ERWIN, Tenn. (WJHL) – Paddlers from across the state of Tennessee met in Erwin on Friday, but not just for a day of fun.

Six candidates were apart of the training, working to become certified rescue instructors.

The day-long course taught these prospective instructors the fundamental skills they need to prevent paddling deaths as well as respond to paddling accidents. After receiving certification, they are sent back to their respective hometowns to pass on what they learned and encourage safety on the water.

“We want ambassadors statewide that will carry this message and these skills forward and spread the love, so to speak, and keep people safe, ” said Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute Owner, Scott Fisher.

Friday’s class took place at the Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute in Erwin, Tennessee. Fisher said this is the first time a class like this has been held in Erwin but they hope to soon offer the class at least twice a year.

The course itself is 4 days long with some changes due to COVID-19. Due to the pandemic, the classroom portion was held over webcam followed by three days on the water. While on the water, no more than 10 people are in the class, and those participating are encouraged to wear facemasks.

Safety on the water is especially important in the summer months when people tend to participate in more on-water activities. According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Office of Boating Safety, between the years 2006 and 2008, paddle craft fatalities increased by about 30%, fatalities that could have been prevented with the proper knowledge and training.

Robin Pope, the President of the American Canoe Association led the course on Friday. He said it’s important to teach these skills from all perspectives.

“We think it’s important that they’re not just the rescuer, but the victim also so they understand what the victim is going through when they’re being pulled in,” said Pope.

The physical portion of the class takes place partially on land and in the water. Pope has been teaching skills like these for 30 years and stresses the importance of being able to take care of yourself in an emergency when outside help may not be an option.

“Expecting that we can call 911 whenever somebody has a problem is not just a reasonable expectation in the wilderness. We need to be able to take care of ourselves and we need to share that thought with everybody else that’s on the river,” said Pope.

With the summer months here and COVID-19 leading more people to explore the outdoors and waterways, it’s crucial to know the basics of safety requirements before hitting the water. The goal of this course is to thoroughly teach these skills to this select group so they can then pass their knowledge along to their staff and students.

The course will run through the rest of the weekend before the instructors return home with their new certifications.