Sea Cliffs and the Climbing Instructor

Posted by Matthew Woodfield on Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Rock Climbing Instructor qualification from Mountain Training is the most suitable award for those looking to work with groups in a climbing setting, however it excludes the use of sea cliffs. In South Wales sea cliffs are regularly used by instructors when working with groups, in fact they provide some of the best climbing opportunities and outstanding locations in the country. For an instructor to work on a sea cliff they simply need to be competent, this means having the knowledge and skills to operate safely in that environment – the best way to do this, I think, is a tidal validation course.


There are two levels of tidal validation available, Bottom Access and Top Access.

        Bottom Access – Where you can approach from the bottom once the tidal door “opens” and use it like any other SPA venue until the tidal door “closes. A local example would be Three Cliffs Bay. 

        Top Access – Where you must approach, and retreat, from the top of the crag, as water or terrain prevent other options. A local example would be Box Boy with the tide in, or Porth Clais.

The Bottom Access training builds a sound understanding of Tides, Awareness, Planning and Escape Routes:

Tides and how they move including Range/Pace (rules of 12ths), Neaps/Springs and other influences like weather and swell.

Awareness of the dynamic environment of tidal sea cliffs and Planning (following the Avalanche Awareness Model):

·         Planning your session – check tide times, weather and swell forecasts. What will conditions look like when you arrive? When will the tidal doors “open” and “close” on your venue?

·         Journey to your crag – are conditions as expected? Have your plan B and fillers on hand.

·         Key Places/Times during your session – monitor the sea state and tide level, know when to go.

Escape Routes and rescue techniques for the venues you will be using, including walking, climbing and hoisting, as well as the risks posed by entry to the water in this environment.

For Top Access venues, in addition to the knowledge above, instructors require technical skills including assisted & unassisted hoists and descending & re-ascending a fixed line. Each of these skills should be practiced both with and without mechanical aids.

The tidal validation is a certified course following the agreed syllabus, it does not expire but does rely on the holder to stay current and competent with the skills and knowledge that they need. If the skills are not used on a regular basis I would recommend re-validating after 3 years.

It is worth noting that the RLSS National Water Safety management Program would greatly benefit any instructor working in and around the water margins on the coast, as well as in the mountains.



Tags: "sea cliff" "climbing instructor" "south wales" "training course" 

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Matthew Woodfield An infrequent collection of tips, tricks and ramblings about climbing, walking and the great outdoors...