Standards at a Glance

Manual of Accreditation Standards for Adventure Programs, 7th edition

The 7th Edition of the Manual of Accreditation Standards for Adventure Programs is organized into six chapters. These include:

1) Philosophical, Educational, and Ethical Principles

2) Program Governance

3) Program Management, Operations, and Oversight

4) Technical Activities - Land

5) Technical Activities - Water

6) Non-Technical Activities

Chapters 1-3 include the organization’s operating systems and foundations. Organizations seeking AEE accreditation are required to be in compliance with all standards in Chapters 1-3.

Chapter 1 standards address how the organization interprets philosophical, educational, and ethical principles expected in adventure programming. These standards require the organization to demonstrate that their activities are experiential in nature, address appropriate goals and objectives, are sequential in design, and are conducted ethically.

Chapter 2 standards address the organization’s stability and soundness. These standards require the organization to demonstrate that its programs are in alignment with the organization’s mission, its business license and/or incorporation documents are in place and current, and the organization’s board of directors understands the adventure activities the program conducts.

Chapter 3 standards address the organization’s management, operations, and oversight of its adventure programs. These standards require that an organization assesses, manages, and mitigates risk. Organizations are expected to evaluate its operations, establish a functional risk management committee that includes internal and external members, and conduct periodic internalandexternalreviews in addition to AEE accreditation site visits. In addition, Chapter 3 includes sections that require the organization to demonstrate that it has appropriate systems in place for hiring, training, and evaluating personnel; selecting venues; selecting and maintaining equipment; and transporting participants.

Chapters 4 and 5 include standards applicable to the implementation of land and water technical activities. Some land and water technical activity chapters include multiple activities that are considered to be in the same genre. For example, climbing activities typically involve similar technical equipment and training. Unlike Chapters 1 - 3, a program is not required to demonstrate compliance with all standards in Chapters 4 and 5. However, a program is required to demonstrate compliance with all technical activity standards that are applicable to its programming. If a program conducts top-rope rock climbing and canoeing activities, it will demonstrate compliance with the standards in SECTIONS 12 and 30, respectively. If a program offers a wide range of activities, it must demonstrate compliance with all standards associated with those activities, regardless of how infrequently the activities are conducted.

Chapter 4. Technical Activities - Land

SECTION 11Hiking, Camping, and Backpacking

SECTION 12 Climbing Activities

SECTION 13 Manufactured Climbing Walls

SECTION 14 Bicycle Touring and Mountain Biking

SECTION 15 Caving

SECTION 16 Horseback Riding and Pack Animals

SECTION 17 Winter Activities

SECTION 18 High and Low Challenge Courses

SECTION19 Other Technical Land Activities

Chapter 5. Technical Activities - Water

SECTION 30 Flat and Whitewater Canoeing, Kayaking, and Rafting

SECTION 31 Sea Kayaking

SECTION 32 Sailing

SECTION 33 Snorkeling

SECTION 34 Scuba Diving

SECTION 35 Other Technical Water Activities

Chapter 6 includes non-technical activities that are adventuresome by nature, but not considered to require the level of technical skills and knowledge required in Chapters 4 & 5. A non-technical activity may include one or more technical activities. An example is a group that paddles to an island to do a service project. In this case the service project is addressed in SECTION 41, and canoeing is a technical activity that is addressed in SECTION 30.

Chapter 6. Non-Technical Activities

SECTION 40 Solos

SECTION 41 Service Projects

SECTION 42 Running

SECTION 43 Unaccompanied Activities

SECTION 44 Individual and Group Development Activities

SECTION 45 Swimming and Wading

SECTION 46 Other Non-Technical Activities




1.01 Adventure activities are selected and used in accordance with the organization’s stated mission, goals for instruction, and intended outcomes.

Explanation: Learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences or activities are used intentionally to promote learning, personal growth, or positive change. Consequently, activities selected, and educational methods employed are sound and aligned with the mission of the organization. 

Goals, objectives and/or outcomes for the program have been determined and have been communicated to the program personnel and participants. Activities are then designed to achieve the outcomes of the program. Activities can be varied and adapted as necessary to offer appropriate opportunities for learning and change. The effectiveness of activities is dependent on proper assessment of participant characteristics, needs, and abilities.

In programs that prepare students with the professional skills required for leadership, instruction, and risk management of the activity, students are also instructed in strategies to facilitate transfer of learning from the activity. Because theory informs practice, and vice versa, intentional curricular connections between field practices and theoretical and conceptual material are planned, made, and taught. Debriefings, feedback, or guiding processes are used to enhance application to students’ academic knowledge and professional preparation.


2.02 Program personnel conduct their work with competence and practice within the boundaries of their competence.

Explanation: This standard does not address program personnel qualifications; rather, it addresses ethical standards by which program personnel conduct themselves. Program personnel strive to maintain high standards of quality and performance in their work; seek appropriate education; participate in ongoing training; maintain current knowledge; hold appropriate credentials; and exercise reasonable judgment in the conduct of their work. Program personnel also recognize the boundaries of their competence and do not provide services outside of those boundaries. Program personnel provide services only after undertaking appropriate education; participating in ongoing training; and seeking appropriate supervision, consultation, or advice where necessary. When practicing in areas where standards or guidelines do not exist, program personnel take reasonable steps to develop the skills necessary to practice or provide services.


3.05 The organization’s activities and services are described accurately so that clients and potential clients understand the nature of the organization’s services and can make informed choices to participate.

Explanation: All program marketing and/or enrollment material is reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. Descriptions of activities and services are complete, accurate, and presented in a manner that is understandable by the participants for whom it is intended.

In the event that an organization’s clients are mandated or otherwise involuntarily enrolled into the program, the program acknowledges the limitations of the client’s choice to enrollment and engages the client’s participation in the therapeutic process to the fullest extent practical. The program’s activities, risks, and services are described accurately so that clients understand the nature of the program they are enrolled in and their rights and responsibilities.


4.04 The program has a designated and functioning risk management committee that includes external membership.

Explanation: A risk management committee provides oversight to the program’s risk management planning, implementation, and performance. This includes, but is not limited to, reviewing risk management issues affecting participants and program personnel; supporting positive and effective policies and procedures; reviewing and analyzing incident reports; and monitoring and reviewing risk management training sessions and awareness programs.

 The intent of external membership is to provide a system of checks and balances to the organization’s risk management program. This is often achieved by combining program expertise (program personnel) and outside (non-program personnel) perspectives that help to strengthen the organization as a whole. An effective committee includes a representative mix of individuals including program personnel and advisors such as other outdoor educators, land managers, doctors, and lawyers who are not employees of the organization.

 The committee meets regularly, and minutes for meetings are accessible.

 4.13 The program has a written field emergency action plan that addresses steps to be taken in the field and/or during initial response. The emergency action plan is practiced on a regular basis.

Explanation:  Establishing procedures for responding to and managing emergency situations helps minimize confusion and miscommunication during crisis periods. An emergency action plan may be one inclusive document or be a collection of documents that address specific aspects of emergency response and management. Emergency procedures need to reflect local conditions and the program’s capabilities.

The emergency action plan includes, but is not limited to, first aid protocols, field notification procedures and contact information for leaders to contact management or request assistance, evacuation procedures for self-evacuation and/or requesting additional assistance such as helicopters or other agencies, procedures for contacting area emergency medical services, and serious injury or fatality protocols.


5.05 Upon hiring, the program has a system for orienting and/or training new program personnel.

Explanation: The organization has a system to help orient new program personnel to the program’s mission, activity goals and objectives, and provides any other training one might reasonably expect program personnel to receive given their job duties. Prior to working in the field, program personnel understand how the organization conducts its activities and know what is expected of them.

Certain participant or clientele populations may require program personnel to have specific skills and experience with those populations. For example, program personnel who work with high-risk youth groups have received training specific to the population.


6.07 Vehicles are maintained and serviced in a manner consistent with prudent and reliable operation.

Explanation: Motor vehicles used by adventure programs are often subject to hard use from multiple drivers, rough roads, and high mileage. Vehicles are maintained on a regular service schedule by reputable mechanics. Records and/or receipts of service work are kept on file.


9.01 The program follows written guidelines or principles for minimizing environmental impacts when conducting activities.

Explanation: The organization follows written principles, such as those of Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics, that are intended to minimize environmental impact when conducting activities on public or private lands or waters away from facilities. The organization can adapt such principles in documents specific to their purposes or simply utilize the educational materials available from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. These principles apply to the use of support animals and vehicles as well as human impact.


11.02 The program has an explicit and appropriate curriculum for hiking, camping, and backpacking.

Explanation: There are explicit educational or instructional objectives for this activity that address topics or skills taught, expected participant standards of performance, and appropriate assessment of participant abilities and understanding. Curriculum topics might include, but are not limited to, learning to recognize environmental hazards, hiking on or off trail, dressing for the environment, navigation, camp craft and cooking, animal encounters, and maintaining/repairing equipment.

In programs that prepare students with the professional skills required for leadership, instruction, and risk management of the activity, students are also instructed in strategies to facilitate transfer of learning from the activity. Because theory informs practice, and vice versa, intentional curricular connections are planned, made, and taught between field practices and theoretical and conceptual material. Debriefings, feedback, or guiding processes are used to enhance application to students’ academic knowledge and professional preparation.



12.07 Participants are given a safety briefing prior to the activity or outing.

Explanation: Participants are briefed prior to the activity. Briefings include, but are not limited to: expectations for behavior; a discussion of the goals and objectives; and risk management considerations or rules. If applicable, expectations regarding risk management, inherent risks, and food, water, and clothing requirements are discussed.


17.01 The program has written policies and procedures for the conduct of winter activities.

Explanation: Specific guidelines that program personnel and/or participants are expected to follow—such as supervision requirements, buddy systems, frostbite checks, and jumping policies—are easily accessible to and used by all program personnel and participants. In the event participants are allowed to cook in a shelter, appropriate guidelines are in place to minimize injuries, for example, burns via flame or hot water, or carbon monoxide poisoning.


30.04 Adequate supervision is provided for flat and whitewater canoeing, kayaking, and rafting.

Explanation: Program personnel provide appropriate supervision of participants and oversight of the activities based on the skill, number, and experience of participants, and environmental hazards. The program has clear expectations for when direct supervision (program personnel present) is required and under what circumstances (if any) participants can be indirectly supervised (see SECTION 42 for standards for unaccompanied activities). Program personnel understand these expectations.

Vigilant supervision is essential for beginners and/or for individuals unfamiliar with the activity. Vigilant supervision is also appropriate when participants could deviate from the intended route in rapids, or when running rapids “duckling style.”


For more information, or to purchase the AEE Accreditation Standards Manual please visit or contact Steve Pace, M.S.W. Director of Standards Development and Accreditation at (303) 440-8844