It’s that time when camp directors ask themselves "where am I going to find enough certified waterfront staff, specifically boating staff?" Standard PA-20, a mandatory standard, states that camps (both resident and day camp) need to provide a staff member who has documented skills and training in water rescue and emergency procedures specific to the location and the activities. In short, staff in these areas need experience in the specific craft AND they need to know water rescue skills and emergency procedures for that specific craft. Lifeguard Training, although a good training course in aquatic rescue, does not address rescues in or from small craft. Will your staff know what to do when the sailboat capsizes?

American Red Cross Small Craft Safety

Recognizing the need to address this issue, the American Camping Association, the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. collaborated in 1997 to develop the Small Craft Safety Training program, which is also endorsed by the Boy Scouts of America. The program provides individuals already skilled in one or more types of small craft (canoes, kayaks, sailboats, and/or rowboats) with a core lesson of basic water rescue skills and knowledge needed for self-rescue and for assisting others. The core lesson also includes information on small craft accident prevention, trip planning, supervision, and emergency preparation.

Five components, which provide the skills needed to enable an individual to respond to a small craft emergency, are added to the core lesson. These components involve practice in self-rescue skills and assisting others using canoes, kayaks, sailboats and/or rowboats in a calm water environment. A moving-water component provides skills and knowledge for canoers and kayakers in up to Class II waters.

Currently authorized ARC Basic Sailing, Basic Water Rescue, Water Safety and/or Lifeguarding instructors are eligible to bridge to Small Craft Safety Instructors. ARC Water Safety or Lifeguarding instructor trainers who have completed the instructor bridging process can also train Small Craft Safety Instructors.

To get more information about the Small Craft Safety program,, 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767)

Sailing Counselor Course from US Sailing

US Sailing’s Sailing Counselor course is designed to prepare camp counselors and staff from community sailing, Scouts, and other programs to supervise small boat recreational sailing activities typically conducted on sheltered and protected waters. Emphasis is on safety and hands-on practice to familiarize candidates with proper terminology and boating techniques. Sailing Counselor training also provides a model for how a counselor might structure actual sailing activities.

All Candidates must have reached their 14th birthday within the calendar year that the course is being held in. There is a course minimum of eight participants and a maximum of twelve and the course is two days and 20 hours long. The registration fee is $185 per candidate and is on a first pay basis. The course meets both ACA and Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. standards. Courses are taught by trained and experienced U.S. Sailing Instructor Trainers.


Information about the course can be found here at and any organization who is interested in hosting a course should complete a Host a host a course form, which is available here: If you have questions, please contact 401.342.7900 or email

Training from American Canoe Association and Others

For information on other boating instructor courses that meet ACA standards, see the Aquatics Certification Equivalents chart.

Many camps offer training events for staff, with certification training from a number of aquatic organizations.


Originally published in the 2001 Winter issue of The CampLine. (Updated November 2018)