They mean very little unless everyone agrees to rate themselves against a common set of actual skills. Pick the ACA or the BCU sea kayaking, or canoe, or whitewater skill sets - just as long as it is consistent. But many flat water paddlers spend years managing to evade any of this stuff. So they are intermediate based on butt time, not in terms of handling difficult situations on the water...
This comes up in discussion of skill level in paddler profiles too. There is just no good way to get by this one with the necessary common understanding on a board like this.
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