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Staying safe while canoeing

Visitors kayaking on the sea past the Old Harry Rocks, Purbeck Countryside, Dorset
Kayaking off the Dorset coast | © National Trust Images / Ben Selway

Spending time canoeing and kayaking is a great way to experience nature while keeping fit and enjoying time with friends or family. However it can also be a dangerous activity if safety guidelines aren’t followed. Read on for our tips and guidance on how to stay safe on the water.

Wear appropriate clothing

As well as your buoyancy aid, always wear suitable footwear – rough terrain, slipways and riverbeds can be dangerous without sufficient grip.

Other canoe-safe clothing encompasses hats, layered items that can easily be removed, and spare dry clothes for afterwards, as well as a towel to dry yourself down.

Keep an eye on the forecast

Make sure to find out the weather forecast before you set out on your paddle to assess whether the conditions are suitable.

The Met Office, BBC weather and local harbour offices will all have the most up-to-date forecasts.

Take heed of tide times, navigation and events

For coastal canoe trails check the tide times and assess whether they are suitable for paddling the trail. Going upriver with an incoming (flood) tide and returning with the outgoing (ebb) tide is usually easiest. Make sure you’re not going to get caught on mud flats on a falling tide.

Paddlers should be aware of the rules of the road at sea and be able to identify the main channel. Always observe the navigation rules for the waterway you are travelling on, and check if there are any events/restrictions on the waters when you wish to travel.

Visitors canoeing on Tumbleton Lake at Cragside, Northumberland
Visitors canoeing | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Local environment

Familiarise yourself with the local area: its sensitive places and protected areas. Be sure to:

  • Leave the environment as you find it
  • Take your litter home with you
  • Keep noise to a minimum
  • Try not to damage bankside vegetation when launching or landing
  • Where possible stick to designated paths or launching points
  • Canoe a safe distance away from wildlife
  • Rinse your kit down to prevent the spread of non-native invasive species

Check your equipment

Use this checklist to make sure you have everything you need, and ensure your kit is in good condition.

  1. Buoyancy aid
  2. Boat
  3. Paddle
  4. Drinking water
  5. Bailer/sponge
  6. Small first aid kit
  7. Penknife
  8. Mobile phone in waterproof bag (reception maybe limited in some areas)
  9. Adequate footwear
  10. Sun cream, hat and sunglasses
  11. Light waterproof jacket
  12. Spray deck (as required)
  13. Licence (as required)

Final notes

You should be able to swim at least 50m. Canoeing alone is not recommended. Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.

A rocky cove with sandy beach and waves crashing on the shore - from above


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