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Demystifying The Scout Permit Scheme

Updated: May 16, 2021

Scout Permits, the gateway to fun!

The Prime Paddling coaches started off over 10 years ago as 2 scouts who were thrown in at the deep end. Running scout taster sessions and the old 1*/2* awards alongside their scout leaders at Canoe Gosport (now Gosport Scout Kayaking), the brainchild of Ken Greenwood. Over the years, they have learnt many tricks of the trade and skills that have been honed through taster sessions of 20-40 scouts and visits from Ukrainian children. Fast forward to 2021 and both Alex and Nathan have a strong drive to give back to the Scout Association with their Scout Upskilling and Permit Assessments being taken up by groups all over the UK.

For those not in scouting, the Scout Permit Scheme is a fantastic gateway into the sport for groups whose leaders might not have any formal qualifications. Whilst a British Canoeing course is preferred, the Scout Association appreciates that not all leaders have the time or money to attain qualifications which they might then use for free to provide amazing opportunities to their youth members.

Course attendees have to work to this Kayaking Assessment Checklist which relates skills back to the British Canoeing standards and requirements for their courses such as Foundation Safety and Rescue Training.

In addition to the British Canoeing standards, that need to be attained to be signed off for a permit, there are different levels of permit award and water classifications

These are:

Personal – Allows a young person (under 18) to take part in craft specific watersports with others with a personal permit.

Leadership – Allows the permit holder to lead activities for a single group.

Supervisory – Allows the permit holder to remotely supervise more than one group.

Water Classification

  • Class C - safe inland waters which are less than 100m wide where flow causes little effect (including swimming pools)

  • Class B1 - sheltered inland waters and other sheltered water - where currents and tides create no real danger.

  • Class B2 - the sea up to one mile from the shore, but excluding more dangerous waters close inshore; more sheltered parts of estuaries; large inland lakes and lochs; inland waters British Canoe Union Grade 2

  • Class B3 - the sea up to three miles from the shore, but excluding more dangerous waters close inshore; busy commercial ports, exposed parts of estuaries; inland waters British Canoe Union Grade 3

  • Class A - open sea more than three miles from the shore, and other dangerous waters close inshore; inland waters British Canoe Union Grade 4 and above.

Further information on water classifications can be found here and a list of classifications by county can be found here.

So, what does this really allow me to do?

A pretty good question and something that causes plenty of confusion.


If you hold a personal kayaking permit you can go kayaking with others who hold a personal kayaking permit. It does not allow you to go kayaking with anyone not holding a kayaking permit. At the same time, this allows leaders to “add” to their permit numbers with personal permitted scouts not falling within ratio. Although you can paddle without direct supervision, you still need your leader's or GSL’s permission and a risk assessment. At Prime paddling, we recommend that groups and leaders follow British Canoeing‘s advice: paddle with at least 3 people, have a sufficient skill set to safely paddle, ensure to agree where you are going (and tell someone) and have a means of communication. Additionally, we would sugg that large groups avoid using the personal permit scheme in order to take more young people out on the water. Large numbers of people make it more challenging to spot spot someone in difficulty.


If you have permit to lead kayaking you can look after a maximum of eight kayaks or 12 people (whichever is less) at a time, subject to any restrictions on your permit, and must remain on the water with these kayaks at all times. This is down to a leader being assessed on their group management and rescue skills during the assessment whilst British Canoeing coaches are trained and assessed to a standard where they can offer both bank and water-based coaching.

Leadership permits also allow a mixture of craft however, the permit holder must be in a craft which is suitable for undertaking rescues of all the various boats within the group.


If you hold a permit to supervise kayaking then you can supervise up to three groups, with all supervised groups needing a means of communication with the permit holder. The permit holder should have immediate access to a rescue craft and be in a position/at a distance to provide prompt assistance if required. Whilst on the water, you remain responsible for all the groups you are supervising but can designate someone with the appropriate skills to be the leader of each group.

Does my permit mean I have to take that many people out?

Something that we try to instil into all our attendees is that a permit is the maximum number of people you can take out, not what you have to take out. If you know that the weather is due to close in a patrol of scouts is more of a handful than the others, you can choose to limit yourself. For example, when Nathan and Alex paddle with their scouts in the local area they operate under the 1:8 ratio but when they paddle in an area that they haven’t scouted before they reduce the ratio to 1:4 or 1:6 dependant on the forecast weather, tidal flows, environment, and other watercraft present.

Risk Assessments

Something that is new too many members of scouting post virtual scouting is the requirement to complete risk assessments for all activities. Many a leader will say that they completed these Dynamically (in their heads) and whilst this is still true, a basic risk assessment covering the common issues such as entrapment, other craft, and injuries from equipment (paddles) is a fantastic way to write down common issues and to address how you might prevent them in future. The stigmatism around risk assessments needs to be banished and a modern approach to their development introduced. During Permit Assessments, Prime happily give out copies of their draft assessments as a training tool and review the pupil’s assessments with the intention to develop these and give advice where possible. Keep an eye out for one of our future blogs where we will run through our risk assessment process and how this has changed how we coach. Remember, knowing the location like the back of your hand cannot apply anymore.

How do I get my permit?

Once you have familiarised yourself with the permit scheme, you can use the following steps to apply for your permit and gain the necessary skills. Although there is no requirement to get approval from anyone when applying for a permit, it’s always a good idea to ask your GSL or DC if they have any contacts who can help.

The following steps detail the typical process:

  • Read the Scout Permit Applicants Guide

  • Find your Assessor

  • Within Scouting - Compass keeps a record of permit assessors which you can search when logged into the system. Alternatively, your GSL and DC should be able to point you in the right direction.

  • External Provider - Non-Scouting assessors can be utilised through commercial organisations, however, be aware that they might not understand the permit scheme. A handy external assessors guide can be found here.

  • Fill in your application form

  • Book in an assessment – get in touch at

Once you have been assessed by the assessor, they will fill in a recommendation for the level of permit they believe your skills and experience are capable of fulfilling. This is processed either directly onto Compass by the assessor or through the Assessment Checklist Form, which then needs to be passed to your commissioner.

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