Paddler Grading System

Your responsibility

Sea kayaking is by its nature dangerous. The sea does not suffer complacency kindly. Paddlers should aim to minimise their own risk, and the risk they expose others to.

Paddlers should be aware that paddling on the ocean is generally more physically demanding than on sheltered waters, and that a reasonable fitness level may be required for even moderate distances. The formal Paddler Grade qualification that you have achieved at a point in time does not necessarily mean that you are able to paddle at that level today. Being unfit, or out of practice, may reduce your ability to safely take part in a proposed trip. You must be candid with the trip leader when discussing your participation in a trip. If you have any doubts about your fitness or ability to paddle at the expected level, you must fully disclose all of your concerns. If asked, you must be ready and willing to demonstrate your skills.


The Paddler Grading system qualifications include rescue skills. All paddlers on a Club trip are encouraged and expected to contribute to the safety and successful completion of the trip, at least to the level of their qualifications and ability.

Trip design and leadership

Club trips are planned and led by trip leaders who are AC qualified Sea Leaders, Guides or Instructors, in consultation with the Club's Trips Convenor. The level of the trip leader's formal qualification determines the required minimum Grade of paddlers in the group being led on a particular paddle. Therefore, trips are planned for a particular minimum Grade of paddler and a minimum qualification of the trip leader. Whether a trip is carried out as planned or not, will depend on conditions on the day. Experience shows that roughly a third of Club trips are carried out as planned – the rest are altered or even cancelled as dictated by weather and/or the composition of the group on the day of the trip.

The trip leader has the right to refuse any paddler who does not meet the required standard or does not have the required standard of equipment for the trip.

Paddler Grading



Grade 1 Able to swim 50 meters fully clothed for paddling, able to wet exit. (1)

Grade 2

1. able to perform an assisted rescue (as rescuer and rescuee);
2. able to paddle at 5km/h (min average speed) for 90 minutes;
3. able to perform a basic low brace support strokes;
4. able to effectively turn the kayak;
5. able to tow another kayaker (as tower and towee);
6. understand the (BOM) marine weather forecasts;
7. presents kayak to Club Grade 2 standards (refer Club Policy);

has satisfactorily completed a minimum of 2 trips of 15km or longer (2)

Grade 3

AC Sea Skills Award(3)

Grade 4

AC Advanced Sea Skills Award (3)

(1) Trip leader to confirm skills prior to trip commencing. Paddler self- assessment & disclosure is subject to trip leader consideration.
(2) Trips can be witnessed by an instructor, guide, sea leader or another club member.
(3) Or another award, recognised by AC as an equal qualification.



Essential at all levels:

  • well maintained sea kayak with at least 2 bulkheads or a fitted sea-sock and secondary (inflatable or fixed) buoyancy,
  • fitted deck lines, paddle and paddle leash, spray skirt,
  • sponge, bailer and pump system,
  • Australian or NZ Standards approved Personal Flotation Device (PFD) with a suitable whistle attached by a lanyard,
  • cag or paddle jacket, warm clothing, sun-protective clothing, hat — all accessible from the cockpit,
  • sunscreen, matches, food and at least two litres of water — all accessible from the cockpit,
  • footwear suitable for paddling, swimming and walking on rocks,
  • dry containers,
  • current weather forecast

Essential at paddler Grade 2 and above, recommended at all levels:

  • tow rope — Club standard length of 15 metres with suitable bag and fittings for quick deployment

Essential at paddler Grade 3 and above, recommended at all levels:

  • hands-free bailing pump system (i.e. electric or foot pump),
  • spare paddle,
  • personal first aid kit, garbage bags and/or 'space blanket',
  • compass and charts.

Recommended at all levels:

  • additional topographic maps for that unexpected walk out,
  • flares and other signals to NSW Waterways specifications,
  • instantly accessible knife,
  • kayak repair kit — at least a roll of duct tape,
  • relevant personal items e.g. medication,
  • further warm clothing, waterproof clothing, footwear, food, water and a day pack, secured in dry storage in the kayak,
  • emergency shelter and survival equipment,
  • helmet for surf landings