Paddleboarding in the UK
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Where to Go Paddle Boarding in the UK

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When it comes to paddle boarding in the UK, it’s not always clear where you are allowed to go and which rivers or lakes might be private. In this post, we’re going to make that information as simple as possible so that you can spend more time paddling and less time worrying about where you can and can’t go.

Considering that we’re a small island nation, surrounded by water and with thousands of miles of rivers and canals running through it, it should be fairly easy to just grab your board and go paddling. But there are licenses to consider, as well as conflicting information about which stretches of river you are free to explore.

And then there are the many thousands of lakes and reservoirs that are dotted all over the UK. Can you just head out on the water and explore those too?

Sadly, these unanswered questions can put people off buying a board and finding their own places to spend their free time on the water, and it shouldn’t be that way. Paddleboarding in the UK is great fun and it’s one of the most enjoyable hobbies you can have. With a bit of knowledge and some local research, you’ll soon realise that there are plenty of places to go nearby.

Paddleboarding in the UK

Paddle Board Licences

For beginners who are new to paddle boarding, it can be a little bit confusing trying to understand where you can and can’t go on your board.

Managed waterways in England and Wales, such as some rivers and canals, require a licence to be able to paddle on them. This license can be purchased from the British Canoeing website and costs around £45 per year (2023). A portion of that license fee goes towards the upkeep and maintenance of those waterways.

This one license covers around 4500km of waterways, so that should keep you busy for a little while.

The British Canoeing website also has an interactive map, explaining exactly which rivers you can and can’t paddle on, and any stretches that are off-limits.

This page on the British Canoeing website also has a really useful waterways checker which will show you which rivers and canals you can paddle on. Simply type the name of the river or canal into the box and it will return results showing whether or not you can paddle and if there are any exclusions.

Although the Waterways licence does cover Wales, if you live in Wales, or plan on doing most of your paddling there, you’d be better off buying your licence via Canoe Wales as this has more specific benefits for Welsh users, such as access to Ceufad Magazine.

Scotland, however, keeps things really simple. Due to the Land Reform Act, or Right to Roam, licences are not required to paddle on the rivers.


So this is where it starts to get complicated.

Just because you now have a licence it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can just go anywhere you like on the rivers. There are still some rivers that you cannot paddle on, and more complicated still, there are some small sections of rivers that you are not permitted to paddle on.

I know this first hand. My local river, the River Avon in Warwick, is a beautiful place to go paddle boarding. During the summer months, the river can become quite busy with kayaks, paddle boards and even wild swimmers, all enjoying the Warwickshire countryside. But then, abruptly, there is a chain across the river with a sign hanging off it, informing river users that they are not allowed beyond this point.

The following section of river that runs behind the stunning Warwick Castle is off limits, presumably privately owned.

And this is just one of a million examples of the complexities of river rights in England, and it really highlights how much we need a ‘Right to Roam’ act similar to the one they have in Scotland.

Paddleboarding in the UK

So when it comes to rivers, where can you go paddle boarding in the UK?

The Go Paddling website has a great range of pre-planned trails on offer, aimed at paddle boarders and kayakers. There are over 170 to choose from and they all have details about length, duration and difficulty. This is a great option for people who don’t want to have to worry about where they can and can’t go, just simply follow the pre-planned routes.

Paddle Points is also a great tool to help you find new places to go paddle boarding in the UK. This website will show you where to launch, along with helpful information such as any hazards nearby. This is user-led content, so you can upload your own locations and also comment on and update existing information.


Fortunately, with the exception of locks and tunnels, canals are a little bit simpler to understand.

Canals can be a bit underrated as a place to go paddle boarding in the UK. Yes, the water can be dirty and you definitely wouldn’t want to fall in with your mouth wide open, but if you’re of a good level of competency and tend to stay dry on your paddle boarding adventures, then there are thousands of miles to explore.

Beautiful countryside, rich industrial history and an abundance of wildlife. What’s not to like?

Of course, it goes without saying that paddle boarders should not be going anywhere near locks and you’ll have to get out and walk around them – or ‘portage’ if you want to adopt the proper lingo. But tunnels throw up a question for many people…

Can you paddleboard through a canal tunnel?

Yes. There are certain tunnels that you can paddle through, but there are also tunnels that you are not allowed to go through. There is a full list of the tunnels that you can paddle through on the Canal and River Trust website.

There are rules to follow too, such as using a bright headtorch and always checking for oncoming boats before you enter the tunnel. And, if you’re particularly tall, you might want to mind your head.


If you thought access to rivers was complicated. Just wait until you hear about lakes.

I wish that I could write this section in a couple of sentences, basically saying that you can go paddle boarding on any lake that you like. But I can’t.

Take the Lake District, for example. Any paddle boarder who loves getting out on the water has probably daydreamed about heading out on one of the Lakes, paddling around under a warm sun with the Lakeland Fells towering all around. But it’s not that simple.

Here’s a list of lakes and whether you’re allowed to paddle board on them or not…

  • Windermere – Yes
  • Coniston – Yes
  • Ullswater – Yes
  • Derwent Water – Yes
  • Bassenthwaite – Yes, with a permit
  • Buttermere – Yes, with a permit
  • Crummock Water – Yes, with a permit
  • Ennerdale Water – No
  • Esthwaite Water – No
  • Grasmere – Yes
  • Haweswater – No
  • Loweswater – Yes, with a permit
  • Rydal – No
  • Thirlmere – No
  • Wastwater – Yes

As you can see with this small snapshot of one area, there’s no quick answer as to whether or not you can go paddle boarding on a lake, and that’s the same for most of the country – apart from Scotland with their Right to Roam, of course.

Put simply, if you want to know if you can paddle on a particular lake, you are going to have to get on Google and do your research.


With a bit of common sense, the sea is a bit easier to understand when it comes to paddle boarding in the UK, but there are still some complexities.

If your board is shorter than 3.5 metres long, it is classed as recreational beach gear. Under that category, you are permitted to paddle anywhere in the sea but must stay within 300 metres of the shore.

However, if your board is more than 3.5 metres long and is a hard board(not inflatable), then your board would be classed as a small sea vessel under maritime law. Under that category, you are permitted to travel up to two nautical miles from the shore but would be required to carry some gear with you, such as a tow rope and flashlights.

I’m sure that most people reading this would fall under the first category, if that’s the case then you can’t really go wrong if you stick close to the shore and avoid shipping channels and harbour entrances.

Paddle Boarding in the UK FAQs

Don’t want to read the whole post but are looking for specific answers…

Can I Paddle Anywhere in the UK?

No. You can paddle on most rivers and canals but there are restrictions and you will need a license. Lakes are a similar story. You can just paddle on some lakes but others you need a permit for, and others are privately owned so you can’t paddle board at all.

Do I Need a License to Paddle Board on a River?

In England and Wales, yes. You can buy a Waterways licence and this will allow you to paddle on most rivers and canals. Full details of where you can and can’t go are written above.

How Much is a Paddle Board Licence UK

A Waterways licence is around £45 per person, although there are discounted options for family passes.

Can You Paddle Board Anywhere in the Sea?

If your board is under 3.5 metres long, you can paddle in most places in the sea but you need to stay within 300 metres of the shore.

If your board is longer than 3.5 metres and is a hard board, you can travel up to two nautical miles from the shore but you will be subject to maritime law and will need to carry some items such as ropes and lights with you. Full details are above.

Do I Need a Licence to Paddle Board in the Sea?

No. Paddle board licences are for rivers and canals. You do not need one to paddle board in the sea.

How Far Out to Sea Can You Go on a Paddle Board?

If your board is inflatable and under 3.5 metres, you must stay within 300 metres of the shore.

If your board is longer than 3.5 metres and is a hard board, you can travel up to two nautical miles from the shore but you will be subject to maritime law and will need to carry some items such as ropes and lights with you. Full details are above.

Can You Use Paddle Boards on the Canal?

Yes. You can paddle board on most canals but you will need a Waterways licence to do so.

Can I Paddle Board Through a Canal Tunnel?

There are some tunnels that you can paddle board through. However, you must have a forward-facing light, such as a headtorch. Full details on which tunnels you can paddle board through can be found on the Canal and River Trust website. Link above.

Can I Paddle Board on Any Lake?

No, every lake is different. Some lakes you can paddle on, some lakes you can paddle board on if you have a permit, and some lakes you can’t paddle board on at all. Unfortunately, you have to do your research on each specific lake.

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