Working Outdoors: Outdoor Instructor Qualifications – an essential guide

This award trains and assesses candidates in the skills required to supervise climbers on purpose-built artificial climbing walls and boulders.


We take a look at the steps and qualifications needed to start your new career working outdoors

We thought we’d compile some simple information that we hope will help people understand entry level instructor qualifications.

The British Mountaineering Council (soon to be Climb Britain) 


“The BMC promotes the interests of climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers and the freedom to enjoy their activities”.Climbing Wall Award – CWA

This award trains and assesses candidates in the skills required to supervise climbers on purpose-built artificial climbing walls and boulders. The CWA does not include the skills and techniques required to teach lead climbing.

Single Pitch Award – SPA

This award trains and assesses candidates in the skills required to supervise climbers on single pitch crags and climbing walls. Common activities undertaken by an SPA holder will be roped climbing and bouldering. The SPA does not include the skills and techniques required to teach lead climbing.


Lowland Leader Award – LLA

This award trains and assesses candidates in the skills required to lead groups on day walks in lowland countryside and woodland in summer conditions. The majority of Britain and Ireland is made up of this type of terrain so you’ll never be short of places to go walking.

Mountain Leader Award – ML


This award trains and assesses candidates in the skills required to lead hill walking groups in summer conditions on routes not requiring the planned use of a rope. Established in 1964, this was the first award created by the BMC.

The British Canoe Union (The BCU)

British canoeing logo

British Canoeing is responsible for leading and setting the overall framework for all the National Associations and includes areas such as coaching, competition and representing canoeing interests at a UK level.

Star Awards

The British Canoeing Star Awards are designed for paddlers aged 16 and over.

1 and 2 star awards encourage paddlers to experience the various types of paddle sport available. Paddlers then ‘specialise’ in particular disciplines from the 3 Star Award onward e.g. sea kayaking or canoeing. The focus of the 1, 2 and 3 star awards is developing personal skills and gaining independence, while the 4 star and 5 star awards are leadership awards which enable paddlers to lead groups in appropriate conditions.

Sea kayaking

It is not essential to progress directly through the awards i.e. paddlers don’t need to hold the lower award before progressing (other than at 5 Star).

Coaching Awards

British Canoeing offers four levels of paddle sport coaching qualifications. They also offer a number of endorsements and modules covering different water conditions and specific groups of paddlers.

Land and Wave instructor working outdoors on a sea kayak around Old Harry Rocks

The entry qualification Level 1 Certificate in Coaching Paddlesport will qualify you to coach in a range of single blade and double blade craft, and can be taken as a bank-based or a boat-based option. Once completed, coaches are qualified to actively support more senior qualified coaches in the delivery of a prepared session. With site specific training Level 1 coaches can also run sessions independently.

Foundation Safety and Rescue Training

This training course is intended for all paddlers, coaches and volunteers irrespective of craft or discipline choice, and is available in either bank-based or boat-based option.

RLSS Beach Rescue
Duke of Edinburgh1

It provides training on key skills needed to operate safely and deal with common emergencies in a sheltered water environment. These skills then form the foundations for safety and rescue throughout British Canoeing awards.

White Water Safety and Rescue Training
The White Water Safety and Rescue Training is designed for all paddlers operating in white water environment, either in a kayak or canoe.


It aims to teach simple and practical safety and rescue skills that can be applied appropriately to a moderate white water environment.

British Bushcraft Association  The British Bushcraft Association provides training and assessment courses in leading and teaching bushcraft, they allow provider of outdoor education access to training, assessment and share best practice.  

Leading Awards The British Bushcraft Association Leading Awards are designed to allow bushcraft instructors and leaders to describe methods and demonstrate techniques to individuals and groups allowing them to participate safely in a bushcraft environment. 

Teaching Awards   The British Bushcraft Association Leading Awards  are designed to allow bushcraft instructors and leaders to explain practical methods in detail and teach skills and techniques to individuals and groups allowing them to increase their knowledge, learn new skills and improve. 

The Royal Life Saving Society The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS UK) is the Drowning Prevention Charity and the UK’s leading provider of water safety and drowning prevention education. 

Open Water Lifeguard This qualification allows all pool lifeguards who hold the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) to develop their skills and knowledge to lifeguard open water. Open water swimming is the fastest growing sport world wide and due to increasing popularity, there is a risk that lifeguards without all of the skills they need maybe asked to lifeguard open water. This ‘bolt-on’ module will bridge the gap and equips lifeguards with both the knowledge and experience to keep people safe in open water. 

National Water Safety Management Programme The NWSMP programme embraces contemporary approaches to risk management by balancing the need for simple pro-active safety management practices, with a strong focus on preventative measures – along with effective emergency response skills. The programme starts with Level 1, the Water Safety Awareness Module, which provides the theoretical platform for more advanced modules.  Environment Specific Modules cover hazards associated with flood, beach, river and still water as well as basic rescue techniques, the In-Water Rescue module covers essential in-water rescue knowledge and tests competency for anyone requiring more advanced rescue skills. Life Support can be bolted on as an additional module for this qualification. 

First Aid Training A first aid qualification is essential for working in the great outdoors, most qualifications require you to hold a 2 day first aid qualification. Nuco Training is an international training company that provides specialised instructor training for those who want to teach First Aid, Defibrillation, Health & Safety and Food Safety related subjects.

2-Day Activity First Aid Course This Level 2 qualification is made up of two units including First Aid Essentials. It is specifically designed for those who are involved in any form of activity, including sports, leisure and recreation. Basic Life Support included and other First Aid conditions are also covered, making the full qualification very comprehensive. 

The Royal Yachting Association The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is the national body for all forms of boating, including dinghy and yacht racing, motor and sail cruising, RIBs and sports boats, powerboat racing, windsurfing, canal and river boat cruising, and personal watercraft. 

Level 2 Powerboat Handling (Also referred to as Power Boat Level 2) The types of commercial craft requiring this level certification are typically: charter fishing boats, small passenger launches, thrill ride operators, harbour patrol launches, construction site safety boats and so on… If you will be using larger boats with accommodation and the capacity to cruise or work further offshore you are likely to need a certificate within the motor cruising programme such as Day Skipper, Coastal Skipper or Yachtmaster Offshore. If you need a Powerboat Level 2 Powerboat Handling certificate in order to work on a commercial craft subject to the MCA’s codes of practice, you will need to get it commercially endorsed. You can then work on commercial vessels up to 24m in length, operating in category 6 waters – that is up to 3 miles from a nominated departure point in fine weather and daylight hours. 

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award For the past seven decades, the Charity has inspired and transformed the lives of millions of young people from all walks of life. From volunteering to physical activities, life skills to expeditions, achieving a DofE Award is a passport to a brighter future, valued by employers and universities. Expedition Supervisor Training Course The Expedition Supervisor training course covers:

  • Understanding the role of the Expedition Supervisor, Assessor and other adults involved in the delivery of the Expedition section.
  • Understanding the process of remote supervision.
  • Understanding the importance of emergency procedures.
  • Understanding the duty of care held by the Supervisor.

Expedition Assessor Accreditation Scheme

The DofE’s Expedition Assessor Accreditation Scheme (EAAS) is the national training route to becoming an accredited Expedition Assessor. Complete the EAAS if you wish to assess DofE expeditions.

The Benefits of being an Accredited Expedition Assessor; you will…

  • have a clear understanding of your role and responsibilities as an Expedition Assessor.
  • increase your knowledge of the Expedition section.
  • have the opportunity to network with other Expedition Assessors.
  • achieve a nationally recognised DofE accreditation and Expedition Assessor’s ID card.
  • receive a DofE Reward Card, which gives you a 20% discount off all full price items at Cotswold Outdoors (in store and online).
  • have been trained to assess in a variety of situations and locations across the UK.

There are lots of training and assessment courses available to help you realise your dream in working outdoors. Understanding them better is easier once you are part of the outdoor adventure industry. It’s best to make yourself as familiar with the Governing Bodies and some of the courses as you can without melting your brain! Land & Wave provides Outdoor Instructor Training courses: Click HERE for more information  Good luck with your training!

07 September 2016 by Owen Senior

There are lots of outdoor training and assessment courses, understanding them better is easier once you are part of the outdoor adventure industry

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