Kayak Licence UK | Our Complete Waterways Licence Guide

To obtain a Kayak Licence in the UK is a relatively simple process, however licences and/or memberships are administered by a few different authorities – some which have reciprocal rights, and some that do not. This can create a bit of confusion when determining what you actually require to paddle within the UK’s regulations.

The licence itself is not actually called a Kayak Licence, but is instead a Waterways Licence and this licence permits boating and recreational craft on canals and rivers managed by the various trusts, agencies and authorities that administer the waterways in the UK.

The Waterways Licence is required not only for Kayakers, but for all forms of un-powered pleasure craft such as canoes, paddle boards, row boats and dinghies as well as encompassing other forms of light inflatable craft.

This complete and comprehensive guide to obtaining a Waterways Licence to Kayak in the UK will hopefully answer all your questions but please, if you do have any comments or suggestions, or any other feedback at all, feel free to add a comment at the end of this blog post!



The UK is an amazing destination to Kayak that’s spoilt with a fantastic variety of choices when it comes to spending your free time paddling. The UK’s Rivers, Lakes, Lochs, Estuaries, Harbours, Coastline and Canals offer so many paddling options and as such, are a very popular European Kayaking destination.

Our aim with this complete guide is to give you all the “ins and outs” in regards to obtaining a UK Waterway Licence and also a full understanding of what is required to ensure safe and legal Kayaking here in the UK on all the differing authorities waterways.

What Is The UK Waterways Licence?

The Waterways Licence is basically an authorisation that permits kayaking (and other pleasure craft) usage on waterways administered by the Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency and the Broads Authority of Norfolk and Suffolk.

The licence covers all powered craft such as narrowboats, cruisers and yachts as well as almost all unpowered pleasure craft such as kayaks

As stated earlier in this blog the licences are managed separately by the different authorities and confusion can often occur when it comes to understanding which exact waterways are administered by which authority and which waterways you are (and are not) permitted to paddle upon.

Where Can I Get a UK Waterways Licence for Kayaking?

The easiest way around the above-mentioned possibility of confusion is to simply obtain the licence via a membership from British Canoeing.

The British Canoeing membership card has dual usage in that it is ALSO proof of you having paid for the Waterways Licence (as part of your membership fee).

Towergate Insurance Logo

British Canoeing membership definitely provides the most comprehensive licence as it covers ALL of the authorities waterways, so around 4500kms of prime paddling opportunity. If you live in Wales, the Canoe Wales membership offers the same level of membership and includes all the England waterways as part of the membership so is totally reciprocal.  The Canoe Association of Northern Ireland also has its own association and is a division of British Canoeing so its membership includes the same benefits.

The other fantastic plus of the British Canoeing membership is the fact that liability insurance is included underwritten by Towergate Insurance.

Alternatively the licences can be purchased from the individual associations and authorities detailed above however this is a far more expensive way to cover all your bases, so to speak.

How Much Does a UK Waterways Licence Cost?

Waterway Licences, when purchased individually, cost as little as £27 annually. There are also specialist one-off short term licences that are available from the Canal and River Trust which start at £11.

Outlined in the table below are all the details of all the relevant authorities, trusts and associations where you can gain membership and/or waterway licences in order to be able to Kayak with confidence in the UK. 

Issuing Authority Annual Cost Available To Waterways Coverage
England Residents
England & Wales Waterways
Welsh Residents
England & Wales Waterways
UK Residents
England & Wales Waterways
UK Residents
Norfolk Waterways
UK Residents
England & Wales Watwerways
Scottish Residents
England & Wales Watwerways

Do I Need a UK Waterways Licence to Kayak the UK Coastline?

No is the short answer to this query. The sea surrounding the UK is free to Kayak except for a few off-limits areas as stipulated by the Ministry of Defence. This includes any estuaries and tidal rivers. Many rivers have tides that extend far inland so keep that in mind when researching your preferred paddling destination.

For a list of danger areas and exclusion zones that are off-limits to kayakers and pleasure craft, the UK’s Admiralty Website is the place to go as it provides all up to date maps and information.

Do I Need to Carry A UK Waterways Licence When Kayaking?

YES you must absolutely carry proof that you have a waterways licence or relative membership that includes the licence at all times when paddling on inland waterways.

Failure to produce said proof of licence can result in a heavy fine.

British Canoeing membership provides and actual physical card but also has the added benefit of a digital card which can be viewed by any inspecting authority on your smartphone.

Why Do I Need A UK Waterways Licence?

You need a Waterways Licence so as to provide valuable revenue to the administrative authorities. All licence revenue goes towards maintenance of the waterways in the UK and with thousands of miles to cover this is a resource hungry and expensive endeavour. There are 1569 locks alone in the UK and Wales not to mention the tunnels, bridges, towpaths and aqueducts all of which need constant maintenance.

Weather is extremely changeable in the UK and adverse weather conditions can certainly affect the waterways in terms of flooding, debris, rubbish, erosion, weed control, water quality and much more.

The waterways need to be cleaned, repaired and generally maintained and without the revenue from the Waterways Licencing scheme and from the army of volunteers representing the relative river and waterway trusts, this would be a losing battle.

Which Waterways Are Covered With a UK Waterways Licence?

The full list of included waterways are listed in detail on the British Canoeing Website (including the excluded waterways also) and you can access that full list here!

Are There Any Rivers or Canals Where a UK Waterways Licence in NOT Required?

YES in fact there are a number of them.

Examples of where boats and pleasure craft are no required to be licenced include the River Wye below Hay-On-Wye, the River Severn between Pool Quay and Stourport, the River Lugg from Leominster, the River Rother downstream from Bodiam.

The most up to date information on where you can kayak on a particular river is really only available from either a recently published guide book (or recently updated) or via information to be found on the britishcanoeing.org.uk website.

Kayak and Canoe – Map of Britain. Available now on AMAZON! Grab your copy today.

Do I Need a UK Waterways Licence in Scotland?

No. Weirdly Scotland’s Land Reform Act of 2003 has a “Right to Roam” clause that essentially means you don’t need a licence to paddle anywhere in Scotland.

For those living in Scotland that regularly paddle there is also a Scottish Canoe Association whose membership includes discount schemes with many high street stores, camping associations as well as entrance to some events and kayaking courses.

Do I Need a Licence for an Inflatable Kayak in the UK?

Yes. Even inflatable pleasure craft require the same licence as hard shell pleasure craft to navigate the UK’s inland waterways so this definitely applies to an inflatable kayak, canoe, dinghy or similar.

Do I Need a Waterways Licence to Kayak on Lakes in the UK?

There are some lakes/reservoirs that are covered by the UK’s Waterway Licence but these are usually connected to either a canal or river. 

The Lakes District itself is a little different to other lakes areas and we’ve written an entire separate blog page on this topic as there are some areas that you’ll need to purchase day passes in order to Kayak.

As to almost all other lakes and reservoirs in the UK, most are actually privately owned and managed with some being free to paddle and many others requiring a small “launch fee”. Your best bet to ensure legal right of paddling, is to check the charges, access and entry conditions to any lake, dam or reservoir individually.

Check out the complete list of Lakes and Lochs in the UK HERE.

This AWESOME Inland Waterways guide is available on AMAZON and is well worth checking out especially if you’re planning on any sort of Kayak adventure in the UK. Check it out and grab your copy TODAY!

Kayak Regulations and Laws In the UK

Kayaking is a very accessible sport in the UK, however (for now at least), Kayaks are listed as a type of pleasure craft that are subject to UK boating regulations. As such you should be aware of all and any rules and/or regulations that pertain to Kayaking here in the UK.

The listed links below should provide all the information you could possibly require in order to have the best understanding of Kayak Regulations and Laws here in the UK.

Be Kayak Happy

Thanks for looking over our complete guide to getting a licence so you can legally and safely Kayak here in the UK. We hope you found this content useful in helping you navigate the sometimes confusing waters in regards to paddling within the confines of UK boating laws and regulations.

As we stated earlier, should you have any feedback, we’d love to hear from you in the form of comments below! In the meantime why not check out our blog post about Somerset Kayaking for some paddling inspiration.

Happy paddling everyone!