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Waterway Licence Explained

Before you head out on the water it’s important to check if a waterway licence is required for that stretch of water, whether that is a lake, river or canal. As for a number of waterways it is a legal requirement.

Steve Hockin

The good news is that an annual waterway licence isn’t that expensive. The money contributes towards the maintenance and protection of the waterways you paddle on, ensuring they are kept clean and safe for us and future generations to enjoy. 

Everything you need to know about waterway licences and how to get one is explained below.

Who needs a waterway licence?

If you’re kayaking, canoeing or stand up paddleboarding in England or Wales a waterway licence is required to paddle on over 5000km of waterways that are managed by the Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency, the Broads Authority and a number of other waterway authorities.  

Not all waterways require a licence but if you’re paddling on a variety of inland waterways it’s most likely some of these will require a licence. So it would be a shame to limit yourself. 

Why do you need a licence?

By having a waterway licence you’re paddling responsibly, adhering to the rules of the waterway authorities and you’re contributing to the sustainability of waterways. 

The money generated from licences goes towards the authorities taking care of the waterways. They carry out a range of work that many people aren’t aware of, like the upkeep of the banks, ensuring put ins and get outs are maintained, they inspect and repair towpaths for access and protect against bank erosion. 

These waterways agencies carry out vital ecological work, removing invasive non-native species which can clog up entire waterways in a few days and cost the UK economy billions of pounds alone each year. They also install check, clean, dry points to protect against those invasive non-native species.

In addition, they help manage water quality and levels, reducing the risk to our health and reducing the danger of flooding.

Hopefully you agree that this is worth the investment. For many paddlers a highlight of being on the water is the tranquillity alongside the beauty of nature, wildlife and views you get to experience. So a small annual contribution to help protect this for the future isn’t a big ask!

How do I get a waterway licence?

British Canoeing membership (if you live in England) or the Canoe Wales membership (if you live in Wales) gives paddlers a licence to paddle on a large number of managed waterways and is the most comprehensive waterways licence on the market. Alongside this, membership provides paddlers with civil liability insurance and a range of exclusive benefits. Making it the best value option for paddlers. 

For a full list of waterways covered by the British Canoeing membership click here or alternatively take a look on our interactive map Paddlepoints, it’s a great resource to help find new trip ideas and local get in spots. 

If you’re only ever going to paddle on one waterway and you don’t want to explore further afield then you can purchase a single licence directly with that authority but most paddlers we know love a good adventure. 

Why is British Canoeing membership the best value?

British Canoeing works in partnership with all the major waterway authorities to allow paddlers to have one licence as part of their membership that covers over 5,000km of waterways in England. 

Our waterway licence and membership covers all types of paddling disciplines and boats (kayak, canoe and stand up paddleboard). A licence will cover any passengers you have within your boat (as long as you, the member is in the boat with them) but if there are two of you both going for a paddle independently in separate craft then you will both need a licence.

British Canoeing ‘On the Water’ Membership is an annual cost of £45, that’s only £3.75 a month (with a discounted rate for couples and families). Giving paddlers a waterway licence as well as civil liability insurance and a whole host of exclusive paddler specific benefits and information. (That’s probably a little more than the cost of one Costa or Starbucks coffee per month - and look at what you get for your money!)  

For full information about our ‘On the water’ membership click here.  

If individual licences were purchased to cover the same number of waterways included within a British Canoeing membership (across the different authorities) it would cost over £130. Making our membership the best value for paddlers. Alongside this paddlers get a whole host of other benefits that you wouldn’t get from other organisations. Still don’t believe us? Take a look at the top three waterway authority licence costs. 

Canal & River Trust - £53.71 

Broads Authority - £35

Environment Agency - £44.20

What else does British Canoeing do for paddlers?

We’re a membership organisation that exists because of our paddlers, which we place at the heart of everything we do. Income generated by membership is reinvested back into the organisation to develop and manage projects that support the paddling community and future development of paddlesport as a whole.

We’re continually working hard to widen opportunities and benefits for our members alongside helping to protect the natural environment. To take a look at some of the projects done recently click here