How to Choose Your Kayaking Company
There are many great kayaking companies out there these days and all have something different to offer. It can be difficult deciding which company to choose to spend your hard earned vacation time and money with. We have tried to help you with a couple factors to consider and questions to ask your potential tour provider before making your final decision.
1) Safety record, procedures and protocols
– a reputable company will hire only well trained and certified guides.
There are many different certification bodies out there, but some of the most respected in the industry include the Sea Kayak Guide Alliance of BC and the Association of Canadian Sea Kayak Guides. These organizations provide intensive guide courses as well as exams. Additional requirements of being a certified guide include having a current Wilderness First Aid certification and a Marine Radio Operators license. These courses are invaluable when partaking in activities such a camping and kayaking in areas in which it would take a significant amount of time to get an injured person to a hospital or more advanced care as well as contacting the services which could help you in case of emergency.
Spirit of the West only hires guides with a minimum of the Assistant Overnight Guide certification, as well as a minimum of an 80 hour Advanced Wilderness First Aid Certification. All of our guides also hold a Marine Radio Operators License, as well as a variety of backgrounds to make your trip fun and educational (see below).
Part of being a safe company is maintaining appropriate guest to client ratios. Spirit of the West always maintains a minimum ratio of a 1 guide for every 5 guests, to a maximum of 10 guests and two guides on most trips. On our Johnstone Strait Ultimate tour we have the highest guest to guide ratio in the area. We take a maximum of 12 guests, but send 3 guides to provide you with the ultimate in service and flexibility.
2) Environmental Responsibility & Green Ethics
There are many ways a company can minimize its impact in the environment, both in how it operates as a company year round as well as how they act while camping and kayaking. It is important to ask your prospective company about their commitment to environmental sustainability. Do they practice low impact camping techniques? How do they support local environmental protection and habitat stewardship organizations? Where do they purchase the food that you will be enjoying? What kind of steps have they taken to minimize the impacts of their daily office practices?
Spirit of the West has an extensive environmental policy which can be viewed in detail on our Green Ethics page. To summarize some of the highlights, all Spirit of the West guides have been trained in ways to minimize our impacts on the environment while camping. We provide in-house training and have clear and specific policies and procedures for minimizing the impacts of our campfires, tent sites, waste, water, garbage etc. Spirit of the West composts all organic materials, recycles all materials possible and has many reusable containers for packing food, gear etc.
As much as possible we use local and/or organic foods in our menu. We serve only wild caught sockeye salmon caught by a local fisherman friend, our prawns come from our backyard and a local prawn fisherwoman, and as the season moves on we try to incorporate foods from our garden into the menu, such as chocolate zucchini cake in our home baking.
We are members of One Percent for the Planet, which means that we donate 1% of all of our sales to registered non-profit environmental groups. Over the past few years Spirit of the West has donated more than $15,000 to organizations such as The Sierra Club of BC, Quadra Island Salmon, Raincoast Conservation Society, the Pacific Salmon Foundation, The Johnstone Strait Killer Whale Interpretative Center, Mainland Enhancement of Salmonid Species Society and many others.
Spirit of the West was also the first sea kayaking company in BC to become Carbon Neutral. We offset all carbon produced as a result of our tours and we offer guests the chance to offset the carbon produced as a result of their travel to their tour.
3) Ethical Whale and Wildlife Watching Practices
The Marine Mammal Viewing Guidelines have been established to protect the whales and other marine mammals as well as kayakers and boaters from any negative interactions as well as long term, cumulative effects. Does your prospective company abide by these Guidelines?
Spirit of the West follows the Marine Mammal Guidelines closely. We have taken part in many of the discussions on how to minimize the impacts of the various user groups in the area on local wildlife, including helping to develop a kayaker specific interpretation of the guidelines.
Over the years we have helped to support the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve Warden Program with in-kind donations and well as donations through visits by our guests.
We are also members of the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association (NIMMSA) which strives to self-regulate and encourage best practices for whale watching from within the industry. We work though NIMMSA to encourage all operators and pleasure craft users in the area understand the whale watching guidelines and their importance for the continued health and viability of the area's wildlife.
4) Education, Knowledge and Experience
What is the companies' guide training like in terms of knowledge about the dynamic ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest and their inhabitants? Do guides have formal training interpretative training? Do they have a library for resources for you to enjoy on tour? What kind of backgrounds do their guides have? How many of their guides are returning staff? As a company, Spirit of the West has been leading trips around northern Vancouver Island since 1996. Each year we provide an intensive staff training program for all staff, including sessions with a professional naturalist and local marine mammal expert to train our crew.
Our guides also come to us with a wealth of experience which adds to all trips. Some have worked as researchers on marine mammal projects, some as environmental educators, some are certified teachers, outdoor skills instructors, biologists, sailors and a variety of other professional skills. We tend to hire folks who have many and diverse life experiences to help round out their guiding skills. All of this experience helps to add to your kayaking experience.
Our guides and camps are equipped with extensive libraries with books covering just about anything you have ever wanted to know about the coast, camping, kayaking etc.
Spirit of the West is fortunate to attract some of the best guides in the business. The majority of our guides have worked with us for multiple seasons. This means they are happy where they work, they are knowledgeable about the region and the tour locations as well as all the intricacies of a successful kayaking tour.
5) Camp Locations & Facilities
Where exactly are the campsites? Does the company have protocol agreements with the local First Nations' groups to be able to use their traditional land? Does the company have the required government permits, Crown land and Provincial Parks for travel and camping in this area? How long has the company been using the site? What kind of 'creature comforts' are there?
Spirit of the West was fortunate to establish permanent and exclusive use sites in the Johnstone Strait area many years ago. Our basecamp on West Cracroft Island, which we have been using since 1997, is a fantastic place for viewing Orca whales and other wildlife located in a sheltered bay, including a rocky bluff which allows for commanding views out over Johnstone Strait and the world famous ecological reserve. Our camp location allows us to explore both East and West up and down the shoreline as well as cross the strait when the weather allows. We are one of very few fortunate operators to have a basecamp site tenure from the BC government which allows us exclusive use as well as the ability to make site upgrades such as tents on platforms, a hot shower and a hot tub!
We have worked diligently over the years to establish relationships with the local First Nation's groups and to create protocol agreements for approved use of their traditional territory. We also lease our Hanson Island campsite from a local First Nation group which manages the island. This allows us exclusive use of one of the best sites on the coast.
6) Value Added Services and Items
Does the company provide most of what I need for kayaking? Do they include transportation costs in their pricing? Are there any additional costs? Do they charge more for solo travelers? Do they go the extra mile in terms of food? Do they have special surprises for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, honeymoons etc? What items do I get to take home from trip?
Spirit of the West provides everything that you will need for kayaking and camping with the exception of your personal clothing and a sleeping bag (these can be hired for a small cleaning fee). There are no additional costs once on our tours. The only additional things you may wish to purchase for the tour are alcoholic beverages and/or souvenirs. All other food and drink is included in the tour cost. We include all transport costs associated with your tour from morning one of the trip through to your return to Quadra Island or the Campbell River area on the final day.
There are no single supplements for solo travelers. In most cases we are able to provide you with a tent to yourself and we take a variety of both single and double kayaks on our tours to allow for flexible paddling arrangements. (The only exception to this is on our Chile tours, in which there is a small single supplement for the hotels, cabins on the mothership are limited and usually involve shared accommodation and we use all double kayaks for safety).
Spirit of the West will spoil your rotten with home baking, including often still-warm muffins on your first day, cookies with our lunches, yummy cakes and squares for desserts and even fresh baked local breads. Our wild-caught sockeye salmon and prawns are a hit with seafood lovers. Of course there are always many options at each meal and we are happy to accommodate those with dietary restrictions at no additional cost.
Spirit of the West has worked with a local artist to produce a unique and special gift for our guests who are celebrating a little something more than being on vacation. This is just a small token of our appreciation for you choosing to spend your special occasion with us.
All Spirit of the West guests take home an insulated travel mug complete with our logo. This is part of our commitment to minimizing waste both while on tour as well as once you are back home. It also is incredibly helpful at keeping your cup of organic, fair-trade, locally roasted coffee hot, while enjoy the stunning view from camp!