Sea kayaking

For the purposes of this document the term ‘sea kayaking’ as an adventure activity covers all activities conducted in a sea kayak or surf kayak craft on open waters.

It does not include canoeing sports. Separate guidelines have been developed for Canoeing. Sea kayaking excursions may form part of a program of activities such as half- or single-day sessions, or may incorporate a multi-day journey.


Open waters include:

  • Coastal offshore - all waters greater than two nautical miles from the coast. Heading offshore is a serious undertaking and operators must ensure they are properly prepared. Additional safety equipment ensures that operators have a means of raising the alarm in the event of an emergency. This equipment will provide an increased level of safety for all vessels heading offshore.
  • Coastal inshore - all waters along the Victorian coast within two nautical miles.

Inland waters include:

  • Enclosed waters - bays, inlets, estuaries and waterways that open to the sea.
  • Inland waters - rivers, lakes and waterways that do not open to the sea.

Locations are as described by Marine Safety Victoria


Water environment

Water environments are subject to a wide range of environmental conditions. Kayaking activities may be affected by conditions such as size and turbidity of the body of water, the strength of tides and currents, the presence and power of waves, and the temperature of the water.

Water environments are extremely variable by nature. Conditions need to be planned for and monitored regularly in the lead up to, and during the activity.

When preparing for canoeing, staff should consider ways to minimise the environmental impact of the activity.


Due to the unique nature of each location, a specific assessment of suitability should be made prior to the trip.

Your choice of location should be based upon the recent and first hand knowledge of at least one member of the planning and supervising staff. Where this is impractical, planning and supervising staff should be thoroughly familiar with the general characteristics and conditions found in similar locations, and have consulted with people who can supply recent and first-hand knowledge of the locations being considered.

When assessing the suitability of a location, consider:

  • the potential to support your educational objectives
  • the level of access to the resources, services and facilities that you need or would like to use. These might include campsites, water, walking trails, toilets, shelter from extreme weather, or interpretive information
  • the level of access to communications and external assistance, in the event of an emergency, or extreme weather conditions. The more effectively remote your location is, then the more self-contained and self–reliant your group must be
  • the potential exposure to environmental hazards and difficulties
  • the activity ability and fitness of students.

Contact with relevant authorities should be made in order to access up-to-date management information and to determine any access and permit requirements.

These authorities may include:

Groups need to be aware that extreme weather conditions may develop prior to or during the proposed trip. Staff should be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate the activity at any time.


Your communication strategy should enable you to receive weather forecasts and warnings, communicate with the school, and engage support in the case of an incident or emergency.

  • Choose communication equipment based on current communication technology.
  • Develop a communication strategy for the group during the program and to enable communication with outside parties including the school and emergency services.
  • Be aware of the limitations of your communication strategy.

Check the weather forecast for the location in the days leading up to the program and on the day the program commences. If the program extends overnight, monitor and assess the weather throughout and based on that information access daily weather forecasts and warnings.

Weather conditions can change rapidly. Monitor and assess the weather throughout the activity and be prepared to cancel, modify or relocate at anytime.

Weather warning telephone services:

  • Coastal, Land Weather and Flood Warnings: 1300 659 217
  • Full State Telephone Weather Service: 1900 955 363 (call charge applies)
  • Coastal Waters Telephone Service: 1900 969 930 (call charge applies)

These telephone numbers may be useful to have available on your program.

Web links:


The transportation of groups to and from activity locations must be carefully considered.

Vehicles used to transport students must comply with VicRoads registration requirements:

  • Drivers must comply with all licensing requirements.
  • Equipment carried inside vehicles must be securely stowed.
  • Students must be supervised by a minimum of one adult, in addition to the bus driver, during travel.

Drivers of vehicles with up to and including 12 seats (including the driver) require a current drivers license.

Drivers of vehicles with 13 or more seats (including the driver) require a current license appropriate for the vehicle and must:

In circumstances where a teacher or staff member is to drive a vehicle transporting students, the program should allow for them to have adequate rest prior to driving consistent with the national driving hours regulations.

Hazardous areas

Buses with a capacity greater than 12 seats entering prescribed hazardous areas during the declared snow season must have an annual hazardous areas inspection and a current certificate. The driver must also hold a current Hazardous Areas Authority. The driver must also carry the required equipment for hazardous areas. Information about Victorian Hazardous Areas requirements can be obtained from VicRoads, including information specific to bus travel in snow fields​.


Student skills

Sea kayaking activities should begin with an assessment of students’ current knowledge, skills and experience in sea kayaking, swimming and water environments

The instructor should ascertain the previous experience of each student.

Instructional staff must brief students on:

  • equipment, clothing and footwear that is suitable for the activity and location
  • safety measures appropriate to control risks associated with the activity and the environment
  • minimal environmental impact techniques relevant to the activity and location
  • historical and cultural considerations relevant to the activity and location
  • activity scope and boundaries
  • communication and communication signals
  • relevant terminology.

A basic introductory briefing should also include:

  • equipment use
  • the response of students in the event of a capsize or accidental submersion
  • principles of self and assisted recoveries
  • float and swimming methods
  • explanation of relevant paddling terminology

Students should also undertake navigation training suitable for the location and activity.

In addition, when paddling on enclosed, coastal and offshore waters, students should be instructed on:

  • basic coastal water behaviour and hydrology
  • paddling in wind and waves
  • how to enter, exit and sit in craft securely and safely
  • specific boat based risks
  • specific swimming based risks and how to manage these
  • capsize procedure
  • deep water re-entering and assisting others to re-enter craft
  • appropriate assisted and self rescue techniques and principles
  • marine fauna interactions and dangers.

To paddle more complex coastal waters, students should be able to:

  • control their craft effectively
  • identify coastal water features and conditions
  • land and launch from beaches with waves
  • understand and follow group management and communication practices
  • perform capsize and re entry drills
  • identify coastal hazards to avoid.

In some cases, parts of briefings and instruction may occur on or next two the water. Supervising staff must be able to provide close instruction, supervision and seek acknowledgement of understanding.

Sea kayaks can be heavy and awkward to carry. Students must be shown safe methods to get paddle craft on or off waterways and boat landings. Students must be instructed on safe lifting techniques for carrying and lifting canoes if required to do so. For assistance in the determination of appropriate lifting techniques, load sizes and weights, please see WorkSafe’s Manual Handling Topic.

Preparation should also include supporting the mental health and well-being of students.This is as important as physical preparation.

For more information, see: Excursion Support Student Preparation Section.


Equipment must be in a safe condition and suitable for the activity.

First aid kits

First aid kits appropriate to the location and level of training must be carried.


Structural strength needs to be sufficient to withstand the intended use and to minimise the likelihood of entrapment.

Cockpits must be clear of attachments and smooth on the edges to enable the student to exit quickly.

Hand loops at stern and bow need to be permanent and of sufficient strength to be used in rescues and boat retrievals. Painters are not recommended due to the danger of rope entrapment, although deck-lines on sea kayaks are required.

All craft must contain sufficient positive buoyancy to prevent sinking if capsized. Sea kayaks need buoyancy fitted to bulkheads fore and aft. Single sea kayaks must maintain suitable hatches and bulkheads fore and aft installed and maintained correctly with integrated positive buoyancy. Double sea kayaks must have suitable hatches and bulkheads both fore and aft with a separate central hatch with integrated positive buoyancy.

Craft should be matched to the activity undertaken.

Repair methods and equipment will vary according to the construction materials of the craft. Repair tape can be carried and used for temporary repairs, as long as the structural integrity of the craft is maintained. Arrange for temporary repairs to be replaced with more permanent repairs as soon as possible.


Helmets specifically designed for water activities must be worn when participating in a sea kayaking activity on moving water or where the activity involves entry or exit through the surf zone. Otherwise, helmets may be provided after consideration of:

  • participants’ kayaking experience and skill
  • the risk of participants sustaining a head injury due to the nature of the activities being undertaken during the session.


Paddles must:

  • be buoyant
  • be of appropriate construction for the activity.

Paddles should:

  • be the correct length for the paddler and type of paddling activity to avoid injury.
  • have suitable blade feather angles.

A spare paddle should be carried on all sea kayak trips by staff and/or guide boats.

Life jacket laws

The wearing of a securely fitted Australian certified life jacket is required under Victorian marine safety law on all paddle craft that are underway on all Victorian waters. Type 2 - Level 50 lifejackets are considered the most appropriate for Sea Kayaking activities. See Life jacket laws

Rescue equipment

Rescue equipment that is suitable for the location or trip and category of water conditions must be in good condition and readily accessible. Staff must be proficient in its use.

Spray decks

Spray decks must be fitted with release tapes or toggles. Students must only use spray decks after direct tuition, practice and close supervision of their capacity to exit the craft.


Clothing is the individual’s primary protection against extreme and variable weather conditions. Clothing lists need to be appropriate for the activity, the environment and the season.

Participants must dress in a manner that will not hinder flotation. For example, heavy boots or bulky clothing must not be worn, nor a waterproof jacket over the top of a personal flotation device.

Participants must wear footwear suitable both for in the craft and for use in the event of a capsize or a walkout.

Glasses should be secured in some way and no loose jewellery worn. Wearing rings is not advised unless they are taped. A complete change of clothing should be available at the location and carried on overnight touring trips in waterproof containers.

To protect against sunburn wear a hat, and use broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed parts of the body, applied according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.


Staff and students must be easily identifiable.

Staff must determine the most suitable system/s of identification, based on the assessment of the environment, students’ skills, the type of activities to be undertaken and the age and number of students.



Staff members are those adults who provide the supervisory, instructional and educational elements of the program. All staff members must be approved by the principal.

All staff members must comply with current Departmental police check requirements or the Working with Children Check.

A teacher registered with the Victorian Institute of Teaching and either employed by the Department or the school council must be present and have overall responsibility for the activity.

Where not directly responsible for the instruction of the activity or assisting the instructor, the teacher present must understand the activity and the environment in which it will be conducted. This teacher must confer with the designated instructor about the supervisory role and establish areas of responsibility. If the teacher is not the designated instructor he/she is to act on the advice of the designated instructor on technical safety issues.

Any staff member with a known medical condition that might compromise the group’s risk management plan should make accompanying staff aware of this condition. Issues of confidentiality and privacy will apply to any such disclosure.

Experience and qualifications

Staff involved in the planning and conduct of the activity should have sufficient knowledge and experience of the activity and the activity environment to operate in all foreseeable conditions.

Sea kayak guide/instructors

The designated sea kayak instructor/s must have one of the following:

  • an Australian Canoeing Sea Instructor or Sea Guide or Enclosed Sea Guide qualification appropriate for the program, or documented equivalent qualification, or equivalent National Training Package units of competency appropriate for the level of activity being undertaken
  • equivalent documented training and experience from another training provider or education institution

Documentation of staff qualifications and experience (doc - 151kb) can be used to document staff qualifications and relevant experience and training in lieu of the listed qualifications (doc - 168kb)

Note: It is considered best practice that the designated instructor has taken a familiarisation trip or has conferred with others who have recent experience on the proposed trip and know the location well.

Equivalent training and/or experience for sea kayaking includes experience and knowledge of:

  • sea kayak instruction
  • rescue techniques
  • location of other possible boat traffic, particularly shipping lanes
  • coastal navigation techniques including using coastal charts and marine navigation markers
  • use of tide charts and knowledge of local tidal conditions
  • boating regulations
  • local surf zones, rips and currents including surf types and patterns if surf is likely to be encountered
  • marine weather patterns and prevailing local weather
  • the use and types of emergency communication and procedures.

Sea kayaking guides must have their own rescue equipment, suitable for the location and activity. For each guide, as a minimum this must include:

  • tow system, rescue knife, paddle float, whistle, bilge pump, flares, webbing stirrup, GPS, VHF Radio.

Assistant sea kayak staff

In some instances, it may be appropriate to employ assistant paddling staff instead of qualified instructors/guides as part of the ratio for aquatic activities. An assistant staff leader may hold a qualification such as a Certificate III in Outdoor Recreation with paddling units or have equivalent paddling training and experience. Employing an assistant in the ratio of leaders to participants should only be done after careful consideration of the nature of the paddle activity to be undertaken, the experience of the staff and group, the location and body of water, the paddling conditions and after satisfying any risk management requirements.

The designated assistant to the instructor must:

  • have experience in the activity at the level being offered to students
  • be able to assume a supervisory role during the activity
  • have the ability to participate competently in emergency response procedures
  • have conferred with the instructor on the safety requirements of this role

    Where an external contractor is chosen to run all or part of this activity, see: Roles and responsibilities, External Providers.


Supervision is the critical factor in managing risk in the outdoors.

A minimum of two staff members must be present for each activity, one with responsibility for activity instruction and the other able to assist the instructor.

The following table shows the minimum staff-to-student ratios that must be used for sea kayaking.

(Note: students not directly involved in sea kayaking, must be supervised separately with a minimum staff-to-student ratio of 1 to 10.)

Staff numbers
Student numbers
Inland waters




Up to 12



Open waters




Up to 8



* Minimum two qualified instructors. Additional staff must have experience in the activity.

It may be necessary to increase the number of staff allocated based on:

  • age, maturity and gender of students
  • ability and experience of students
  • individual needs
  • dynamics of the student group
  • experience, qualifications and skills of staff
  • location conditions.

Reasons for increasing staff allocations must be documented.

The teacher in charge is responsible for the supervision strategy, which must be endorsed by the principal as part of the excursion approval process. Staff members will supervise students according to that strategy.

Students not directly participating in the activity must be separately supervised in line with school policy Staffing and Supervision.

Sea kayak activities conducted on open waters pose a significant risk to students due to various factors such as:

  • the potential difficulty in reaching the safety of the shoreline
  • the potential for the group to spread out
  • difficulties in calling for help while on water.

To enable emergency communication, a minimum of a PLB appropriately secured and accessible or registered EPIRB must be carried by a leader in the group. Mobile phones, satellite phones, radios and satellite messengers are not sufficient on their own as these can be harder to operate in wind and waves while paddling, have less transmission strength and intermittent reception, be less robust and waterproof, and not access a dedicated emergency satellite network. For coastal sea kayaking greater than two nautical miles from the shore, a registered EPIRB and additional safety equipment is required by the Maritime Safety Act. Refer to the Victorian Boating Safety Handbook 2015.

Sea and surf kayak activities of this nature merit a thorough emergency response plan, which gives consideration to:

  • educational merits of the activity
  • size, age and previous activity experience of the group
  • skills and experience of the supervising staff
  • prevailing and forecast weather conditions
  • availability of rescue vessels
  • nature of the location.
Informed consent

The school must receive informed consent from parents or guardians that their child may participate in adventure activities.

Informed consent should be based on an understanding of:

  • the educational purpose of the activity
  • the nature and details of the activity
  • the supervision strategy
  • other information deemed relevant by the school or by parents/guardians.

Informed consent must be given in writing, including signatures, by parents or guardians.

First aid

At least one member of staff responsible for each group of students must hold, as a minimum, a current (within 3 years) level two first aid qualification, a current (within 12 months) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) qualification and have a first aid kit applicable to the level of training.

Staff members must consider carefully the nature and location of the excursion as well as the medical history of the students to determine the level of first aid training required by staff. For example, if any student in the group has a history of anaphylaxis and may require the use of an epi-pen, appropriately trained staff must be present. See: Excursion Support – First Aid.


This list identifies risks likely to be inherent in any sea kayaking activity. A program-specific risk management plan must be completed that takes account of the specific conditions and unique participants of the excursion/program.

Sample RisksSample Controls

Wind strength

Review weather conditions prior to the activity. Assess students’ ability to cope with increasingly difficult wind conditions.

Identify access points on the shoreline. Constantly monitor distance from the shoreline.

Maintain a distance from the shoreline that students can cover in severe wind conditions.

Capsize and entanglement

Teach students the capsize drill in the water. Each student to practice capsize drill in the water.

Close supervision of craft if they capsize. Rescue craft readily available at all times. (This may be the instructor’s sea kayak.)

Exposure to cold temperatures and wind

Appropriate clothing.

Observation of students’ condition during the activity.

Consideration of the appropriateness of water temperature and potential impact of the ambient temperature.

Access points in the activity location/s

Identify the points at which shoreline can be accessed throughout the activity. Rescue craft readily available at all times. (This may the instructor’s sea kayak.)


Sea kayaking resources
General resources