Kayaking and canoeing (inland water)


​​Guideline review date: 28 October 2021​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

This guideline is provided to support schools in implementing the managing risks in school curriculum activities procedure.

The CARA planner (DOCX, 600KB) must be used for the specific school context in conjunction with this guideline considering additional risks, hazards and controls and including environmental, facility, equipment and student considerations

For activities beyond the scope of this guideline, complete a CARA record using the CARA generic template (DOCX, 488KB).

Activity scope

This guideline relates to student participation in canoeing (a narrow-beamed pointed vessel with a rigid hull propelled by a paddle) and/or kayaking (a topped, narrow-beamed vessel that floats and is propelled by a double-bladed paddle) in inland water (lakes, rivers and streams) up to and including Grade 2 waters​ as an activity to support curriculum delivery.

Note: This activity does not include kayaking in open seas and oceans or canoeing on Grade 2 waters and above.

Depending on the scope of this activity, other risk assessments may be required when planning. Curriculum activities encompassing more than one CARA guideline (e.g. swimming in locations other than pools while camping) must comply with the requirements of all CARA guidelines appropriate to the activity.

Schools should consider conducting this activity at a Department of Education Outdoor and Environmental Education Centre (O&EEC), consult with O&EEC​ centre staff for risk assessment requirements.

For activities conducted at a non-Department of Education venue, and/or when engaging external expertise, request written risk assessment advice and attach it to this CARA record.

For activities conducted off-site, schools must comply with the school excursions procedure.

High risk
Kayaking and/or canoeing on flat water and Grade 1 waters. (Grade 1: Easy – Slow to medium flowing water with very small, regular waves or riffles. Relatively few obstacles, with an easy path to find and follow. Suitable for novices).
Extreme risk
Kayaking on Grade 2 waters. (Grade 2: Medium – Rapids are straightforward with medium sized, regular waves. The path through rapids can be clearly seen from the water and is often indicated by well-defined chutes or Vs of water. There are some obstacles that require manoeuvring around, but paddlers with a good command of basic strokes can easily miss them).​

Activity requirements

If any requirement cannot be met, the activity must not occur.

If any other safety recommendation cannot be met, modify the activity (or elements of it) and/or identify and use the hierarchy of controls to implement alternative control measures to meet or exceed the minimum safety standard.

Reference to Australian Adventure Activity Standard, Inland Water Paddle-craft Good Practice Guide (PDF, 737KB), Paddle Australia – safety guidelines and Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (for restricted areas) is required when planning this activity.

Prior consultation is required with local authority for local advice, emergency support mechanisms and additional supervision requirements to ensure participant and public safety.

Permission/permits are required to be obtained from land managers (e.g. ​Department of Environment and Science, local councils or private landholders), if applicable.

Confirmation of student water safety and swimming competence is required prior to participation. The process is determined by the school and must consider the specific aquatic environments in which the activity will take place. Consult the sequence of competency water safety and swimming education program​ for support in determining age-appropriate suitability and consider ​student self-rescue skills. Consider any adjustments necessary for students with disability​ to ensure access and participation in the curriculum.


Parent consent (DOCX, 306KB) is required for all activities conducted off-site.

Parent consent (DOCX, 306KB) is required for all activities conducted off-site and strongly recommended for high risk activities conducted on-site.

Parent consent (DOCX, 306KB) is required for extreme risk activities.


Principals make final supervision decisions for the activity. Sufficient adult supervision must be provided to manage the activity safely (including emergency situations).

Specific roles for supervisors must include recovery, emergency and general supervision roles.

For activities with students with a medical condition or disability that may impact on safety during the activity, consultation with parents is required prior to allocating supervision to determine the impact of students’ medical condition or disability on safety during the activity.

At least 2 adult supervisors, one of whom is a registered teacher, are required for canoeing/kayaking activities. Refer to the Inland Water Paddle-craft Good Practice Guide (PDF, 737KB) and Paddle Australia – safety guidelines for recommendations and factors affecting supervisory ratios.

One adult supervisor is required to either canoe/kayak with the learners or travel in a powered vessel in close proximity to the learners under instruction. The adult supervisor operating the power boat (if a power boat is being used) must have:

Before the activity, all adult supervisors:

  • must be familiar with the contents of the CARA record
  • must assess weather conditions and obtain accurate information on tides, depths, currents and other expected water conditions (e.g. wind direction, wave and swell heights) prior to undertaking the activity, inspecting the intended location in order to identify variable risks, hazards and potential dangers.

During the activity, all adult supervisors:

  • must be readily identifiable
  • must be appropriately dressed to perform an immediate rescue at all times
  • must closely monitor students with health support needs
  • must comply with control measures from the CARA record and adapt as hazards arise
  • must suspend the activity if the conditions become unfavourable or when environmental warnings have been issued (e.g. poor visibility, extreme temperatures, thunderstorms).

Supervisor qualifications

Principals make final decisions in determining supervisor capability (competence, relevance and currency) and are responsible for encouraging and enabling school-based activity supervisors to raise their qualifications to improve safety standards.

All adult supervisors must comply with the working with children authority – blue cards procedure and be able to identify, and respond to, risks or hazards that may emerge during the activity.

A registered teacher must be appointed to maintain overall responsibility for the activity.

At least 1 adult supervisor is required to have a demonstrated capacity to perform an appropriate rescue procedure, including using appropriate rescue aids.

For high risk activities:

For extreme risk activities:

Facilities and equipment

The qualified adult supervisor of the activity, in consultation with the principal, determines the requirements for facilities and equipment appropriate to the local context.

Location must be suitable for the activity being undertaken. Undertake a reconnaissance of new or infrequently used locations to ascertain suitability.

Participants must wear personal protective equipment appropriate to the conditions to protect against sun, wind, rain, cold (e.g. hats, wetsuits, thermal underwear, fleece, enclosed footwear).

Prescription spectacles and sunglasses, if worn, secured with a suitable restraint.

Lifejackets suitable to the location that comply with Australian Standards for PFD Level 50 or PFD Level 50S (previously known as PFD Type 2 and PFD Type 3) that are brightly coloured and are the correct size for the wearer and adjusted correctly must be worn at all times while on the water.

Participants must wear secured and correctly fitted helmets that comply with CE EN 1385:2012 for the duration of the activity when on moving water, where during the activity obstructions could impact the head (e.g. paddling among rocks, during rescue practice), where movement outside of the craft occurs on very slippery surfaces. Refer to the Paddle Austalia safety guidelines for helmet specifications.

Equipment must be sized to match the ability and strength of students.

All equipment must be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

A retirement schedule must be developed to replace plant and equipment by manufacturers' nominated expiry date or when significant wear causes a hazard.

A process for checking for damage for all equipment used in the activity must be established and employed.

Sea-worthy craft and paddles suitable for the activity and water grade as outlined in Section 6.1.3 of Inland Water Paddle-craft Australian Adventure Activity Good Practice Guide (PDF, 737KB) must be used.

One or more spare paddles suitable for the activity must be carried by the adult supervisor.

Safety, rescue and repair equipment suitable for the activity that conforms to Paddle Australia safety guidelines must be available that is quickly and easily accessible to include (but not limited to):

  • a whistle appropriate for water environments;
  • a suitable means of cutting rope;
  • throw-bags for Grade 1 or above waterways or rapids;
  • a releasable means of towing a paddle-craft;
  • carabiners, pulleys and slings; and
  • static low stretch rope of appropriate legnth for the river width or environment.

Access to waterways must be available for emergency vehicles and vessels.

Equipment correctly waterproofed and stowed securely in the craft.

Ensure that no single navigation system to be relied upon. Where an electronic system (e.g. GPS) is used, have spare batteries and another position-fixing method available.

Shade, water and food must be available.

If privately owned equipment is being used, principal approval and owner consent/insurance details must be obtained prior to the activity.

 Common hazards and controls

Further to those listed, include any additional hazards and control measures considering the local context of the activity.

Environmental hazards Control measures
Animal bites/diseases
Stings, poisoning, infection

Refer to Australian Institute of Marine Sciences for information on dangerous Australian marine animals. Stings and bites by stonefish, irukandji and other dangerous marine animals can be fatal. For further information about types of poisoning and treatment available, consult Queensland Poisons Information Centre or phone 13 11 26.

Marine organisms not to be handled and avoid contact with marine creatures.

Continually assess threat of dangerous marine animals (if appropriate to location).

Adhere to established practices regarding the use of insect repellent, outlined in insect viruses and allergies.

Environmental conditions
Weather, surrounds

The school’s sun safety strategy must be followed.

Follow the managing excessive heat in schools guidelines when participating in very hot or extreme heat conditions.

Monitor participants for cold related illness (e.g. hypothermia) in cold weather conditions.

Ensure drink breaks occur regularly. Make water available for individual participants between drink breaks.

Participants to remain aware of their position in the training area, distance from shore, the depth of the water and other obstacles.

Adult supervisors negotiate areas of moving water immediately before students.

Crafts to negotiate rapids 1 at a time.

Facilities and equipment hazards Control measures


Continually assess threat of vehicles or vessels (e.g. other water craft when paddling and when entering or leaving the water) and vehicles when loading/unloading canoes/kayaks.

Manual handling
Lifting equipment

Use correct manual handling processes when lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying Instruct students to straighten backs and bend knees when lifting canoes/kayaks.

Ensure a minimum of 4 participants carry a canoe/kayak.

Student considerations Control measures


Participants to work far enough apart that they are not struck by paddles.

Students aware of the location of emergency and first-aid equipment.

Physical exertion
Exhaustion, heat/cold stress

Conduct appropriate lead-up activities.

Continually monitor students for signs of distress (e.g. fatigue, exhaustion, illness, hunger, dehydration, hypothermia, difficulty breathing and hyperventilation).

Allow all students periods of rest from repetitive paddling (this may be resting/floating on the water, not necessarily landing).

Adopt system of signals to clearly communicate the need for assistance if in difficulty.

Student issues

Instruct participants to call or signal for assistance if a problem cannot be rectified immediately.

Implement procedures (e.g. buddy system, roll marking mechanisms) to account for all participants.


Have students wear easily identifiable clothing (e.g. high visibility rash vest).

Ensure staff can easily recognise those students with health support needs (in and out of the water) and are familiar with their needs.


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Last updated 13 July 2022