River Canoeing Etiquette

Britain’s extensive waterways of rivers and canals provide great opportunities for canoeing. The activity is not just a way to hone your fitness, but also a great way to see places you might have otherwise never reached, and you can combine this with other outdoor activities such as climbing, cycling, hiking or camping. But you also should understand the rules and etiquette of river canoeing before heading out, so you can enjoy it to its fullest and not disrupt the pleasure of your fellow paddlers.

 1. River Signals

When you’re up against the sound of the river, you will find verbal communication a little difficult. Remember river signals, and the slight variations they have (some may use their paddle to signal stop, others might just use their hand) if you are canoeing as a group, before getting on the water.

2. What Paddler Has What Equipment

It is always a good precaution to have safety equipment with each paddler, especially when you are with a group. It’s also important to know which paddler has what. Knowing who carries a first aid kit is useful if anyone gets into a sticky situation.

3. One at a Time

When you come to narrow or difficult part of the river, go one person at a time. The same applies to putting canoes in the water or portage, moving from one waterway to the next. If someone falls or drops the gear, they can become a hazard to the person right behind them. Take your time, as safety comes first.

4. Be Aware of the Boat

Whether you are paddling or carrying the boat, be aware of it. This is especially important on busy waterways or when coming across an eddy, as you should make room for the next paddler.

5. Be Aware of Other Paddlers

You want to avoid paddling too close to others, whether they are in front, to the side or behind you. If in front, you don’t want to be too close in case they miss their line, and then you can avoid collisions. When paddling in a group, do head counts at various intervals, or pair up so you can keep tabs on fellow paddlers.

6. Peeling Out

When peeling out from an eddy, always look upstream. You never know whether another paddler or obstacle is on its way downriver. In general, if you are in an eddy, the upstream paddler has the right of way.

7. Be Prepared

Anytime you are out of your canoe, for example, when you are scouting for a lunch break, position your boat so it is ready for a quick get-in, in case you need to catch gear or rescue a fellow paddler.

8. Give Way

On narrow strips of river, you may have to give way to other paddlers. The best rule is whoever is most able to give way, should, or the upstream paddler has right of way. If you are unsure, read the situation and carry out the best solution. Again – safety first!

Have a look at our other blog posts and take a look at the open canoes for sale and paddling accessories we have available online.


  1. Robert Blake on April 11, 2021 at 9:47 am

    Thank you for the above tips which I’m sure many would find useful.

    We are a BC licensed couple and are in search of self catering areas around Lake Windermere that could accommodate us with own kayaks. It’s a long shot but would you have any recommendations please?

    • Adam Hunter on May 11, 2021 at 8:56 am

      Hi there, I am afraid that isn’t our area of expertise. I would suggest having a look online to see if you could find anything suitable. Thanks

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