SALES of kayaks and canoes rocketed during the coronavirus pandemic while paddle boarding became one of the fastest growing sports.

So, just what is the fuss all about? Can you put your boat or paddle board in any old river or canal, do you need a licence, should you wear a life jacket, and what about angry landowners and anglers?

Like so many people who found themselves working from home during the pandemic, I did a lot of walking. And after I walked a thousand miles or so, I looked at the canal one day and remembered the inflatable kayak in the attic.

Out came the Sea Eagle kayak, bought more than 20 years ago, and we were off, and what a revelation.

First off, I need to say you do need a licence. I only discovered this after we’d been out several times and were well and truly hooked, but you do, either from the Canal and River Trust or from British Canoeing. You’ll need to decide which is best for you, but an annual couples licence from British Canoeing costs just £80 and gives access to more rivers and canals.

So, back to the canoeing. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is a short way away from where I live and we are fortunate to have a good launching place near by with a car park.

Pumping the thing up took a while to start with, until we did a bit of internet research and found we’d not been doing it right. The vital valve was where the Sea Eagle website said it should be, in the repair cannister, and once fitted, inflating was a breeze.

So, with the new improved pumping method; we got getting ready down to just 15 minutes: then it was across a field, passing some sheep, and to the canal bank.

You need to find somewhere where the bank is pretty low, and it’s good to have someone else to hold onto the boat while you get in.

Ours is a three person kayak, so it’s a matter of one on us getting in and then the other, while the first one in hangs onto the bank.

A word of caution here. We learnt the hard way that not every dog owner cleans up after their pet, and dog poo can be well hidden in the grass. It’s really not pleasant putting your hand into some poo. We now thoroughly check banks before we clamber out, and we have disinfectant in the rucksack.

The Leeds and Liverpool is canoe friendly, there are helpful signs telling you about the swing bridges and locks coming up and when you need to get out.

Swing bridges, as long as they’re not too low and you’re brave enough are negotiable, without getting out, but locks are are different matter. You do have to get out and carrying your boat can be a bit of an effort especially when there is a flight of locks like at Bank Newton, but then it is all good exercise and guaranteed to give any towpath walkers or cyclists a good laugh.

There is no doubt, being on the water, instead of on the towpath, is an entirely different experience.

We’ve been chased by swans, seen all sorts of birds, including tree creepers and heron, and the wonderful kingfishers, which seem to less spooked by a boat than people on the towpath. We’ve also seen mink, stoat and otters, and also the remains of American Signal Crayfish.

Jo Moseley, has been paddle-boarding for five years, and in 2019 became the first woman to paddle-board 162 miles from Liverpool to Goole.

She says:” I’ve been paddleboarding for five years now and it’s played a huge part in my physical, emotional and mental health.

“I love being on the water, surrounded by nature and appreciating the bird life and wildlife I see.

“It’s given me the opportunity to make a difference picking up litter from my paddleboard and fundraising with an adventure challenge. I’ve made new friends creating my SUP podcast, researching my book and simply meeting up on the water for a paddle. It’s a chance to escape the stresses of the day, live in the moment, explore adventure on my doorstep and find joy in places I’d overlooked. I always come away feeling calmer and uplifted.”

The Canal and River Trust says all portable, unpowered craft such as canoes, kayaks, dinghies, rowing boats, paddleboards and even light inflatable craft need a licence for use on its waterways. Here, it answers a few common questions:

Can I canoe on the canal?

Yes, everyone is welcome to canoe on our canals and rivers. However, you will need to get a small craft license before paddling on the water.

Why does my canoe or kayak needs a licence?

Our 2,000 miles of canals and rivers need a lot of TLC to keep them in great shape for everyone to use and enjoy - no matter the size of craft. As well as maintaining things like canal walls or water flow, your licence fee goes towards making sure there are enough easy access points, ramps and slipways for example.

What's the easiest way to licence my canoe, kayak or paddleboard?

You can buy a licence for your canoe through our licensing website. Prices range from around £12 for a week’s licence on a river only, to around £40 for 30-day ‘Explorer’ licence on a canal or river (prices as of April 2021), which allows you to spread out your use across the year.

Alternatively, a British Canoeing ‘waterways licence’ gives you access to 5,000 miles of inland waterways, including our canals and rivers. It also gives you access to the waterways managed by the Environment Agency and the Broads Authority.

For Welsh canals and rivers see membership details for Canoe Wales.

What do I need if I just want to paddle on the Trust's canals and rivers?

If you live near one of our waterways and just want to explore close to home, you can also buy a licence directly from us.

Where can I find out more about paddling on canals and rivers?

If you want to find out more about paddling on our canals and rivers take a look at our paddling pages at: