Planning & Leading

Studying the Marine Chart 
Pre-trip planning pays off by identifying issues that may become a nuisance, challenging or even dangerous later on. Having a meeting days or weeks before going on longer trips is extremely helpful for everything from meal planning to navigation, leadership and rescue roles. A pre-trip meeting every day before heading out on the water is highly recommended too, even if you're paddling with a familiar group. If you are a leader or guide it is a Transport Canada requirement.





Having a leader can be very important to the success of a trip. Leaders needn't be constant or making every decision, in fact the leader can change from day to day or situation to situation. Leaders can have specific roles, such as "on the water" leader, camping leader, first aid leader, etc. Know the strengths of your group's individuals before starting your trip and share responsibilities.

Trip leaders, or someone in the group should carry a "leader's bag". Here's a list of suggestions but of course it can be modified to the needs of your group or trip:

  • Spare clothing
  • Extra food and water
  • First Aid kit
  • Emergency shelter (a tarp and possibly a light sleeping bag)
  • Communication device (flares, cell phone, beacon, satellite phone, etc)
  • Fire starter, knife, repair kit
  • River Rescue Kit ("wrap kit") if travelling on rivers

Leadership is a complex skill to learn and can take many years of effort. Leadership ability is ideally based on the following aspects: 

  • good communication skills
  • ability to stay in touch with or sense of how each individual in your group is doing
  • confidence in your own ability
  • preparation in advance of the trip
  • your skills are second nature
  • teamwork and ability to connect with your group
  • experience and 'wisdom'

A leader that can do all of these at a high level is rare, so some of these skills can be a life long pursuit for even the most experienced leaders!

Back to Top...


Guided Excursion Guidelines (Volunteer or Commercial)

The "Guided Excursion" guidelines apply to canoe instructors and leaders, whether they are voluntary or paid, including club, school, church, scout leaders, etc. Using a checklist, the guidelines lay out specific requirements for:

  • Pre-Trip Meetings
  • Emergency Contacts & Float Plan
  • Hypothermia Prevention
  • Wearing Helmets and PFDs or Lifejackets
  • First Aid Kit

To be clear, these safety requirements now apply to all RCABC instructors and Club Leaders of RCABC member clubs. In order for the courses or trips to be sanctioned by RCABC these requirements must be met.

TC Guided Excursion Compliance Guide TP15204E

If you are in a canoeing leadership role, RCABC has long advocated following the principles reflected in these guidelines. The difference now (as of 2010) is that leaders are now considered Non-Pleasure Craft and regulations in the Canada Shipping Act of 2001 now apply to us and are enforceable. As you read the Compliance Guide, realize that:

  • the guidelines apply only to the lead canoe (or leaders).
  • the lead canoe(s) are considered NON-Pleasure Craft and the rest of the group are considered Pleasure Craft.
  • these guidelines are not exactly the law; they are suggestion or interpretations of the Canada Shipping Act. If you don't take them literally you must meet the intention of the law in the Canada Shipping Act of 2001.
  • the Pleasure Craft / Non-Pleasure Craft designation applies to the role of the paddler/leader, and is not boat specific. In other words whatever canoe you are using that day to lead or guide in is considered a Non-Pleasure Craft. The same canoe could be used the next day by your students and it would then be considered a Pleasure Craft.

Transport Canada is working on a document of typical scenarios to help interpret the guidelines and apply them to your situation.

Back to Top...



A trip planning meeting well before your departure date can iron out many potential problems. There are many things to discuss:

  • Know your location, the weather, hazards, water temperature, campfire and wildlife concerns.
  • What is the skill level of your group?
  • Have maps, navigation and communication prepared.
  • Does your group have similar objectives or do some people have differing goals?
  • Prepare to lessen your environmental impact and reduce wildlife risks.
  • Will there be a leader or leaders for various roles (first aid leader, camp leader, navigation leader, etc)
  • and many more.....

Being aware of people's skills and knowledge within your group, and their strengths and weaknesses, is good preparation in case problems do occur. Here a few examples:

First Aid:

    • If someone develops a medical condition who has the training to do first aid?
    • Do you have first aid equipment and training within the group?
    • Can you keep an injured or sick person comfortable and warm if the weather is bad and it will take hours or days for help to arrive?

Emergency Planning:

    • What are the closest access or exit points on your route?
    • What are the emergency services available in the area?
    • Does anyone know where you are and when you will return?


    • Do some of your group want to start early and some want to sleep in?
    • Will someone want to stop and fish, photograph or birdwatch, while others will want to just keep moving?
    • On a river will you want to try some challenging rapids or portage around them?

 Back to Top...



Before any trip, an on shore meeting (pre-trip meeting) is highly recommended. This is good practice whether you are going on a whitewater day trip with your favourite paddling buddies or on day 10 of a multiday trip. Transport Canada now requires guides or leaders to conduct a pretrip meeting. Briefly cover these topics or if there are any changes since the last time you paddled.

  • Group and Personal Objectives
  • Hazards
  • Capsize and Rescue
  • Safety Gear and Canoe Check
  • Group Structure, Signals and Communication

Back to Top...


Back to top