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We partnered with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) to come up with tips to help you host a safe canoeing experience. These are best practices, but you’re the expert on the activities you lead. A great Host always thinks about what more they can do to keep everyone safe. 

Set the right expectations

If there are health, fitness, or other requirements needed to safely enjoy the experience, outline this in your experience’s description. This includes providing details about the length of time, exertion and fitness required, and skill levels needed. 

Here’s a guide from the ATTA to help you communicate to guests what skill level is needed for your canoeing experience: 

Touring: 

  • Beginner: Canoeing on flat-water, with easy access to shore or a support craft. No skill required, intro to canoeing.
  • Intermediate: Could be a day-trip or multi-day outing. Guests should expect benign conditions with potential for more open bodies of water and the increased exposure of wind and waves that comes with that. It will require a base level of stroke skills and maneuvers on a bit of wind and waves – all of these can be acquired at experience.
  • Advanced: Paddling on large open bodies of water, so expect winds and waves; possibly some currents if the river is part of the route. Possible to paddle or line boats in slight currents. Portage may be necessary, depending on the route. Some canoeing skills are required to control, paddle and maneuver the canoes in wind, waves and currents.
  • Extreme: Long canoe expeditions. Paddling may occur on most any type of water, including currents. May need to line boats or portage areas where paddling is not practical or reasonable. Additional canoeing skills are required to control, paddle and maneuver the canoes.
  • Possibly portaging and lining, depending on the experience.

River canoeing: 

  • Beginner: Meandering rivers with brief and low-risk rapids. Moving water, up to class I – this is more of a float than a paddle. No or very basic skill, can be an intro to river canoeing.
  • Intermediate: Moving water and noticeable rapids (up to class II – III rapids). Route through the rapid is self-evident and the risk to swimmers is slight. Guests should have some ability to maneuver and balance the canoes. Capsizing is likely (unless a guest is skilled) and rescues are seldom a problem. Skills required: Propulsion, direction and stability strokes; maneuvers on class II: peel outs, ferries, eddy turns
  • Advanced: Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid (class III-IV rapids). Complex maneuvers in fast current requiring good boat control are often needed. Rapids may require “must make” moves above hazards. Guests should be familiar and comfortable in class III.

Communicate with guests often 

Once a guest books, send a message to introduce yourself and help your guests feel welcome and prepared. Find out if they have any health concerns that may affect their participation. This may be anything from a food allergy to a heart condition. Make sure you’re clear on what modifications you’re able or willing to make to accommodate them.

You should create an experience where your guests feel comfortable asking questions at any point. Try to anticipate common points of concern (such as how to use the bathroom on your experience, expectations for interaction with others, etc.). Provide your guests with a list of what they’ll need ahead of time. For canoeing that may include clothing layers, a change of clothes, appropriate shoes, a hat, sunglasses (with a strap) and sunscreen.  

You can also anticipate common points of concern before the experience begins. This could include practical matters like if there will be food, snacks, or water provided, if they should bring their own water bottle, and where and when bathroom facilities will be available. It’s a good idea for you to know if and where you’ll have cell service coverage, and let your guests know in advance. Try to address these concerns before guests have to ask. Some guests may be canoeing for the first time, so your communication is key to a safe and enjoyable experience. 

Follow local regulations & check forecasts

You should have the local knowledge to know if and when it’s acceptable for you to guide and what rules or regulations apply to areas in which you may canoe. You should know the weather forecast, and know the area well enough to be able to anticipate the conditions.

Give a pre-experience briefing

Before you set out on your experience, make sure guests are clear on what you’ll be doing. Now is the time to check that your guests have all the food, water, and gear that they’ll need during the experience. 

Since some guests may be out of their comfort zone, they may need more of certain items than a local would, so if you can anticipate these needs, you can make the experience even better.

Provide the right gear

If you’re providing gear for your guests, it should be in good condition, clean and dry, and fit each guest properly. You’ll need a canoe suited to the rugged environment that can effectively carry the number of people on your trip. If guests bring their own gear (i.e. personal floatation device), make sure it is suitable for this experience, it fits properly, and is in good shape. 

Other important considerations:

  • All your paddles should have a way to hold it firmly at the top, and the shaft and blade should not be cracked or have chunks missing. 
  • A personal floatation device may not be required for beginner experiences in benign conditions.  You should still make a lifejacket available to guests, should they want to use one. Local authorities (e.g. US Coast Guard or a state boating safety authority) may require specific certifications or approvals for life jackets. In the US, for example, approved Type-III or Type-V personal floatation devices are suited for paddle sports. Fit is extremely important, so make sure all lifejackets are the right size, fit snugly, are fully-buckled, and remain fully-buckled. 
  • You should have clean dry bags for your guests to use, and make sure you have enough food and clean drinking water for your experience.  
  • Transport vehicles and trailers should be safe, maintained, and clean, and comply with all local regulations. 

You should carry (and know how to use) an extensive first aid kit for stabilizing an injured guest and safely evacuating them. 

Choose the right conditions, and prepare for the unexpected

Talk with your guest about the range of conditions you’ll encounter, including air and water temperature, wind, and any precipitation. Let guests know how they can best prepare for these, as well as unexpected but possible challenges. 

If you need to cancel an experience for an emergency, weather, or safety issues, no penalties will be applied. Learn more about the cancellation policy for Experiences 

Have an emergency action plan 

Make sure you have a clear itinerary and plan that all your guests understand. This should include specific info about what they should do if they become lost or injured. 

As a host, you can work to prevent some of the more common problems by warning your guests about any hazards, teaching proper paddling technique; and encouraging guests to follow directions.

You may want to have an emergency action plan that you’ve practiced and the means to evacuate a guest if the unexpected happens. If you’ll be more than an hour away from medical care, it’s best practice to have a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) or Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA), along with CPR certification (or equivalent). Find out more about making an emergency plan

Partner disclaimers

Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA): Courtesy of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. ©2021 Adventure Travel Trade Association. All rights reserved.

The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) name and logo are used with its permission, which in no way constitutes an endorsement or vetting of, express or implied, of any product, service, person, company, opinion or political position. The ATTA does not select or approve, and is not involved in the selection or approval of, Airbnb Experiences or hosts. For more information about the Adventure Travel Trade Association, visit adventuretravel.biz.