active in getting it done. If you think "they" should do it, don't hold your breath. If it is important enough, get active yourself.

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It would be practical to adopt and appropriately modify a mature curriculum rather than replicate one. Does the BCU recognize distinctions of "coach" versus "individual"? If not, then there's room for "coach" standards, curricula, etc. Is it likely that BCUNA would address the relevant input from the recent thread and elsewhere?

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Nick - you are so right on that!!!

What we need in NSPN is a volunteer willing to take an active interest in the ACA and what it is doing. Someone who could act as a liaison and represent NSPN's interest within the ACA.

Of course, we would need to figure out what NSPN's interests actually are first!

Anyone interested enough to take a stab at that?


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Regarding the possible requirement of ACA or other certification for guides, the proposed legislation is in Massachusetts. I haven't been following it closely of late, and don't know the particulars, like whether it is still a live bill. Apparently in addition to requiring certification of some kind, the law will demand that wet exits be taught as the first portion of any class, tour, etc that involves a guide and/or kayaks. Haven't pursued it much farther than that due to lack of time and sanity...


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Ceratinly on their websites they say that some things are under development. I'm sure they would welcome volunteers, and NSPN, in my opinion, has a vast amount of collective expertise that would be very welcome.

I do know that there is a three day course, and a three day certification for instructors. Rather than go the BCU route, I'm seriously thinking of going the ACA route on this one. I've been involved in teaching canoeing to boy scouts (merit badge involves rescues in addition to the usual strokes), and my only qualification is that I've canoed since I was 12 - they (Boy Scouts)have to take my word for it.

I believe that the paddler certification lags behind, and this is where some work needs to be done, but I'm not knowledgable enough to even know who to talk to.

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>Does the BCU recognize distinctions of "coach" versus "individual"?

Absolutely! The star assessments are individual achievement awards. The coaching levels are -- surprise -- coaching certs.

In fact, until recently -- and still only sketchily -- the ACA had no individual categories, only programs to train instructors. That alone is probably a big factor in driving people toward the BCU system and away from the ACA. It looks like the ACA has gotten the message, but is still "working on it".

In the BCU, the individual awards are carefully intertwined with the coaching levels. So, people generally enter via the individual awards and then kinda migrate over to coach training, but continuing to pursue individual stuff. It's a rather nice system, actually (IMHO, of course ;-)

There's a lot of material on all the BCU stuff at the North American BCU site, http://www.bcuna.com/ under "Literature" and "Coaches." There's even more at the mothership BCU site, http://www.bcu.org.uk/ though I've always found that site a bit hard to navigate. The whole star and coach level schmeer is summarized in this diagram...


So, if you are interested in the BCU, alone or in relation to the ACA, you'd do well to review that material (and the material at the ACA that I pointed to earlier) and then come back with questions. At that point, you'd probably be beyond my modest knowledge, but perhaps others could answer questions. Paddling.net message forums are a good place too, as a number of high-level BCU coaches hang out there. Other than that, ask your friendly, local neighborhood BCU coach -- they rarely break the skin when they bite. ;-)))


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Ok, found the bill. House bill 1414. If you go to www.mass.gov you can find it. Basically, the bill asks that instructors be certified by the ACA or similar organization, have first aid and CPR and that"actual wet exits" be taught. I don't have problem with the certification issue per se, as most commercial insurance programs essentially force that requirement anyway based on their fee structure for instructors at least.

The sticking point to me is the wet exit bit. The bill is ambiguous about definitions of "instructors" and whether a guide is considered an instructor and whether the wet exit applies to rentals, tours, or just classes.It also does not clarify whether all the staff on a tour for example must be instructors. Many outfitters will have a lead guide trained to a higher standard than the assistant guides, in part because it takes time and money to train staff to lead guide/instructor capabilites. In an ideal world, all tour guides would be ACA Advanced Open Water instructors,or BCU Coach 5 but I doubt we'll see that anytime soon. It is very expensive both money and time wise to train to these standards, and retention of staff is also tough, there just isn't enough stability or money in the business.

I think it is safe to say your typical renter or tour participant is going to be put off by being forced to do a wet exit each and every time they rent a boat or go on a tour, especially if it is a sit on top, or a non- skirt rental sit inside. When I teach, wet exits are done with anyone I have not seen wet exit before, but when I run a tour, the participants are not expected to actually demonstrate wet exiting the boat. If we did require that, I would expect that the number of participants on guided tours would drop sharply. So, then where do those folks go? Probably to buy a rec boat and have no guidance whatsoever... Hmmm, not sure if this is increases safety much.

my humble 2 cents...


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I am still (to my surprise) an ACA Open Water Instructor, so let me share some information.

The ACA already has delineated this Coastal Kayak Assesment Levels for sea kayaking, levels 1 to 5.

To attain the skills of an ACA level, you can take a variety of available ACA courses that prepare you to perform at a particular level as it's outlined in the documentation and all is available on the ACA web site. There will be an assesment.

ACA Level 3 - intermediate, for example, requires that you can roll effectively, so you can see that a large portion of sea kayakers who may consider themselves ''experienced" are by ACA definition still level 2 novices.

One of the reasons this ACA Program is gaining attention is the provision of insurance via the ACA that the BCU instructors need when teaching in the growing US market. To get people to move from BCU programs to ACA programs, they must have the same rigor and assessment barrier.

The BCU Star system is already a well understood set of criteria, with pretty consistent application by a small core of assessors, to identify the skill of a paddler. It strives to be consistent and objective. The BCU 4 and 5 Star is well understood throughout the greater sea kayaking world while remaining a mystery to isolated pockets of paddlers everywhere.

There are all kinds of people sitting in kayaks for all kinds of reasons. We all want to find others who treat the activity with the same common set of values. Those who have gone to get the BCU 4 / 5 Star, feel a certain attachment and respect for others who have also shared that common experience, and share a similar set of values toward their brand of sea kayaking. The mistake we often make in our own enthusiasm for the BCU, is trying to recruit the ''non believer'' and this is what offends people. I'm sure if the ACA program can take hold and be carried out in a similarly consistent manner as the BCU, it will also develop enthusiastic ''graduates''.

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