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River licences & access

British Canoeing supports responsible access to UK waterways and encourages all paddlers to respect the natural environment as well as other users when using rivers and coastal waters. Access is widely available: in nearly all cases there is a public right of navigation on tidal waters and canals and rivers managed by a navigation or port authority.

The situation is more complex on other non-tidal rivers and many lakes in England. Here a public right of navigation can be disputed. Permission is usually required for using reservoirs and most lakes. You can find out more about access to waterways on our Waterways & Environment pages.

We always recommend that you find out about the places where you are going to paddle. To assist you in doing so, information about access and environmental information for many waterways and sections of coast is available from your voluntary Regional Waterways Advisors, Local Waterway Advisors and Local Coastal Advisors.

Remember, while we can provide guidance and point you to where you can information of access to waterways, the decision whether or not to canoe is the responsibility of the individual paddlers.


Many of England's managed inland waterways are ideal for canoeing. But what many people don’t realise is that on most rivers and canals you actually need a licence to do so.

The good news is that if you purchase British Canoeing membership this includes a licence that allows you to paddle on over 4,500km of waterways. British Canoeing have achieved this by teaming up with navigation authorities who manage waterways in the areas listed below to offer members a great rate for a waterway licence in England.

You can find more details of the waterways requiring a licence, along with those included in British Canoeing membership on our Waterways & Environment pages.