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Safety and Good Practice

We want everyone to enjoy their time on the water and the best way to do this is to stick to safety guidelines and look after the environment around us.

It is important to remember that, as canoeists and kayakers, we share the water with many other users. Not only must we show consideration to the other people using the waterways but also the natural environment around us.

Expand Staying Safe

Staying Safe

Canoeing can be a fun way to experience nature, helping you to stay fit and healthy and is always a great way to spend time with friends and family. It can also be a dangerous activity if appropriate safety guidelines are overlooked.

A good way to ensure your safety and get the most out of your paddling is to learn to canoe with a club or centre. British Canoeing promotes a series of skill courses called Star Awards which can be accessed at a canoe club or centre.

Stay safe: To help make sure you remain safe at all times, be sure to read our canoeing safety advice guidelines.

  • ALWAYS be certain to let others know where you’re going and when you’re expected to return

  • BE CERTAIN that the journey you plan is within your capabilities

  • MAKE SURE you never paddle alone

Wear appropriate clothing: Always wear shoes. Rocks, rough terrain and river beds present serious hazards to boaters without the proper attire. Nearly 90% of all boating injuries are attributed to lack of proper footwear.

Other canoe safety clothing includes: hats, gloves, additional dry clothing and layered items which can easily be removed. Take or wear a windproof top and course always wear a buoyancy aid - for children make sure the crotch straps are used.

Be sure to:

  • Know the weather forecast and check the water conditions before you set out canoeing. There is an Environment Agency website where information concerning river levels can be found. We recommend checking this before heading out as the river levels can rise and fall quite quickly in wet or dry conditions.

  • Observe navigation rules and check to see if you are required a licence for the waterway you are planning to paddle.

  • Check to see if there are any events on the waterways when you wish to travel.

  • Check that your equipment is well maintained and ready for the water.

  • Check that your boat has the required buoyancy to keep it afloat in the event of a capsize.

Checklist: Always use this canoeing safety checklist to make sure you have everything you need:

  • Boat

  • Paddle

  • Buoyancy Aid

  • Bailer/sponge

  • Small First Aid Kit

  • Phone (in a waterproof bag)

  • Drinking water and snacks

  • Suitable clothing for the weather

Now you know how to stay safe, why not check out our places to paddle and activities and events and see what's going on near you? But before you do please check our environmental guidance to keep our wonderful environment as you found it.

Expand Good Practice When Canoeing

Good Practice When Canoeing

To ensure you have the best canoeing experience possible we have put together this Good Practice When Canoeing guide to help you be a considerate, respectful and environmentally-friendly paddler.

Good Practice when Canoeing - the Basics

The UK has a wonderful network of inland and coastal waters that are among the best in Europe. To get the best canoeing experience:

  • be considerate and respectful

  • respect the freshwater and marine environment

  • follow safety recommendations

  • be seen as a welcome visitor

Good Practice when Canoeing - Caring for the Environment  

Your canoe or kayak is a traditional craft used throughout the world for exploring wilderness areas and quietly observing wildlife and flora. It causes no erosion, noise or pollution and leaves no trace of its passing. Canoeing at appropriate water levels is an environmentally benign activity and causes no damage to fish stocks.

By following the simple steps below you can ensure your presence is not detrimental to the freshwater environment, as well as minimise or avoid accidently disturbing wildlife and their habitats.

  • Find out about the area before you go, noting its sensitive places, species and breeding seasons.

  • Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home with you.

  • When clearing litter left by others, handle it with care.

  • Leave the environment as you find it.

  • Keep noise to a minimum.

  • Do not 'seal' launch or drag boats to avoid wearing away natural banks. Float your canoe for launching, lift out when landing and carry it to and from the water.

  • Do not damage bankside vegetation when launching or landing.

  • Where possible keep to any designated paths or launching points.

  • On rivers, avoid paddling over gravel banks in low water conditions – they may contain fish spawn.

  • On coastal waters take care on shingle beaches - they may be nesting grounds

  • Avoid dragging canoes across rocky inter-tidal areas, through sand dunes and their grasses. 

  • It's good practice when canoeing to paddle a safe distance away from wildlife to avoid causing disturbance and stress to otters, seal colonies - especially with pups present, and rafts of wildfowl and seabirds as well as their nesting, shelter and feeding areas e.g. mudflats, marshes and cliffs. Remember, basking sharks, dolphins and whales can also be a danger to you.

  • Constantly assess wildlife. If you see signs of disturbance move away quickly.

  • Note the bio-security measures to minimise the spread of invasive alien aquatic species and diseases in UK waters. Check, clean and dry canoes and equipment after use.

Good Practice when Canoeing - Be the Eyes and Ears on the Water

Report pollution, wildlife problems, damage, incidents etc. to the relevant authorities.

  • Canal & River Trust  - Emergencies - Telephone 0800 47 999 47

  • RSPCA for wildlife and animals in distress – Telephone 0990 55 59 99 (24 hours)

  • Environment Agency - 24 hour incident reporting - Telephone 0800 80 70 60

  • Coastguard and other emergency services call 999

Good Practice when Canoeing - Take Responsibility for your Actions

The outdoors is a fantastic place for sport and recreation, but it is also a natural environment which needs to be treated with respect. Be aware of:

  • Information/hazards for your chosen journey and ensure you are confident in the ability of your party to cope with the conditions expected.

  • Take account of water, flows, levels and weather conditions.

  • Leave details of your trip with a responsible person.

  • Ensure your equipment is in good condition and use it correctly.

  • It is recommended that you take advantage of the courses that British Canoeing has to offer on canoe skills and safety, which are available for all levels of ability.

  • Be aware of health, water quality and other safety information.

  • Permission may be required to cross private land.

  • It is your assessment of conditions/ factors whether to go on the water

Good Practice when Canoeing - Consideration for others

Canoeists will meet a variety of land and water users on their journeys. Good practice when canoeing is based on common sense and polite behavior and conversations can help to promote a mutual understanding.

On land

  • Stay away from houses and private gardens.

  • Change discreetly, using public facilities where possible.

  • Drive sensibly at all times.

  • Car parking - do not obstruct roads or entrances to buildings or farm property.

  • Ensure your kit does not cause an obstruction when unloading.

  • Leave gates positioned and property as you find it.

  • Avoid damage to fences and walls.

On water

  • Follow the general rules of navigation and any local by-laws. Obtain any necessary licences.

  • It is good practice when canoeing to respect and try not to obstruct other water users.

  • Keep a look out and be aware that larger vessels may not see you and are less maneuverable.

  • In confined waters, keep to the edge of the deepwater navigation channel.

  • Keep the numbers in your party consistent with safety, the nature of the stretch of river, and the impact on your surroundings.

  • When offering assistance to those in need, on or off the water, do not put yourself or fellow canoeists at risk.

  • Show consideration to organised bankside activities, and give way as required to on-water events.


  • Keep a look out for anglers while paddling. Anglers can be hard to spot on banks.

  • Co-operate to avoid lines, nets, and swims.

  • If it is unclear where to pass lines or swims, then quietly attract the attention of the angler and agree a route to follow.

  • When an angler is playing a fish from the bank or wading, stop some way off and await their acknowledgement to proceed.

  • Do not linger in pools or swims occupied by an angler.

Good Practice when Canoeing - Non-native or Alien Species

The water in and around many other countries/continents can contain a number of non-native, or alien, species of plants and animals, some of which can cause problems due to their ability to out-compete our native species.

Take care not to transfer alien species including seaweed between locations by cleaning your boat and checking inside the housing of retractable skegs.

Alien species from canoeing in some waters could be transferred to inland waters etc. a fish parasite (Gyrodactylus Salaris) from Europe would have serious consequences for UK salmon stocks. It can survive in damp or wet conditions for five or six days on water recreation clothing and equipment – canoes, small boats, fishing tackle etc. It is particularly important all equipment used abroad is disinfected before re-use in the UK.  

Blue-green algae is just one of a number of algal species that live naturally in inland waters. But when conditions are just right: still water, too much nutrient (phosphate), calm, hot and sunny weather – they reproduce rapidly and very quickly out-compete other plant life to dominate the lake causing scums and blooms. The algae is unsightly and can be toxic to people and pets.

For details on how to prevent inadvertently bringing in non-native species visit:

Now you've learned how to be a considerate, respectful and environmentally-friendly paddler, why not check out our Canoe Near You map to find out what's going on in your area?

Expand Share The Space

Share The Space

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