Try before you buy and learning the basics
There are many places where you can get on the water and try out canoeing, such as a family holiday where you can hire a canoe and paddle around on safe waters.
However, there’s a difference between splashing around at a supervised facility, and being the responsible adult for your family.
Fortunately there are canoe clubs up and down the country that provide taster sessions and basic instruction, and many of these sessions you can hire any gear you need at extremely reasonable prices.
Finding a Canoe Club
All of the clubs are members of the British Canoe Union, which is split into Canoe England, Canoe Scotland, Canoe Wales, and Canoe Northern Ireland. You view the list here.
For example, if you live in England you can search here for clubs in your area.
The club in my area runs sessions every Monday night from 6.30 until dusk through the summer to mid-September.
All of the gear for the session (boat, paddle, buoyancy aid, spraydeck, paddle, etc.) can be hired for £4.
Two free taster sessions are provided (and then you must become a member).
Children from the age of 10 and up are also welcome to attend.
The sessions are split into groups:
- Beginners wanting to learn the basic skills
- Those that have some paddling experience and wish to develop their skills
- And of course a group that doesn’t want any coaching or wish to play Canoe Polo.
What you need to bring
Check your local club for their requirements, but generally you should look to take the following:
- Secure footwear that provides protection (i.e. no flip flops or bare feet)
- Multiple warm layers (number of course depends on weather). When layering clothing, man-made fibres are best – no denim or cotton.
- Towel and change of clothes
- Lightweight waterproof/windproof jacket.
- Hat/Glasses/Sun Cream
- Sugary Drinks and Energy Bars (you can burn a lot of calories canoeing)
Learning to Canoe: The Basics
Canoeing is straightforward to pickup, but there are some basics you’ll need to cover before heading off on the water with your kids. Here’s a few examples:
- Getting in and getting out of the water. A canoe may feel unstable at first, but you’ll get used to it, and remember – don’t stand up in the canoe.
- Efficient paddling technique. Most newcomers put too much effort in. There’s some efficient ways of paddling to get more power with less effort.
- Steering and manoeuvring. An essential skill.
- Dealing with currents, recognising and avoiding dangers (such as trees on the river bank).
Learning more: tackling whitewater
With the basics covered, you may find that you want to take it further. The canoe club will be able to introduce you to the fun of whitewater canoeing, and learning how to perform the Eskimo Roll so that you can right yourself without getting out of your canoe (if you go on with the training you’ll be able to do this one handed without a paddle).
If you fancy getting a taster of whitewater, there are many whitewater centres around the country that have organised whitewater rafting. OK, so it’s not canoeing, but it will give you a sense of what it is like going down the white stuff.
I have done the whitewater rafting at the whitewater centre near Bala in Wales. This was great fun. All equipment is included.
Taking your family out for the first time
With the basics mastered, and your confidence in being able to safely get your family around on the water, it’s time to take them out. Remember that they may be nervous and make the same mistakes you may have done when starting.
There are many holiday parks that have canoe hire, and these may be a good place to start – combine it as part of your holiday. You don’t need to invest in lots of gear, which would be a good thing at this stage if you find your family doesn’t like the water.
There are also lots of organised trips. You may find some of these through your local canoe club or local press. There are also some family canoe vouchers you can buy, either as a gift or a simple way to organise (see Organised Family Canoe Trips for some vouchers).
Some canoe trips you can combine into a short break. For example, have a look at The Canoe Man on the Norfolk Broads. You could have a family canoe and camp session, or canoe one way and travel by steam train the other way.
You could also combine it into a family holiday. Popular destinations such as Cornwall and Devon have a number of organised canoe trips. For example, you could Canoe the River Tamar or the River Fowey.
We had an excellent time with the Kayak King in Pembrokeshire. It’s a great way to get on the water, explore the coast, and get close to the wildlife.
Alternatively, there are a few special campsites that have canoes. One of our favourite places is Gwalia Farm in Wales. Here you can do ‘real’ camping and take a canoe out around their small lake. Another favourite is Fforest Fields, also in Wales. These are great places for your kids to get some confidence on the water.
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