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A return to paddling in England

First issued 12 May 2020, Latest update 10 September 2020


British Canoeing is pleased to issue this new paddling guidance, following the lifting of some of the restrictions on paddlesport in England from 13 May 2020. Our new guidance is aligned with the Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy, which was published on 11 May.

This guidance relates only to paddling in England, as policy and guidance in ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland is subject to the devolved governments and their respective national governing bodies.

Our priority remains to protect the health of our members, volunteers and staff and help to suppress the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

We recommend that members continue to follow the government and public health guidelines. We also want to remind members that if you or anyone within your household has coronavirus symptoms, you should continue to self-isolate.

If you have any questions about the guidance please don’t hesitate to contact us by using this comment form.

Latest guidance and updates


Guidance for the public on the phased return of outdoor sport and recreation in England - Updated 10 September 2020

British Canoeing

A return to team sports: rafting racing

A return to team sports: canoe polo

Guidance for Paddlesport Clubs, Centres and Hire Providers

A return to competitions and events in England

Guidance for Paddlesport coaches and leaders

Guidance on British Canoeing Qualifications and Awards

Sport England

Return to Play

British Canoeing guidance for paddling in England

In promoting a return to paddling, British Canoeing strongly recommends the following;

To closely follow all advice from the Government and Public Health England in relation to Coronavirus.

NEW - Paddling alone, with other people; From 14 September you can paddle alone, or with up to 5 other people from outside your household.

Social distancing; Paddlers must practice social distancing at all times and maintain a distance apart of at least 2 metres. People from different households should not travel in the same car. Paddlers should aim to avoid busy areas and take great care to maintain social distancing at access and egress points.

Since 4 July, this means a distance of 2 metres between people from different households, or 1 metre plus mitigations (such as face coverings or avoiding face-to-face contact) but only where 2 metres is not possible.

Travel; Whilst travel to exercise is not prohibited, our advice is that paddlers should paddle locally if possible. In the interest of respecting the views of our countryside partners and protecting rural locations from the spread of coronavirus, British Canoeing is discouraging travel to remote and rural locations.

Safety and paddling well within capabilities; Only competent and experienced paddlers should be on the water independently. Paddlers are reminded that they are entirely responsible for their own safety at all times and that currently the resources of the waterways authorities and the emergency services are very limited. Paddlers should take care to make responsible decisions, paddle in familiar locations, and favourable conditions.

Paddling at the coast; At present there are no RNLI lifeguards on beaches and although volunteer lifeboat crews are fully operational, it is important that only experienced paddlers should paddle on coastal waters and that when doing so they closely follow RNLI safety advice.

Activity must respect local restrictions; Paddlers are responsible for checking to ensure that if they are planning to paddle on a licensed waterway, that there are no paddling restrictions in place. The Environment Agency, Canal & River Trust, Port of London Authority and Broads Authority have now lifted restrictions but are urging responsible paddling (see below). Paddlers must also only use access points and car parks that are open for use.

Waterways authorities; The authorities have asked British Canoeing to request all paddlers to be particularly mindful of social distancing with other waterway users and especially those who are living aboard their boats and who may be vulnerable or self-isolating. They have also advised that the channels may have not been checked for several weeks, there may be obstructions and that water quality and patrols on the waterways will be varied. They are advising that waterway users must accept responsibility for their own activity.

British Port Association and UK Harbour Masters Association restrictions remain in place for usage of marinas, slipways and pontoons pending further announcements. Paddlers are advised to check ahead.

Sensitivity to the environment; A prolonged cessation in boating activity on all waterways has allowed nature to reclaim habitats. Paddlers must take care to avoid the disturbance of nesting birds and other wildlife that may have returned to the water and are reminded that it is an offence to disturb wild birds when they are nesting.

British Canoeing membership; Paddlers are reminded that a waterways licence is required to paddle on licensed waterways. Members of clubs who are not full members of British Canoeing are only licensed and insured to paddle on waterways when taking part in organised club activity. If paddlers want to ensure they are insured and licensed they can take out full British Canoeing membership here:

Respect other users; Paddlers should be aware and respect that other water users such as anglers may also be returning to the water after a prolonged spell away and should actively demonstrate a willingness to share the space

Green and Clean; It is more critical than ever, for paddlers to thoroughly wash their hands and equipment before and after activity. Paddlers should make every effort to avoid the ingestion of water, so as to minimise the potential for water borne illness from such as Weils Disease and from undetected pollution incidents. This behaviour is also encouraged to help to stop the spread of invasive non-native species.

Further advice for individual paddlers; All individual paddlers should restrict their paddlesport activities to environments which are well within their capabilities, alert friends and family to their activity and predicted return times and ensure they have a means to call for help, handy at all times.

Further advice for led, coached and guided activity; Led, coached, or guided activity may take place with clients outdoors, providing you are meeting no more than 5 other people from outside of your household, outdoors, and following social distancing guidelines.

You can meet with different clients in a single day as long as it is in gatherings of no more than 6 and you are maintaining social distancing.

Guidance for Paddlesport coaches and leaders

Further advice for clubs; Club activities can now take place. Club Associate members are now able to take part in (and are covered for third party liability insurance) any paddling activity within their club that has had due diligence/risk assessment carried out by the relevant and accountable club representative(s), is organised and delivered in groups of no more than 6 club members and is promoted on the official club calendar, website, social media or noticeboard.

Guidance for British Canoeing affiliated clubs

Further advice for centres and hire providers; Any facilities associated with outdoor sports and physical activities are permitted to re-open. Each venue should make their own decisions about when their facilities are ready. Facilities can decide whether or not they hire out equipment, including canoes and other paddle craft. 

Guidance for Paddlesport Centres and Hire Providers

Further advice on awards and qualifications; British Canoeing qualifications and awards are delivered across the globe and we recognise that lockdown measures and easing of restrictions are different in every country. Some learners and providers are starting to consider their development by attending/offering British Canoeing courses. Further guidance has been produced, with information for providers running British Canoeing Qualifications and Awards.

Guidance on British Canoeing Qualifications and Awards

Local restrictions

Following the announcement by the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care on the reintroduction of some local lockdown measures across parts of the country, the Canal and River Trust has issued new guidance on use of the waterways.

In Leicester, Greater Manchester, east Lancashire, parts of West Yorkshire and paddlesports activities are permitted, provided you are alone or with single household members.

Rules around social distancing and limits on gatherings should be followed at all times.

Full details on the use of waterways are available on the Canal and River Trust website

Further information about local restrictions in areas with an outbreak of Coronarvirus (COVID-19) can be found on the government website

Further guidance

Full details can be found on the Government’s coronavirus website

Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Sport England

Sport and Recreation Alliance