Mark in action

I’d like to share my experiences from recently completing the new 2-day British Canoeing (BC) assessment, White Water Kayak Leader (previously call 4 star white water kayak). The BC web site provides details, but the main aim is to be able to lead a group of four paddlers of BC 3 star standard on river graded 2/3. You also need to demonstrate personal paddling and rescue skills, and theory.

I did the training last year with Andy Turton ( and since we had a good time we booked him for the assessment and I’d certainly recommend them. It was a dry January week leading into our weekend in North Wales. You need two days on different moderate white water and they can’t both be the Dee, so when we heard the Tryweryn was not releasing it was almost cancelled. But the less paddled Vyrnwy, another dam release river, was. It was also a really good river for this grade and leading newer paddlers. Lots of interesting sections, small rapids, eddies to catch, blind corners, small waves to play on.

There were 4 people being assessed, including myself, 4 intermediate paddlers to be led and one assessor. The assessor rotated who was leading, the others had to mostly hold back and not assist. When I was up to lead the very first obstacle was a low bridge whose arches were full to varying degrees of tree branches. So first bit of leading was a portage and walk round a field, interesting start. Back on the water things picked up, with a number of rapids and tricky corners successfully behind us. Only main difficulty was trying out an eddy hop on a longer rapid section which ended with a swift change to “all down!!” as people started falling out of the small eddies.

Although my leading ended I managed to demonstrate my rescue skills, racing to a paddler stuck in a tree. I quickly pulled him and boat out, while being live baited. Unfortunately said paddler took another little swim on the next rapid and I decided to walk out with him. But our walk was not long as most of the rest called it a day due to the failing light levels. The second day was on the mighty Dee and covered all you would expect up to Mile End Mill. We got on above Horseshoe Falls and this section is really good for beginners.

I’ve paddled a number of years and much of the course felt familiar as I’ve picked up directly and indirectly good practices from experienced Regents paddlers. Every time I’m on the river I observe really good skills or ways of communicating, but also learn from mistakes which inevitably happen. River leading is not easy and it is a continual learning process. The dynamics of the river and multiple paddlers places a great responsibility on the leader.

Usually with Regents we peer paddle or have groups with a range of experience. This is a great help to me but can mean I rely on other for things I’m less good at. In the assessment you have to demonstrate good all round ability, which is challenging but focuses your attention to improve on those known weaknesses or less practiced areas.

Some things which the course made me think about are: planning, preparing and thinking ahead; visualising the river in terms of the ability of those you are leading; quickly adapting to situations; instilling confidence in those around you; creating a fun adventure for all the group.

I think the course is valuable for all intermediate paddlers who are looking to develop or more advanced paddlers who may or may not be already leading.

I started a River logbook, which is required for the course, and provide this to fellow members as an example. I think it’s really useful and wish I started it earlier in my paddling career.

Mark Don.

Mark's first aid kit

Mark Donaldson on the importance of first aid training for kayakers

In December I took a 2-day outdoor first aid course, the type recognised by British Canoeing as suitable for kayakers who will often be outdoors and not immediately accessible to emergency services. Since kayaking this is the second time I’ve taken such a course, and this time I booked:

I highly recommend React First, they were very professional and knowledgeable. The 2-day course was well structured and paced, cover a wide range of topics and focused on the essentials with a real hands-on practical approach. I came away feeling much more confident and felt the careful repetition and building up of exercises means key steps have stuck in my mind.

I think there is little point is giving you a blow-by-blow on what happened on the course. It’s my opinion that everyone, whether kayaking or not, would really benefit from such a course. But being a kayaker it really is essential. Beyond the course I recommend we all give time to continued learning and practice. There are many good books, on-line guides, and free videos.

There is no substitute for the training, but having the right first aid kit is also important. So along with this article I have attached a spreadsheet with a breakdown of what I currently (or intend to) carry. This includes some web links to example products with prices I’ve found on-line. I hope you find this helpful, and also welcome any advice others have on this topic. Click to view the spreadsheet.

In addition to first aid, I think it’s important we all ensure we have a copy of our emergency details about our person and ensure those who are your contacts also have a copy. I’ve attached a template I use myself (click to view). I keep a small print copy in my wallet, and in my dry wallet with my mobile on the river.

Other tips:

  • Lots of free useful videos at:
  • Register your mobile for 999 text service. When reception is too weak for calling 999 a text may get through and your phone will repeatedly try sending.
  • When planning for trips, make a note of the nearest NHS services: