Where to Canoe with a Family

If you have insurance and a British Waterways license, you can paddle at a great many places, but where’s best to paddle with a family?

Where to Canoe: Rivers

Rivers are an obvious choice and can provide idyllic places to paddle.

However, rivers can be dangerous.  A calm and gentle river can turn into a raging torrent around the bend, so you need to plan the route, and know where the hazards are.

A further complication though is the river level.  A normal gentle and safe river can be a death trap when in flood, but also a river that normally flows gentle high above rocks could become a sea of white water when levels are low.

The other thing to take into account is the current.  It can be a lot harder paddling upstream, and may not be possible.  You need to plan ahead the logistics, usually requiring two vehicles, with one driven to the place where you plan to get out.

Tidal sections of rivers are best left to more experienced paddlers, as these areas can be prone to strong currents.

The BCU once again comes to the rescue.  There are some guides on where to paddle, along with river guides and what’s gentle and navigable, and what’s technical and best left to whitewater enthusiasts.

Where to Canoe: Canals

Canals provide flat water (i.e. no rapids or falls), not a great deal of current, and plenty of places to get in and out.

Some canals are busier than others.  You may not be aware, but waterway traffic is on the right, not the left like the roads.

Busy canals obviously present more of a hazard, and just like on the road, you may find some boats a ‘canal hog’, and not wanting anyone else sharing the waterway.  Watch out for these – they won’t care how young the occupants of the canoe are!

You must not go through a lock in your canoe.  These are very dangerous, and the currents they produce are not compatible with family paddling.

Locks will have entry and exit points before and after them, so get everyone out and carry your canoe around.

Where to Canoe: Lakes and Reservoirs

Lakes and Reservoirs are privately owned in the UK and you often need to pay a day license to paddle (though I notice Lake Windermere is reported as free – we’ve not done that one yet).

Some lakes have a public ticket machine, a bit like pay and display (this is at the water activity centre in Lake Bala for example), or can be arranged by a local sailing or water sports club that holds the access rights (such as Lake Clywedog).

Lakes usually provide a big area to explore, and beaches that are a great stopping point for a family picnic.

The downside to lakes is that they are a large body of water, and winds tend to be stronger.  Paddling into a headwind is very difficult.  Going in the right direction in a cross wind is equally challenging.  Check the weather.

Where to Canoe: Sea

Sea state, weather, tides, currents, local conditions, all must be taken into account when paddling in the sea.

A beach with a lifeguard, other users, splashing around in the surf, is a lot safer than attempting a sea crossing, which will require a Sea kayak, lots of knowledge and experience.

You can have great fun though paddling around in the surf.

Sit-on-tops are usually great for this, but decent inflatables can work well too (and are lighter if you wipeout and the boat comes down on top).

Obviously, the surf can be dangerous, so only to be done by those strong enough to swim in it, and you should really wear a helmet.

Common Sense

Wherever you go paddling, just like any other trip, can be summed up with the following common sense rules:

  • Know where you are going and that conditions at the time of you paddling are within the parameters of your experience and knowledge, especially taking into account if you have younger passengers you need to supervise.
  • Let people know where you are going.  Take two boats if possible as one can always act as a rescue to the other.
  • Plan for the worst, but expect the best.

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