eStore   |   Donate   |   Join
ACA COVID-19 Guidelines for Instructors and Event Organizers

Posted 5/22/2020

The information in this document is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional legal advice or professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and information, are provided for general informational purposes only. The knowledge and circumstances around Covid-19 are changing constantly and, as such, ACA makes no representations and assumes no responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of this information. Further, you should seek advice from legal professionals, medical professionals and/or public health officials if you have specific questions about when, and under what circumstances, you may resume operations, teach a class, hold an event, or simply go paddling.

The American Canoe Association introduces people to the world of paddling and provides an instructional framework to reduce the inherent risks associated with paddling. The Covid-19 pandemic has introduced a new dimension of risk to our community, one that must be clearly understood and carefully evaluated by instructors, event and outing organizers, and individual paddlers. The guidelines which follow are intended to help decision-makers adapt their usual practices to the changing circumstances and elevated level of risk caused by Covid-19.  

ACA members live in all 50 states and in over 20 countries around the world. Given this diversity, it is challenging and unrealistic to provide detailed guidelines relevant to all of our members. Therefore, our overarching directive is that all paddlers adhere to federal, state, and local public health guidelines, rules, and regulations. These are subject to change, and it is imperative to closely monitor them on a regular basis.

Covid-19 is a viral disease transmitted by respiratory droplets.  It can cause a wide range of serious effects, including death. The disease can be transmitted by individuals who are not experiencing any symptoms, making it particularly difficult to control. Any contact among people introduces the risk of transmission: closer contact and/or more people increase that risk.  The ACA is not a medical organization and cannot provide medical advice. Below, we have suggested practices, recommended by public health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), that might reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission during classes, events and outings. These recommendations provide a general, conservative approach to responding to the Covid-19 crisis. As States and Counties begin to open, each organization and each instructor will need to take new guidance into consideration. As time progresses and we learn more, conditions will change and these recommendations may not be appropriate for all localities. For local guidance, consult your organization's medical advisor or your local health or Covid response department. Further, if you have specific medical questions, you should consult your organization’s medical advisor, your personal healthcare provider, or your local health department. 

Key Considerations

When planning your event, class, or outing:

  • Develop a clear plan to address the typical risks associated with paddling and the heightened risk created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Be familiar with and follow all local, state, and federal guidelines and rules.

    • These guidelines change frequently, so be sure to stay current.

    • If the guidelines do not seem consistent, it may be prudent to follow the most conservative guidance.

  • Plan and manage gatherings according to CDC guidelines.

The CDC is likely to have the most up-to-date guidance regarding Covid-19. 

  • Carefully consider any potential impact on the community living in the vicinity of your class or event.

    • We have a responsibility to our own communities and to those communities through which we travel to access waterways and paddle.

    • These communities may not have the public health infrastructure or emergency response resources to manage high rates of infection, so we should carefully consider the potential impact of using local facilities and interacting with other communities.

    • Recognize that longer travel times present a higher risk for you and your participants.

  • Recognize that larger groups present greater risk.  

Consider changes to your normal practices, to reduce group size and duration of exposure:

    • For instructors, reduce class sizes and/or offer private lessons.

    • Stagger arrival and departure times for classes and events, and switch locations to prevent crowded parking lots or waterway access points.

    • Use electronic waivers and other online paperwork.

    • Use tools such as pre-course readings, video chats, and online discussions to present course content.

  • Be willing and prepared to postpone or cancel events.

Have a plan for postponing or canceling your event or class if conditions, such as local infection rates, adverse weather, crowding, or local guidelines change:

    • Consider the financial implications to you and your participants if your state or local government suddenly or unexpectedly implements more restrictive measures prior to the event or class.

    • Provide participants with clear information regarding deposits and refunds which explains what will happen if a participant is unable to begin or to complete a course or event due to illness or a change in local guidelines.

    • Determine how you will communicate schedule changes to your participants and ensure that you have accurate contact information for each participant.

Before your event, class or outing begins:

  • Warn and inform all participants that protection against exposure to Covid-19 cannot be guaranteed. 

    • Provide a written statement to every participant clearly noting that no organization can absolutely eliminate the risks associated with Covid-19 and other infectious diseases. Consider including a statement that Covid-19 is a special concern due to the potential for disease transmission by people infected by the virus who are not exhibiting any symptoms of the disease. Document the completion of this step.

    • Consider asking participants to sign a waiver that specifically addresses infectious diseases. You might also consider requesting guidance in this regard from your insurance carrier and/or legal counsel.

    • ACA’s insurance broker has recommended an addendum to ACA’s regular waiver. This document is available at: Sample Waiver/Release For Communicable Diseases Including COVID-19

    • ACA has been advised that some insurance carriers for the outdoor industry may not cover liability claims related to allegations of Covid-19 exposure at a specific event. ACA is not aware of any insurance carrier for the outdoor industry, including our own, that has definitively stated they will cover this type of liability claim.  

    • ACA’s insurance broker has provided an in-depth discussion of risk management and potential liability from Covid-19 claims, which is available at: Amateur Sports and Coronavirus (COVID-19): How To Return to Play.

  • Perform a health screen of all participants.

    • The screen should be performed using CDC guidelines which provide a specific series of questions participants should be asked. This information is available at: Symptoms of Coronavirus

    • Some people are at higher risk for severe illness. Consider counseling people of higher risk about this concern. This information is available at People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness.

    • For more local and individualized guidance, speak with your organization’s medical advisor, your personal healthcare provider, or your local health department.  

      • They may recommend temperature checks of participants at an event.  If so, follow their guidance regarding required personal protective equipment for the screener, methodology and timing for checking temperature, and cut off values for participation.  

      • As new tools, such as vaccines and rapid Covid-19 tests, become available, health experts may recommend incorporating them into the screening process.  If so, follow their recommendations regarding the application of these tools.  

    • If, based on the screening questions, a participant seems at an increased risk for Covid-19 infection, they should not participate in the class, event or outing.  They should be directed to contact their local health department or healthcare provider for further care and direction. If there are questions regarding the significance of any finding during a health screen, speak with a healthcare provider for guidance.

    • Recognize there is no screening tool that is 100% accurate. Participants who show no signs of a disease may still be infected and able to transmit Covid-19 to others. Therefore, CDC recommendations regarding hygiene, face coverings, and distancing should be followed at all times during an event or class.  

During classes, events and outings:

  • Provide clear direction and monitor the implementation of CDC recommended practices regarding hand hygiene, face coverings, social distancing and surface cleaning: 

    • Hand Hygiene

Ensure the availability of  alcohol based hand sanitizer (60% alcohol or greater) or other approved anti-viral sanitizer, and soap and water for hand cleaning. 

    • Face Coverings

CDC advises the use of face coverings to slow the spread of the virus. Therefore, we suggest all participants consider wearing face coverings while on land (unless medical conditions do not allow this).  For more information, refer to the CDC guidelines available at: Use Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow Spread.

Weigh the risks and benefits of face coverings for participants while they are on the water.  Surgical masks must be discarded once wet and generally are inappropriate for on-water training. Cloth masks and improvised masks help prevent disease transmission when dry, but have an unknown efficacy once wet and have the potential to interfere with breathing during exertion or unexpected capsize. Helmet wear may further complicate use of face coverings on the water.  The ACA is not aware of any research that examines using, or not using, face coverings during on-water activity. 

Some healthcare providers have suggested additional face protection could be gained from protective eyewear, such as face shields, goggles or safety glasses.  However, eye protection also may increase the likelihood of someone touching their face to adjust the eyewear or to clear it of fogging.  On the water, eye protection may be difficult to use when wearing a helmet and may create an added concern during a capsize. Paddlers, therefore, should weigh the risks and benefits of using eye protection in their paddling venue.  

    • Social Distancing

      • Maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet whenever possible.

      • Recognize that some activities, such as hands on rescues, cannot be performed while maintaining social distancing.  

      • Consider the impact of wind when outside and, when practical, avoid being downwind of other participants.

      • Consider the impact of social distancing at waterway access points and in planning shuttling logistics.  

    • Surface Cleaning and Equipment Sharing

      • Surfaces touched by more than one person should be cleaned frequently.

      • Participants should bring their own equipment whenever possible, including life jackets, paddles, boats, flotation bags, and helmets.  If not possible, event organizers should ensure that equipment is assigned to a single person for the duration of the event and cleaned properly before use by anyone else. Equipment should not be shared unless thorough cleaning can be performed between uses, to include the appropriate contact time to ensure elimination of the virus. CDC recommendations for cleaning are found at: 

  • Repeat health screenings during multi-day events.

    • At the beginning of each day of a class or event, repeat the health screening protocol described above. 

    • If, based on the screening questions, a participant seems at risk for infection with Covid-19, they should discontinue participating in the class, event or outing. They should be directed to contact their local health department or healthcare provider for further care and direction. 

  • Recognize that some activities, such as rescues, wet exits, and roll instruction, require close contact and could possibly place participants at higher risk of exposure. 

Activities that require prolonged close contact, such as roll instruction, should be avoided unless allowed after consultation with local public health officials or your organization’s medical advisor.

Simple activities such as sharing a small eddy or launching at a small access ramp may place participants at higher risk. Take steps to reduce the risk of these activities.  Steps might include, but are not limited to:

    • Assessing self-rescue skills at the beginning of, or prior to, the course or event.

    • Ensuring all participants use the appropriate gear including, but not limited to, life jackets, leashes (if applicable), and proper thermal protection.

    • Working in venues that allow adequate distancing.

    • Working in conditions that are less challenging to all of the participants in order to reduce the need for rescue.

Be a good steward of the environment and communities we visit

In addition to implementing the practices described above, paddlers should consider the potential consequences of their paddling-related decisions in regards to short- and long- term access to resources such as public lands and water, state and national parks, trails, waterway access points, and community facilities.  We must also take care to protect the communities near these resources, to reduce the risk of transmission to areas that might not have the infrastructure to manage high rates of infection.

Because there is currently a heightened level of sensitivity surrounding access to resources and corresponding infrastructure, our failure to manage this risk could lead to closures of trailheads that enable access to paddling resources, closure of the waterways, and/or closure of road access or facilities such as drinking fountains and bathrooms at those access areas. 

The situation created by Covid-19 continues to be fluid and uncertain. ACA is committed to helping paddlers respond to the Covid-19 crisis, with our highest priority always being the health and safety of our members and the larger paddling community.  Although these recommendations represent what the ACA believes is proper guidance at this time, some will almost certainly have to be changed as we learn more about Covid-19.  All paddlers must take full responsibility for their actions and choices, understanding that during this time, paddlesport activities come with heightened complexity and risk.  The water will be there when the Covid-19 pandemic ends; we want to be sure that everyone stays healthy so they can have fun on the water when the crisis ends.

Quick References 

Additional References 

Approaches Taken by Other Organizations and Instructors 

Many organizations face the question “How should we, and our members, respond to the Covid-19 pandemic?” ACA believes it may be helpful for our members to see these approaches and, perhaps more importantly, the decision making process associated with them. Below are guidelines from US Sailing, US Rowing, the International Technical Rescue Association, and a private group of paddling instructors. Each has some differences, but many similarities. The greatest similarity may be the obvious thought, work and effort put into each guide. ACA encourages our members to put similar thought, work and effort into planning for their individual situation.

CPR, First Aid, & Wilderness Medicine Certifications

ACA certified instructors, trainers, and educators should check with their CPR, First Aid, or wilderness medicine certification agency/organization on steps to extend or be granted provisional certifications. The ACA will consider any certification that included at its origin or most recent recertification hands on skills demonstration and assessment and has been extended or granted provisional status as currently certified.  This policy goes into effect July 1, 2020.  CPR, First Aid, & Wilderness Medicine certifications considered extended by ACA previously will only extend to June 30, 2020 as previous statements have directed.


Outfitters & Liveries


High-Performance Athletes, Fitness, & Exercise

Parks and Land Management

ACA Mission

Founded in 1880, The American Canoe Association (ACA) is a national nonprofit organization serving the broader paddling public by providing education related to all aspects of paddling, stewardship support to help protect paddling environments, and sanctioning of programs and events to promote paddlesport competition, exploration, and recreation.

ACA on Facebook Connect on LinkedInACA on YouTube 



Contact Us
ACA | Canoe-Kayak-SUP-Raft-Rescue
503 Sophia St. Suite 100
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Phone: 540-907-4460
Contact Staff
Association Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal