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Water safety for paddlers

Paddling is great fun, but water can be dangerous. Follow our tips for safe and enjoyable canoeing on our canals and rivers.

Two girls in life jackets carrying a canoe past a lock gate

As long as you follow a few basic rules, canoeing, kayaking or paddle boarding are safe sports and accidents are rare. If you want to make the most out of the sport and get off to the best start then a course will show you all of the basic techniques. You can find a canoe or paddle board club offering beginners courses on the British Canoeing website.

Our waterways code for smaller unpowered boats

The following tips will also help to keep you safe while you're out and about on the canal:

  • Beginners should always be accompanied by an experienced canoeist or paddle boarder
  • Wear a life jacket or buoyancy aid while afloat
  • Check the local waterway safety regulations before you set out
  • Make sure your craft is suitable for the waterway and that you are competent to use it
  • Locks, weirs and sluices can be very dangerous. Don't stay aboard your craft in a filling or emptying lock - carry it around. If it's too heavy, use ropes to keep control from the side
  • Larger boats need deeper water so keep to the side of the canal where the boater can see you

Consider others and share the space

  • Keep noise to a minimum and don't damage the banks of plants growing there
  • Take home your litter and anything else you brought with you
  • When passing anglers, unless they ask otherwise, follow a striaght course in single file
  • When passing other boats and small craft, please slow down to reduce the amount of disturbed water



Unpowered craft are not allowed through some canal tunnels or on parts of some larger river navigations. You can find more information on travelling through tunnels in our boating pages.

There are some tunnels you can paddle through, but:

  • Make sure you carry a light and whistle to warn other craft of your presence
  • Travel through in groups if possible

Find out which tunnels are open to canoes

The Paddlers' Code

The Paddlers' Code sets out the sort of things paddlers do to protect our environment. But also to respect other river and canal users and enjoy being on the water safely. It's a simple set of good practice guidelines that we hope people will share and use every time they go out paddling. It is not about giving people a set of rules to abide by. It is more about describing the good things we do as a community to paddle responsibly.

Watch the video below to learn more about the code.

Go paddling

Last Edited: 13 October 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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