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Canoeing on canals and rivers

Canoeing is a great activity to take up if you’re looking for a way to enjoy the waterways in the UK, be closer to nature and meet new people.

Get to know canoeing

Canoeing can be taken up by anyone at any ability or age, for as long or as little as you decide to spend on the water.

If you are up for more of an adventure on the water, there are many guided tours that will take you around the historic landmarks and beautiful nature that our waterways provide.

What to take with you in your canoe

Depending on how long your outing is in your canoe, here are some items that will be useful for a longer adventure:

  • Sun cream
  • Sun hat
  • Lifejacket
  • Water bottle
  • Water whistle
  • Dry bag
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • Binoculars (to take a look at all the wildlife!)

Top Tips Before You Go On The Water

1. Remember it’s outdoors

Be prepared that you will be outside and could face any weather conditions. Remember to wear sun cream and anti-insect spray if you’re taking to the water on a summer day.  A cap and sunglasses can also be of benefit, as the sun can reflect strongly off of the water.

2. Wear the right gear

A splash vest, wetsuit and water shorts would be appropriate clothing to wear for canoeing.  It is important to wear clothes that you are comfortable wearing if they get wet, and that won’t restrict your movement

3. Choose the right location for your skills level

Depending on your experience canoeing, you should choose a stretch of water that matches your ability. It‘s best to go out with an instructor or a group if you are a beginner or  less-than-confident swimmer, especially on fast slowing rivers or on open water.  

4. Know what to do if you fall in 

As  a safety precaution, before taking to the water it would be useful to practice, with an instructor, what to do if you capsize or otherwise fall into the water, as eventually you will!  This will give you reassurance and knowledge.    

5. What do I do if I damage my canoe?

Depending on the severity of damage from your canoe, you should get off of the water as quickly as you can where is safe to do so. Taking your canoe to a boat repair shop is recommended as a professional can assess the damage and recommend what needs fixing.

6. Know the rules of the waterways

When travelling along the rivers and canals stick to the right hand side and pass other boats port to port (i.e., so you left side is adjacent to their left side).  Boats coming downstream on rivers have the right of way.

7. Learn the basics

Learning the correct technique can take a while to master, so knowing the basics of how to take a stroke can be helpful if it’s your first time on the water.

To take a forward stroke, start with your blade in the water in line with your knee and your handle grip in line with your face.  As you take your stroke, move your grip hand in a forward and down motion alone the side of the boat.  To gain extra direction in your stroke you can let the paddle trail behind you to assist your movement.  Keep an upright position and engaged core as you feather your paddle on the recovery and reposition yourself to repeat a stroke.

Watching YouTube videos is a great way to become familiar with the technique of canoeing.  Practice makes perfect, so the best way to improve is to get out on the water and give it a go yourself.

8. Looking after your canoe

The safest way to store your canoe is upside down, with the weight supported by the gunwales. Draping tarp over your canoe will also protect the surface of it from the sun and scratches.

If you own your own canoe and want to make it look brand new you can use boat or car wax on the outside. If you have a plastic canoe, you can also coat it in a UV protectant.

It’s a good idea to wash down your canoe after each outing, to stop the transfer of any invasive species from one waterway to another.

Frequently Asked Questions – Canoeing

Do I need a licence to go canoeing on the waterways?

On most inland waterways you must register or license any boat, including small unpowered craft, with the navigation authority responsible for the waterway you intend to use. Navigation authorities typically offer licences for different time periods, often from as little as one day, through to a full year.  Membership of some canoeing, rowing and sailing organisations includes a licence for access to some waterways.

Do I need to take lessons before I go canoeing?

It is not essential that you take lessons before taking to the water. However, it is advisable that if you are unfamiliar with canoeing, to go on the water with a group or take some lessons with an instructor.

Do I need to have been canoeing before I buy one myself?

It is always a good idea to try before you buy, especially if you wish to invest in a brand new canoe. It is worth hiring a canoe first to know you enjoy the activity.  Alternatively, buying a second hand canoe is an option.

What are the benefits of canoeing?

Canoeing is a great form of outdoor exercise and a way to meet new people, plus it is super fun to do with friends!

What should I wear when canoeing?

Wear clothes that you are comfortable getting wet in, and  that don’t restrict your movement.  If you are a less confident swimmer, we recommend wearing a life jacket.

What is the difference between a canoe and a kayak?

A canoe involves a single blade paddle, with the paddler kneeling or sitting. Whereas, kayaks involve a two-handled paddle and the paddler sits on or inside a cockpit.

Will I capsize in a canoe?

It is unlikely that kayaks and canoes will capsize, as they are generally stable.  However, being aware of the procedure if you capsize is recommended before going out on the water.

Can you canoe anywhere in UK?

There is a large variety of canals and rivers for paddlers to enjoy within the UK.  Alternatively, you can canoe on the coast lines in the UK.  However, the more remote the waters, the more challenging the outing can be and will require more experience.  It is best to go canoeing with a group if you are a beginner.  A licence will need to be purchased before taking to the water on inland waterways managed by most navigation authorities,

Find a waterway near you