People getting a canoeing lesson

Try before you buy and learning the basics

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published Aug 2012; updated Apr 2023.

Fancy getting your family on the water canoeing? Before buying lots of gear, try it out first...

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 in many of these sessions, you can hire any gear you need at extremely reasonable prices.

Finding a Canoe Club

Finding a canoe club is quite easy. Simply click this link to search for one.

For example, the club in my area runs sessions every Monday night from 6.30 until dusk through the summer to mid-September, where 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 (depending 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 pick up, but there are some basics you'll need to cover before heading off on the water with your kids. Here are a few examples:

  • Getting in and 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 are 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 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 taste of whitewater, many whitewater centres around the country 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 whitewater rafting at the whitewater centre near Bala in Waler. This was great fun. All equipment is included.

Taking your family out for the first time

With the basics mastered and your confidence in safely getting 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 made when starting.

Many holiday parks have canoe hire, which 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 press. There are also some family canoe vouchers you can buy as a gift or a simple way to organise.

Some canoe trips you can combine into a short break.

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. A favourite is Fforest Fields, also in Wales. These are great places for your kids to get confidence in the water.