Get Inspired: How to get into Canoeing

Fast Answers

Why get into canoeing?

Because it's fun way to explore while keeping your arms and heart pumping.

Who is it for?

Canoeing offers something for everyone, young or old.

Is there a cheap option?

Some taster sessions are free. You don't have to go out and buy a canoe either because clubs and centres will often have equipment you can use.

What if I want a proper workout?

Paddling uses most of the muscles in the arms and legs, which means you are working on toning and strengthening these areas.

Can I take it to another level?

From entering the sport as a beginner it's possible to progress to national regattas at junior and senior level, where all paddlers are ranked within their classes.

Is there a disability option?

Some clubs and taster sessions can accommodate people with disabilities. GB Canoeing has a Paralympic programme for athletes with physical disabilities.

Is there a family option?

Paddle as a family and enjoy the experience together.

If you haven't paddled before, an introductory course is a good idea and the Go Canoeing  scheme offers starter sessions in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland  , you can join an organised recreational paddle. There are also hundreds of clubs all over the UK that encourage participation. The Canoe Association of Northern Ireland,  the Scottish Canoe Association,  Canoe Wales  and Canoe England  all provide details of local clubs and centres to get you started near you.

Where can you canoe?

sea kayaking

The British Isles are made for canoeing!  You can learn the basic skills and build your confidence on calmer, inland waters, like rivers and lakes. To paddle in canals, you'll need a licence. With the right training, you can enjoy spectacular scenery canoeing on coastal waters. Or if you fancy challenging yourself further, then white water descents will provide a thrilling experience.

Canoeing for Pleasure

you can spend time with friends and family

Whether you're going down rapids or drifting down a clam river, paddling can be incredibly therapeutic for both mind and body and it doesn't have to be competitive. Canoeing allows you to exercise and spend time having fun with friends and family. Recreational canoeing can be started at an early age, enjoyed by all members of the family, even into retirement. Even for the easiest waters however, all canoeists should be to swim at least 50 metres in canoeing clothing. For those looking to join a club or begin lessons, visit the British Canoe Union  website for further information.

Kids and young people

young person canoeing

One of the best ways to get your kids canoeing  is to don the buoyancy aids and head out on a family paddle. If you want to keep an eye on young children, sharing a boat is a great option - you can fit a family and a picnic in a 16-foot Canadian canoe! Go Canoeing  has loads of information about getting started. In England and Wales  there are a number of specially-designed schemes, like Paddlepower,  which help children to build up their skills or enter competitions. While U Canoe  aims to keep teenagers in the sport and encourage new participants to take up paddling.

Disability Canoeing

Paracanoe champ Dickins targets gold

Able-bodied and disabled participants can share all aspects of the activity. Some Go Canoeing  taster sessions can accommodate people with disabilities but it is worth checking before you turn up. Similarly, get in touch with your local club  as many cater for people with disabilities. If you want to compete, the British Canoe Union  holds competitive events as part of mainstream programmes, which recognise the needs of disabled competitors. There's also a GB paracanoe squad. 


There are two canoeing Olympic disciplines; slalom and sprint.

London 2012: Canoe slalom at the Olympics explained (Part one)

Canoe Slalom is the ultimate challenge as paddlers tackle the excitement of white water rapids, testing speed, agility and precision. Paddlers must navigate a sequence of pairs of poles (gates) in number order set up over challenging rapids, waves, eddies and currents on a 300m stretch of white water. Entry level to canoe slalom racing are generally held on calm water and the courses will be simple. The British Canoe Union  can help you make the first steps into racing.

Canoe sprint at the Olympics explained (Part one)

Canoe Sprint sees athletes race on a straight course, each boat in a separate lane, over three different distances: 200m, 500m, 1000m. Most paddlers enter sprint racing through a club, racing locally as novices and progressing to national regattas at junior and senior levels, where all paddlers are ranked within their classes. In a Kayak, the paddler is seated and uses a two-blade paddle, while in a Canoe, the paddler is kneeling on one knee, and uses a single-blade paddle. For those looking to start racing and to find out the location of sprint meets, contact the The British Canoe Union. 

Coaching and Volunteering

Coaching can be very rewarding

Helping other people to enjoy canoeing or kayaking can be extremely rewarding. Whether you are already a coach, want to become a coach or are a paddler and looking for coaching, then get in touch with your home nation: England,  Northern Ireland,  Scotland  and Wales.  You can also try Sports Coach UK. 

If you are interested in volunteering in your area then get in touch with your local club.  From coaches to club secretary, clubs and centres are always looking for willing and enthusiastic volunteers who can lend a hand and utilise their skills in their voluntary team. You can also find out about other volunteering opportunities in canoeing with JoinInUK. 

What's next?

1. Go to our Activity Finder to get into canoeing near you.

2. Find your local canoeing opportunities by using the The British Canoe Union  website. The Canoe Association of Northern Ireland,  the Scottish Canoe Association,  Canoe Wales  and Canoe England  all provide details of local clubs and centres.

3. Share your story  and inspire others

Are you inspired to try basketball? Or maybe you are a keen enthusiast already? Get in touch and tell us your experience of the sport by tweeting us on @bbcgetinspired,  visiting us on Facebook  or email us on

See our full list of activity guides for more inspiration.