Paddling Progression


At this level of your paddling, you need to focus on the the ground work, the basis of all your future paddling, regardless the type of craft and water you intend to paddle: basic strokes, key safety and lots and lots of practice as part of a group with more advanced paddlers who can watch out for you in the river and help you improve while having a good time on the water.

You’ll be in this stage, likely, for six months to a year.  During that time you will be paddling on flat water.  By the end of this stage, you will be able to paddle confidently and efficiently different types for crafts using single and double-bladed paddles.

Please find below a brief overview of the courses, sessions and trips that you can take part on.  The different activities are presented in an order set to enhance skill development.

I.1 – Paddle Start (Come & Try It)
One day taster courses aimed at new paddlers, the best way to get started at the club.  Book yourself a place, and come along to see what it’s all about.  No previous experience or kit is needed.  We’ll take you on the river with a small group and you’ll have the chance of paddle a kayak, canoe or SUP in a safe, friendly environment and see how you find it.  If you like it, the next step is doing your ‘Paddle discover’, to get some more practice while enjoying your time on the river.

I.2 – British Canoeing Paddle Discover Award
This is an introductory course.  Over a weekend you will learn to paddle a craft of your choice – kayak, canoe or SUP.  The aim is to provide you with the basic strokes you need to move your boat in the desired direction.  You will also learn basic safety skills, so that you can exit your craft safely should you capsize.  Once you’ve done your this, you can come and take part on the Sunday sessions.

I.3 – NCKC: Sunday Sessions
Aimed at one-star and above, these sessions give people with basic paddling skills a bit more practice on the flat water: a gentle paddle on the river Nene.  There is a Duty Instructor to assist those lacking experience in joining the trip and a Duty Officer ready to help get you issued with kit.  This is the perfect place to put into practice what you have learnt during your ‘Paddle Discover’, making sure that you can use all your strokes.  It is a nice, safe environment to start experiencing the river.   Once you are more confident and you think you can paddle over longer distances, you can start taking part in flat water trips – but make sure that your safety skills are polished.

I.4 – NCKC: Pool Sessions
Pools sessions are great to practice paddle strokes and ‘wet skills’ like self and peer rescues. With lots of practice in the pool, you will not find being up-side-down intimidating. It is vital that you know how to exit your boat in a safe, controlled way, rescue yourself, swim with your kit to shore, and rescue other paddlers and their kit.  All these skills will prepare you for later on the river.  Once you are happy that you can carry out these manoeuvres, you can start taking part in day flat water trips.

I.5 – NCKC: Flat Water Trips – Day Trips
Paddling a river present always different challenges and it is really important that you start experiencing different locations, so you can further perfect your technique and you are able to apply what you have learned on the Nene in other locations and weather conditions.  Start small and work your way up; talk to the trip leader, they will be able to tell you whether the trip is suitable for you; they will also give you useful advice regarding the equipment you need for that particular trip.

I.6 – British Canoeing Paddle Explore Award
After you have taken part in some trips and are confident paddling over distances using the techniques learnt in your ‘Paddle Discover’, it is a good idea to get some more training.  The ‘Explore’ is a big step.  The aim of the qualification is to give a wider range of skills and improve your technique so that you can paddle competently and efficiently. This award can be single blade paddle (Canadian canoe), double-bladed paddle (kayak) or standup paddleboard (SUP).  At the end of the course, you will be able to paddle in a controlled and efficient way as well as assist with basic rescues should you or your fellow paddles capsize. The techniques you will learn will be the foundation of all your future development and will help you to start paddling in more challenging environments: e.g. sea and white water.  This is a longer course (normally two weekends) and the level of proficiency required is that of a Paddle sport leader.  At the end of the course, there will be an assessment trip.  The next step: learn some more safety techniques and get plenty of practice, so you can start taking part in longer trips (overnighters) and get your first experience in moving water (grade 2).

 I.7 – British Canoeing: Foundation Safety and Rescue Training
The FSRT course will cover the basic aspects of river (both bank and water) safety.  Please notice that this is NOT a white water course; it deals instead with hazards that you may well encounter while paddling flat water like the Nene.  It is not craft specific, it targets kayaks, canoes and SUPs.  You will learn more advanced rescue skills, like the use of throw lines that are necessary if you intend to paddle in a variety of settings.  Remember: you are responsible for your own safety on the river and that of those who paddle with you — you need to know how to stay safe and how to help out if the need arises. For that reason the FSRT is recommended for EVERYONE who paddles – It’s also a lot of fun!

 I.8 – NCKC: Tuesday Sessions
Aimed at competent paddlers, (Paddle Explore and above) these sessions are the perfect opportunity to exercise what you have learnt in your skills courses.  It is a good idea to arrange two meet other paddlers, as there is NO Duty Instructor (It is a requirement that paddlers are in a group of 3 or more on the water). A calm spot on the river could be a good place to practice basic manoeuvres, so you have smooth and effective strokes ready for longer trips.  Enjoy your time on the river but use the sessions purposefully: make sure you keep your skills sharp in both kayaks and canoes.  You can have access to club equipment if you need to.

I.9 – NCKC: Flat Water Trips – Overnighters
Overnight flat water trips are very rewarding; a great occasion to discover new places, get to know better the people you paddle with and enjoy yourself.  The club runs flat water trips suitable for both kayaks and canoes; some are in flat water, some in gently moving water.  Get in touch with the trip leader, check that the trip is right for you, ask for their advice, make sure you have all the gear you need — if you need to borrow club’s equipment for the trip, get in touch with the equipment officer ( and book it.  Taking part in longer trips is very important to develop as a paddler, they will expose you to new settings that you will not encounter at the centre — this will greatly enhance your paddling skills.


At this stage, you are a confident flat water paddler: you master a variety of strokes that enables you to manoeuvre your boat efficiently and under control in flat and sheltered water (grade 1).  The next step up, is learning to paddle in moderate water (grades 2-3).  In order to do so, you’re going to need to master a new set of skills that builds up on the skills that you have acquired when you learnt to paddle in flat water.

Please find below a brief overview of the courses, sessions and trips that you can take part on.  The different activities are presented in an order set to enhance skill development.

 II.1 – NCKC: White Water Fridays – Beginners
User Card Training  Paddling on white water is a big step up.  To do this successfully you need to master all the skills you learnt on flat water and develop new ones.  This can be intimidating… and involve quite a bit of swimming.  The best way of getting used to it is in a controlled environment.  The club runs sessions four or five times a year: having exclusive use of the white water course and access to coaching will help you improve.  Targeted at ‘Paddle Explore’ and above, you can start your white water training — once you got your user card, you can just come and paddle unsupervised.  Passing the centre assessment involves being able to paddle safely on the course, being able to: 1) stay up all the way, 2) break in, 3) break out, and 4) understand the course etiquette.  This can take quite a bit of effort and practice.  But don’t worry, you will have access to coaching in small groups, so you become more proficient and can start tackling the basic aspects for the course on your own.

II.2 – NCKC: Pool sessions
Pools sessions are great to keep your self- and peer-rescue skills up to standard.  With lots of practice in the pool, you will not find being up-side-down intimidating. It is vital that you know how to exit your kayak in a safe, controlled way, rescue yourself, swim with you kit to shore, and rescue other paddlers and their kit.  You can also learn to roll, so you don’t have to exit your kayak in dangerous water.  All these skills will be later needed in the river.  Rolling is also a requirement for your ‘British Canoeing White Water Kayak Award’.

II.3 – NCKC: White Water Safety and Rescue  
Paddling white water rivers safely requires that you acquire new safety and rescue skills and, more importantly, that you can use them if the situation arises.  The White Water Safety and Rescue course builds up on what you learn on your FSRT and brings about new rescue skills which are specific to white water.  It is a day course and it is a requirement to take part on club’s white water trips.