Do you need a waterways licence for an inflatable kayak?

If you’ve recently bought an inflatable kayak the rules around where you can go and what you can do can be confusing. To help we have put together a list of FAQs to hopefully cut through the confusion and provide you with the answers you’re looking for.

Do I need a waterways licence if I’m only using an inflatable kayak?

Yes. If you are looking to use your inflatable kayak in England or Wales you are required to hold an appropriate waterways licence to paddle approximately 4,500km of navigation that are managed by the Canal and Rivers Trust (CRT), the Environmental Agency, the Broads Authority and a number of other waterway authorities

Do I have to purchase individual licences from each authority?

No. By taking out a British Canoeing ‘On the Water’ membership you will receive a waterways licence allowing you to access over 4,500km of managed waterways in England and Wales. If licences were purchased directly across the different authorities, to cover the same number of waterways included within a British Canoeing membership it would cost over £130.


Search to see if your waterway is included in the British Canoeing licence. Start typing the name into the search box and it will filter all options for you. If you would like to see a full list of waters covered and not covered by our British Canoeing licence simply hit the Show All button.

But I only need a licence for one waterways authority. Surely, it’s cheaper to purchase one licence rather than taking out British Canoeing ‘On the Water’ membership?

You’ll be surprised how competitive our ‘On the Water’ membership is when you compare it with buying an individual licence for one of the main waterways authorities.

Our membership is cheaper than purchasing a waterways licence for the Canal & River Trust (costing £53.51) and only marginally more expensive than if you were to purchase a licence for either the Environment Agency (costing £38.20) or a Broads Authority licence (costing £33.84).

Are there any additional benefits to having a British Canoeing ‘On the Water’ membership?

Absolutely! Becoming a member of British Canoeing ensures you can access a range of great benefits on top of your waterways licence. Click the links to learn more about each of these in detail.

  • Insurance – enjoy Combined Liability Insurance providing for legal liability cover following negligence, nuisance or trespass.
  • Craft Insurance – you can access an exclusive member preferential rate for craft insurance provided by Towergate. Covering you for theft and accidental damage for any type of craft up to £2000 including kayaks, canoes, stand up paddle boards. Alongside cover for paddling equipment such as paddles and helmets and Buoyancy aids.
  • Communications – regular paddler-focused content and advice as well as a free digital copy of the Paddler magazine including Canoe Focus.
  • Special Offers and Discounts– a range of great offers from leading outdoor retailers and paddlesport brands. Plus you get an exclusive discount on a subscription to the print edition of The Paddler and SUPM magazines. Click here for a full list of discounts and benefits.
I have a two-person inflatable kayak. If I decide to take a friend or a family member out paddling do we need two waterways licences?

No. As long as the person holding the waterways licence is actually in the inflatable kayak then they are able to have a co-pilot or a passenger on board. Please note that co-pilots or passengers who are not British Canoeing ‘On the Water’ members will not have third party insurance cover.

British Canoeing offers reduced rates available for couples and families. Click here to find out more.

Where can I paddle without needing a waterways licence?

If you’re paddling on the sea, estuaries or tidal water you will not require a waterways licence. If you are heading to the sea we would highly recommend you read our Tips For Beginners Paddling On The Sea and Reading The Weather articles, especially as inflatable kayaks are often more susceptible to sea conditions. We would always advise paddlers new to the sport to start on inland waterways before heading to the seaside to build up some basic skills and experience.

You’ll also find that there are a number of lakes and reservoirs that do not require a waterways licence, though they may require a day permit. Don’t forget weather conditions on lakes and reservoirs can become challenging so please make sure you paddle well within your means.

You can also visit our interactive map Paddlepoints on our Go paddling website. It’s a great resource to help find new trip ideas and local access spots.

What about accessing waterways in Scotland?

Scotland have the Right to Roam which means you don’t need a licence to paddle in Scotland. British Canoeing membership does still provide you insurance cover for when you are out paddling. For more information about our insurance cover please click here.

What if I live in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland?

British Canoeing membership is only applicable to those paddlers who live in England. If you live in WalesScotland or Northern Ireland, you must join your home nation. Remember, Scotland have the Right to Roam which means you don’t need a licence to paddle in Scotland, but joining the home nation is still advisable for a whole host of other benefits.

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