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June 2024 2-Day Canoe School for Naturalist and Trip Leaders

This workshop is designed for naturalists who take groups on trips or who are expected to conduct canoe instruction. Time will be spent 1/3 in the classroom and 2/3 on the water. The workshop focus is on skills, hazard and river feature identification, teaching to different learning styles, and risk management.

What’s included:

  • Two days of instruction with one day on flat water (Lake environment and on the river)
  • Experience in tandem canoes
  • Classroom and on-water hands-on training
  • Improved efficiency for skills on the water
  • Improved leadership skills
  • Increase safety, lower stress, have fun and pay knowledge forward based on ACA instructional foundations.
  • You will receive an Iowa DNR certificate of completion.
  • FUN!


Lodging is on your own but here are two options in the area:  

AmericInn by Wyndham

Super 8 by Wyndham

Another option is to tent, RV or cabin camp at Briggs Woods Park. More details and registration links can be found at Hamliton County Parks


The workshop will be held at Briggs Woods Park in Webster City, IA in the Red Barn Shelter. 

Briggs Woods Park

All sessions will be taught in the Red Barn Shelter:

Tentative Agenda (Subject to Change):

Day One

Meet at Shelter #3 – Red Barn

10 a.m. Welcome, course goals & overview, logistics, introductions review & sign waivers

10:30. Risk management

When you take a group out, they consider you the expert

1) Duty of Care, Foreseeability, Assumption of Risk.

2) Risk management program: Adequate supervision, ratios, warning, safe learning environment (classroom and water), evaluating abilities and disabilities, proper first aid and emergency procedures & training

3) Recommended guide/participant or instructor/student ratios; managing larger events

4) Equipment (safety/rescue gear, first-aid kit, clothing, etc)

5) Smart Start Presentation

BREAK: Move outside if not outside already

11:30a.m. Parts & types of paddles and canoes.

1) Paddles

2) Boats: Skinny versus wide, long versus short, rocker.

3) Carrying a canoe

11:45 a.m. Concepts of Paddling

Basic elements of an elegant, efficient, functional canoestroke. Use paddles!

1) Blade: Most power square, C-P-R, move the boat, not the paddle!

2) Body: Torso rotation, posture, “Paddlers Box,” ways to keep weight low.

3) Boat: Trim, leaning the boat into turns, pivot point

4) Other concepts

Noon Lunch-30 min

12:30 p.m. Head for lakeshore.

1 p.m. Paddle warm-ups/, life jackets & fit/, launching & landing (2 styles)

1:15 p.m. On-water Foundation Strokes, Maneuvers and Simple Rescue

1) Basic strokes and maneuvers

2) Rescues & emptying

3:00 p.m. BREAK

3:15 p.m. Teaching concepts – the very, very short version on shore.

1) Recognizing types of learners: Watchers, Feelers, Thinkers, Doers.

2) What type of learner are you?

3) Describe, Demonstrate, Do!

4) Thinking about the students: Safety, comfort zones, their ability to see & hear you, etc.

3:45 p.m. Flatwater maneuvers and additional strokes   


5:00 p.m. Vehicle transport of canoes. Knots, Day 1 is complete!

Day Two:

Begin at Red Barn Shelter. Please arrive in clothing you plan to bring to the river with a lunch packed and 2 liters of water to drink. Plan to swim, even if it is cold. If you do not have a dry bag for extra clothing, lunch, and snacks, the instructors will have sufficient space.

8 a.m. Understanding river features, classifications, hazards (river in a box and Rope River)

1) What they can do to you

2) What they can do for you

8:30 a.m. Communication: River signals and on-river group management

8:45 a.m. Cold water/weather considerations & gear

9 a.m. The rescue sequence (RETHRoG)

9:15 a.m. Leave for launch

9:30 a.m. Basic river strokes & maneuvers.

11 a.m. Guided discovery – a trip down the river

1) Group organization/cohesion/roles talk

2) Reading water/river running

3) River rescues: Wading, towing, swimming, and rope rescues in moving water

Noon Lunch

2:30 p.m. Skills demonstrations exam

3:30 p.m. Evaluations and certificates

Suggested packing list: 

  • Rain gear
  • Brimmed hat for sun
  • Preferred sunscreen and insect repellent
  • A small cooler with a lunch to bring during instruction days; you’ll be on your own for breakfast and dinner – there are restaurants in Webster City if you prefer, or bring your own food.
  • At least 2 liters of drinking water per instruction day.
  • Water shoes or old tennis shoes that can get wet (Flip-flops or bare feet are not allowed)
  • Swimming suit and/or clothing that can get wet
  • If you have a preferred life jacket (Type III paddlers’ life jacket), bring it; otherwise a life jacket will be provided.
  • Sleeping bag & personal effects if staying in a cabin; otherwise bring your own tent and camping gear
  • Sunglasses do not float unless you use "floaties," "chums" or "croakies."

The following will be provided:

  • All boats, paddles and lifejackets
  • Student folders with pens and note cards
  • Extra drybags
  • Extra sunscreen if needed
  • First aid kits

Class Expectations:

#1 - to have fun…and we will!!!!!

#2 - learn how to be more efficient with paddling and boat control

#3 - learn how to read a river and judge the conditions

#4 - learn how to manage a group. This will include risk management, how to conduct pre-launch briefings, how to perform rescues, etc. 

#5 - you WILL get wet, especially during boat-over-boat rescues and rope throwing in the river. You can opt out of anything, but it is recommended that you try it all. We are there, you are safe. We would never put you in a dangerous position. Again, you will have a blast and learn so much!!!!!

#6- It can be physically demanding at times, so let us know if you have any concerns as far as previous injuries or medical conditions you want us to know about.

Before Class:

Please review the following resources and come ready to discuss. 

Waiver and Release of Liability

Essentials of River Canoeing (ACA)

Water Trail Maps

Low Head Dams (The Drowning Machine)

Smart Start for Paddlers