It's been a beautiful Sunday here in the UK today and I went by the river (Thames) with my girlfriend to get some sunlight and fresh air. (We rarely do that, so that might be why I'm writing a question right now.)

We've seen quite a lot people canoeing on inflatable canoes on the river and we thought:
Hey! That actually seems fun! Could we do that?

So I looked up inflatable canoes on eBay and these seem rather cheap - then I tried to look up how to approach "getting-started" but I'm a bit confused now.

This leads to a question:
As a total water-newbie
(my experience with water ends on swimming in a pool back when I was a child)
what do I need to do to be able to legally and safely canoe on Thames?

Do I need any official training? Do I or my canoe need to have a licence?

  • 1
    Related: outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/5913/3313
    – Aravona
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 7:30
  • 2
    Also go speak to the guys at Canoe England (British Canoeing), they're really nice and will let you know what you need for licenses (It's about £30-60 a year to go on a lot of waterways) the money simply goes to river/canal upkeep. Plus as a member you get "Civil liability insurance up to £10 million" which is brilliant, britishcanoeing.org.uk/membership/benefits and they also have a list of everywhere they cover and where you can kayak/canoe for free.
    – Aravona
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 7:32
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    If your new to the water make sure you invest in a personal flotation device. Rivers can seem very calm and inviting but often have hidden dangers and currents.
    – user2766
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 9:13
  • It might be a good idea to brush up on your swimming too (and may be a requirement of any course you do)
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 13:26
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    The River Thames is more than 200 miles long. What you would need to do to be legal and safe in, say, a gentle, non-tidal stretch of the river in rural Oxfordshire that you'd be sharing with a goose and three ducks is likely to be very different from what you'd need in the wide, tidal reaches of the river in central London that you'd be sharing with shipping. Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 13:50

2 Answers 2


It will depend on whereabouts along the Thames you live but there are many canoe and kayak clubs and water-based outdoor recreation centres around. It is possible to get into it without any training but that's not advisable. Most clubs or centres will have some kind of beginner classes. Just do some searches.

Canoes and kayaks don't need to be licensed but many rivers in England often require specific licenses to paddle on.

Before enquiring, be clear on the difference between a canoe and a kayak: strictly speaking, canoes are paddled with a single-bladed paddle and kayaks are paddled with a double-bladed paddle. (However, in the UK, "canoe" is often the generic term for both.) Both are fun to paddle, in my opinion, so try them both.

Two more things to consider, but later on, after you've got some experience: Inflatable vs hard shell and single vs double. (In open canoes, the latter is known as solo vs tandem.) You and your friend might like to paddle the same boat, but it's a good idea to both try out your techniques in single/solo boats first.

  • Thanks for the answer! I will look for some classes first then ;)
    – Eazis
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 20:05
  • Plenty of clubs run beginner training over the summer. Multi-activity clubs can be good as well, for a rather more laid back approach than some canoe clubs, especially those that specialise in something specific, whether that's marathon, whitewater, polo or whatever.
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 13:25


Do I need a license to paddle on the Thames?

If you’re paddling on the non tidal section of the river (Cricklade Bridge to Teddington) yes, you need either a non powered pleasure craft license available from the environment agency here or join the British Canoe Union (BCU) here. Either of these entitles you to paddle on the non tidal section of the Thames.

If you’re paddling on the Thames below Teddington you do not need a license, just remember the Thames here is tidal and a look at a tide table before you go out for the day is very sensible here.

Other local river such as the Wey or Mole and the Basingstoke Canal and Wey Navigation are also covered by the BCU license

From Whitewater Canoe Centre

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