safety-firstCanoeing is the collective term used to describe a wide-ranging sport that encompasses competitive and non competitive forms of canoeing and kayaking. Non-competitive canoeing includes a number of kayaking and canoeing activities, based mainly on journeying and adventure. Powerful mountain rivers, tranquil lakes and spectacular coastlines all provide perfect environments for canoeists to enjoy their sport. Each environment demands a different set of skills and suits a slightly different type of craft. Canoeists and kayakers interested in competition can take part in numerous specialised competitive canoeing disciplines such as Canoe Slalom, Marathon Racing, Flat Water Racing, Freestyle and Canoe Polo.

Ireland is tailor made for canoeing and there is a wonderful variety of locations to choose from. There is a multitude of rivers, canals and lakes offering everything from simple touring on placid water to
challenging white water descents on flooded mountain rivers.

For kayakers, Ireland’s rugged coastline provides spectacular scenery interspersed with excellent surfing beaches. The coastline offers enormous potential for exploration, and for observing abundant sea wildlife. Sea kayaking in all but enclosed sheltered sites demands knowledge and skill. You are strongly advised not to undertake any canoeing or kayaking without adequate training. One of the best ways to discover what sea kayaking has to offer is to join in a half day trip along the Copper Coast with us or take part in one of our Irish Canoe Union training courses – they’re fun, safe and will help you master basic skills. Under expert guidance you will learn the fundamental techniques, and the simple safety rules that will help you enjoy a lifetime of water activities.


The modern kayak derives from the traditional Eskimo hunting craft. This was usually a decked single seater craft built using sealskins. The result was a light, fast and manoeuvrable craft which, once occupied, was almost watertight and could be self-righted using a paddle. Kayaking as a recreational activity provides opportunities for adventure, relaxation, exploration, and competition. The challenge of descending a white-water river or gracefully meandering quiet lakes and canals are all part of canoeing’s special appeal. Kayaks are frequently used for expeditions at sea and represent the ideal craft for close investigation of Ireland’s spectacular coastlines. Kayaking has long been recognised as a useful medium for outdoor education, and is of particular value in building confidence, self-reliance and co-operation. Kayaks now come in many different forms but whatever its shape and appearance, the features that identify a craft as a kayak are that the occupant sits and uses a double bladed paddle.


Many indigenous peoples have developed “canoe” crafts. The modern “Canadian Canoe” derives from a canoe form evolved by the native North American Indians, who used native birch bark to fashion a light, versatile craft. Modern “open canoes”, now used mainly for recreational touring employ modern materials, but their shape remains virtually unchanged from the age-old designs of their ancestors. The open canoe is a relatively stable and immensely versatile craft which is normally paddled by two people but can be handled solo. To learn to paddle a canoe as a doubles pair requires effective communication and the development of good teamwork between partners. It is perhaps these characteristics which represent part of its worth as an educational medium. It is however the unique potential of the canoe as a “journeying craft” that is responsible for its rapidly heightening profile both in education and recreation. Other forms of canoes have been developed, mainly for specialised use in competition; but regardless of shape, a craft is identified as a canoe if the occupant or occupants would normally kneel and use a single bladed paddle for propulsion.


As a water-based activity, canoeing has an inescapable element of inherent risk. The solution to managing this risk lies in a combination of training based on accepted codes of technique and safety; and experience, where techniques are acquired and practiced. There are 3 Golden Safety Rules of Canoeing:

  • Be able to swim
  • Always wear a buoyancy aid
  • Never paddle alone


The following guidelines are intended equally for the novice and as a reminder to the more experienced paddler:

  • You do not need to be able to swim vast distances but the ability to remain confident in the water is vital. All canoeists should be able to swim 50 metres.
  • Always wear an approved buoyancy aid (PFD – personal floatation device) when on or near water, check its floatation, make sure it is in good condition and the correct fit. Buoyancy is measured in newtons – 10 newtons equal 1kg of floatation. There are 4 European standards for buoyancy aids and lifejackets (50, 100, 150 & 275) which must all carry the CE mark. It is highly recommended that buoyancy aids are fitted with a whistle and retro reflective strips.
  • Never kayak or canoe alone. “Fewer than 3 there should never be” is a long established fundamental rule of canoeing.
  • Continually seek further training. Know the limits of your capability and stay within these limits. Seek to develop your knowledge and skills incrementally. Training courses are run by qualified ICU instructors at
  • Ensure your equipment is appropriate for the level and environment in which you are paddling and that it complies with safety regulations.
  • Wear a helmet when on or near the river. Ensure it fits correctly and protects the temples and back of head.
  • Wear and / or carry suitable footwear and sufficient warm protective clothing.
  • Carry equipment for unexpected emergencies.
  • Check the safety of your kayak / canoe. Check usability, security and strength of grab-loops. It is highly recommended that kayaks have retro reflective strips.
  • Check that your kayak / canoe has floatation adequate to ensure it will float when full of water, possibly supplement it with air bags. Check that all screws and bolts are tight.
  • Let someone know what you are planning and when you are expected to return.
  • Be proficient in self rescue, including the skills of white-water swimming techniques and a reliable eskimo roll when paddling Grade III water or harder.
  • Be proficient in river rescue techniques appropriate for a trip being undertaken and practice these techniques regularly. Learn to recognise river hazards. Paddlers are generally good at practicing and improving their canoeing skills, but not at practicing and improving their rescue skills. You can improve your safety on the water by attending a training course.
  • Be aware that conditions change and new hazards can occur between trips. Be continually aware of the hazards associated with the environment in which you are paddling.
  • Think carefully about the suitability of your kayak / canoe for the particular conditions you are paddling. Know the design strengths and limitations of your kayak / canoe.
  • Check river flows and weather forecasts and be prepared to change plans.
  • Avoid injury by stretching, warming up, staying fit and developing good paddling techniques.
  • River estuaries often look placid but may be subject to strong currents extending considerable distance out to sea. Local knowledge should be sought and caution exercised against hazards caused by rapid “drying out” of mud flats which may cause difficulties.
  • White water rivers are generally graded at medium levels. By their very nature, such grading systems are to some extent subjective and may change suddenly with fluctuating river levels.
  • Careful consideration should be given to the dangers associated with polluted or contaminated water and be aware of the dangers of Blue / Green Algae and the causes and early symptoms of Weil’s Disease.

Environmental Considerations:

  • Special consideration should be given to the impact of canoeing on the natural environment and other water users.
  • Minimise your impact on the natural environment at all times particularly make efforts to reduce river banks erosion at access and egress points.
  • Be sensitive when parking, changing, entering and exiting the water.
  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach. Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.
  • Maintain positive, co-operative relationships with other river users and riparian landowners as this is important for the future of canoeing and the future of canoeing environments themselves.
  • At entry and egress points behave in a friendly, positive manner towards others. Be mindful of the time that you are spending occupying the launch or take-out area so that you do not unfairly restrict opportunities for others.
  • Always provide assistance to others who are in trouble or who are injured. Provide whatever assistance you can or help them in obtaining assistance.