Pacific Northwest Sea Kayaking

Leadership & Guide Training Course
(12 & 24 days)

Paddling on calm waters under clearing skies. -Adam Clark

The San Juan Island archipelago, located in the fertile waters of Puget Sound in Northwestern Washington, is considered by many to be the premiere sea kayaking destination in the contiguous United States. Pods of Orca and other marine wildlife are a common site as we cross from island to island. Situated in the rain shadow of the Olympic Peninsula, this relatively dry archipelago receives half the rainfall of the Seattle area.

With 700 islands and islets, and over 400 miles of shoreline, the San Juan Islands offer IWLS students exciting paddling adventures. From a protected interior with James and Strawberry Islands, to big water crossings and the remote outer islands of Sucia and Patos, the San Juans give students the ideal environment to develop navigation, group management, and leadership skills.

THE INSTRUCTORS AND GUIDES OF IWLS are widely recognized as some of the very best in their field and have practical leadership experience from around the globe. They are well trained and have an uncommon enthusiasm for sharing their skill and knowledge, borne out of a passion for outdoor exploration.

The International Wilderness Leadership Schools’ educational model nurtures leadership development and creates an awareness of the guiding mentality that is essential for leading safe, fun adventures in the mountains. The combination of technical skills training, experiential education and practical leadership experience make the IWLS curriculum world class.


THE IWLS GENERAL CURRICULUM outlines the essential components for effective outdoor leadership. Here are a few points that the course will focus on.

  • Leadership: Opportunities to lead the group will be abundant and you’ll have the time to learn and practice multiple styles of leadership.
  • Weather: Will the storm arrive in the next 12 hours, or the next 48? Understanding weather patterns and trends will help you plan successful trips in a wilderness setting.
  • Safety and Risk Management: Safety is always the #1 consideration. As the course progresses, you’ll develop an awareness to appropriately asses risk and make safe decisions.
  • Environmental Ethics: As adventurers in some of the most pristine environments on the planet it is our duty to respect the natural world. All of our courses practice and teach Leave No Trace ® principles.

IWLS KAYAKING CURRICULUM is oriented to providing students with a solid skill set of paddling techniques to be safe and confident in a coastal environment. Here are a few of the topics students will learn on the course.

  • Strokes: Forward, reverse, sweep, beam draw, and sculling draw: we’ll cover them all, and you’ll get ample opportunities to practice and refine your strokes.
  • Rescues: What happens when you’re paddling with clients in the frigid waters of Southeast Alaska and a boat capsizes? We’ll learn everything from the paddle-float rescue to the assisted bow rescue to kayak rolling.
  • Navigation: Expeditions in the meandering waters of Alaska require solid navigational skills, including how to use deck compasses, read charts and position off land features.
  • Tides and Currents: Southeast Alaska is home to some of the largest tidal changes in North America. We’ll learn about tide charts, the “Rule of 12’s”, and how to identify and avoid strong currents.

EXPERIENCE LEVEL No previous experience is necessary for this course. However, with a desire to learn and an enthusiasm for adventure, you’ll develop the skills necessary for a lifetime of wilderness exploration.

CERTIFICATIONS Upon completion of the 24-day course, participants may qualify for the following certifications:

Basic Coastal Kayaking
American Canoe Association


Open Water Coastal Kayaking
American Canoe Association

Tides, Currents & Surf Zone Workshop
American Canoe Association

Bracing & Rolling
American Canoe Association

24 Day Guide Training Certificate of Completion
International Wilderness Leadership School


DATES & PRICES Please see our schedule for current dates and price information.