Getting started

Go Canoeing / Getting started


If you're looking to take up paddling, read on to find out the basic things you need to know before heading out on the water, such as what equipment you'll need to be safe and the logistics of planning a trip. 
Image Credit: Two for Joy Photography 

Learning the basics

Getting instruction can make a huge difference to your time on the water. Whether it's from a more experienced paddler or a professional coach, having someone to give you a helping hand in your first couple of hours paddling is invaluable. If you're getting professional coaching, make sure your instructor holds a British Canoeing coaching qualification.

There are outdoor centres and instructors throughout Wales, whose details you can find in our coaching directory, or you can find a come-and-try-it session at a local canoe club or school club. To find your nearest canoe club, check out our club finder tool.

Get the kit

There are plenty of opportunities to borrow equipment while you're trying out paddling, but once you've decided that it's for you, it's worth picking up some of your own equipment so that you can get out on the water more often. The equipment you'll need depends on which type of paddling you'll be doing, so it's worth speaking to a professional retailer to make sure you're getting the correct equipment for your needs. However, there are a few essentials that you'll need no matter which type of paddlesport you're doing.

Buoyancy aid

A buoyancy aid helps you stay afloat until you can rescue yourself or get some help. They come as either over-the-head vests, or zip-up/buckle-up jackets. All buoyancy aids sold in Britain need to be CE approved, so check the label. When they’re buckled up, a buoyancy aid should be secure enough that it won’t lift over your head.

You might also hear people talk about BAs, which stands for Buoyancy Aids, or PFDs, which stands for Personal Flotation Devices. They’re all the same thing. A life-jacket is different with a big flotation collar, and is designed for exposed waters. Life jackets aren’t generally suitable for paddling.

Children should always wear a buoyancy aid when they take to the water and know how to cope if they do capsize. It’s a simple drill, but it’s often worth going through a capsize drill with an instructor first. 


A helmet is an essential for some types of paddling like whitewater and polo, while it’s very rare for sprint or marathon paddlers to wear one. What’s important is that the helmet covers your forehead properly and doesn’t slip or slide about on your head, even if you undo the chinstrap. Helmets also need to have a CE approval mark to show they’re safe for paddlesport use.


There are different boats for different paddlers - and you'll make your choice depending on where you want to get afloat. Plenty of manufacturers make boats that are properly sized for the junior paddler, ranging from sit-on-tops to whitewater kayaks to competition boats. When you start you’ll normally be looking at three different options:

Kayak - You can choose between kayaks that are better suited to touring, whitewater or just splashing around, and the designs will change accordingly.

Sit-on-top - Sit-on-tops are the simplest way of taking to the water. There’s no need to worry about capsize drills because they’re so stable, and if you do capsize you just fall off. With a bit of practice you can soon climb back on board and carry on paddling. The only downside to sit-on-tops is that they’re not always as versatile as kayaks. They don’t tend to be as well-suited to whitewater, and they’re a lot colder to paddle in the winter because your legs are out in the open. Other than that, they’re the easiest way to get afloat!

Canoe - Canoes are traditional boats that you kneel or sit in and paddle with a single blade. They’re very well suited to leisurely paddling along rivers or across lakes.

The rest

Other kit’s more of a personal choice, and depends on where you’re paddling and what sort of conditions you’re going out in. 

Depending on the type of paddling you’re doing, you might want to think about:
  • Footwear - could be trainers and neoprene socks or neoprene shoes
  • Spraydeck - only necessary for kayaking
  • Waterproof overlayers - cagool and/or dry trousers 
  • Thermal layers - neoprene shorts/tights/wetsuit or thermal underlayers
  • Gloves 

Buy the gear

Buying good quality kayaking and canoeing equipment from people who know about the sport will make a huge difference to your enjoyment. 
There are paddlesport shops all over Wales who can give you specialist advice on the right equipment. Check out our retailers page to find out where to go.

Planning your trip

How will you get there?

If you’ve got your own boat, can you put it on a roof rack or trailer? If so, do you know how to tie it down securely? Canoe shops sell specific tie-down straps to keep your boat secure.

Where are you going?

Do you have a suitable place to paddle? Strong currents, surf and open water can be great fun, but you’ll need to have the skills to cope with them first. As a rule, if you’re not happy to swim in the water, think twice before paddling it.

Can you sort yourself out?

If you do capsize, are you happy to sort the situation out? It’s a good reason to never paddle on your own, because that way there’s always someone who can help. 

Have you told somebody where you’re going?

Just like hill walking or mountain biking, it’s a good idea to tell someone where you’re going, especially if you’re on a journey. Then when you arrive, just let them know you’re OK.

Do you need a shuttle?

For journeys where you start in one place and finish in another, you’ll need to give some thought to the logistics. This often means using two cars and shuttling back after the run, but you can sometimes use public transport or a bike instead. If you’ve got electronic car keys, you’ll want to pick up a waterproof key pack so you can keep them with you without drenching them.
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