Beginner SUP Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need lessons before I’m allowed to SUP by myself?

There is no requirement to passed a test or demonstrate a certain standard of competence before you’re allowed to SUP.

You can literally buy a paddleboard having never been in the water before, launch it off a beach and get going. However just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. There are many safety and access reasons why you should think twice before heading out by yourself. We recommend having at least one lesson from an instructor, or paddling with a SUP club before you paddle by yourself.

What basic safety advice do I need to know?


If you’re going to be anywhere where there is flow (estuaries, rivers, tidal races), the standard ankle leash that comes with most boards (if you’re lucky), could kill you. There have been three fatalities in the last 12 months. If you don’t know why this is a risk, you’re probably not yet ready to paddle on flowing water. If you do know why, buy a quick release waist belt, and practice using it.


when you first get on the water, check the wind, flow and tide, and just paddle about for a couple of mins to see which is the most difficult direction to paddle in. The paddle in that direct for 5 minutes just to make sure you can beat the conditions. If you can’t, leave it for another day.


There’s so much we can’t tell you on a blog post. But there are lots of great instructors who can. If you’re near to us in the Cotswolds, Rapid Skills do a really good SUP safety awareness course aimed at beginners. It’s dirt cheap, but will get you on the water with everything you need to know to be safe. If you’re not in our neck of the woods, check the recommended by McConks page to find an instructor you can trust close to you.

Where can I try SUP for the first time?

If you’re totally new to the sport, and you’re looking for somewhere to have a go at paddleboarding for the first time, then there are lots of options. Most hire centres with SUPs will give you a briefing and get you on the water within 5 minutes of arriving. The briefings are often limited, but this is a good and cheap way of seeing whether it’s for you. We’ve seen lots of people get on a board at local hire centres and take to it straight away without needing any tuition. After all, it isn’t really rocket science to stand up on board and use a paddle to propel yourself forward.

But just because people can stand up paddle in a safe inland sheltered location, doesn’t mean they’ll be competent or safe outside of that environment. Therefore it’s really worthwhile finding your local SUP instructor, SUP group or SUP community before you start thinking about hitting rivers, lakes or the sea on your own kit.

The link below takes you to the most comprehensive UK map of instructors, SUP groups and SUP rental locations.

Do I need a licence to paddle?

That depends where your paddling, and there is often no straightforward answer. We’ve broken it down into different paddle environments below.

Do I need a licence or approval to paddle on the sea?

No. There are no access restrictions to paddling on our coast. Some areas are no go areas because they’re MOD firing ranges, but it’s generally impossible to find yourself one without knowing it’s there!

Obviously you’re not going to go out on open water without the right safety gear or without checking the weather, tides and surf. But just as a reminder, we’ve provided a few links to useful resources below.

Do I need a licence to paddle on tidal rivers?

No. All rivers from the estuary up to the tidal limit have a historic Public Right of Navigation (PRN), and no licence is needed. Any OS maps shows the normal tidal limit below which there is public access. In strict legal terms, the PRN extends to the natural tidal limit, not the normal tidal limit, so sometimes can continue way above the tidal limit marked on OS maps if the normal tidal limit is formed by a manmade barrier such as a weir. The normal tidal limit is clearly defined on a map as shown below. Tidal rivers have a thick blue line defining their extent, and the upper tidal limit is normally marked with NTL as shown below.

The site is a useful one for viewing OS maps if you don’t have a physical OS map to hand. You can also use it to check the conservation status of any river you want to paddle. If the river or estuary is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA), or Special Area of Conservation (SAC), you might want to check with the conservation body (Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, or Scottish Natural Heritage) to check on conservation restrictions.

Do I need a licence to paddle in estuaries

As above, no. All estuaries are tidal waters and therefore have a PRN. However, they may be subject to some restrictions from a Port Authority – normally if it’s a harbour or major shipping zone. These would usually cover fees for launching in these area, or restrictions covering safety for small craft, especially in major shipping areas. Before heading to an estuary or coastal location you are unfamiliar with please check to make sure the waters you wish to paddle are not covered by a Port Authority using the link below.

Do I need a licence to paddle rivers?

If you’re in Scotland, then all Scottish rivers have a public rights navigation. Therefore you can paddle on any Scottish river without licence or restriction.

If you’re in England and Wales then it’s not quite as straightforward.

One interpretation of the law is that there is a public right of navigation on all flowing water (1). Therefore, as long as there is public access to the river through a public footpath or birdleway, then you have the right of navigation using any vessel – including paddleboards and canoes. However, this PRN is contested by landowners, in particular those with lucrative angling rights. And this can lead to angry standoffs between paddlers and landowners/anglers. Therefore it’s probably best to stick to waterways with a confirmed or agreed access.

As British Canoeing say

“Of the 42,700 miles of inland waterways in England, only 1,400 miles can be paddled uncontested – that is a mere 4% of what is available. Paddlers are subject to challenge or dispute over their right to be on the water. The 4% of waterways is largely made up of canals and ‘managed navigations’ (such as the Wye and the Severn).”

To paddle the 1,400 miles that are uncontested, then you need a licence from the respective authorities that manage those waterways. As there are multiple authorities (Canal and River Trust, Broadland Authority, Environment Agency and many more!), the easiest way to ensure you have the appropriate licence is to Join British Canoeing. Membership of British Canoeing gives the authority to paddle nearly all of the waterways where paddling access is agreed (and a plausible deniability for all other waterways – you won’t be the first paddler to say “but I’ve got British canoeing membership. I thought I was allowed to paddle here?”

Do I need a licence to paddle canals?

The answer is a clear yes in England and Wales. The Canal and River Trust (CRT) manage and maintain the vast majority of the canals, and you require a licence from CRT. Membership from British Canoeing includes a CRT Licence.

There are also a number of abandoned waterways that still have water in them (still in water as the occupants of the cut say). We can’t guarantee that all of the waterways at the link below are in water, but you can have fun finding out!

I’m nervous about paddling by myself. How do I find other paddlers?

Well, you can just rock up at the places you’ve seen people paddle, and ask to paddle with them. Most SUP boarders are very friendly! Alternatively, you can find your nearest SUP club or group. Sup clubs or groups are great ways of paddling with others, of picking up useful hints and hacks, and trying other boards and paddles.

Do I need to wear a Buoyancy Aid (BA) /Personal Flotation Device (PFD)

Unlike other countries, there is no regulation or law that means that you have to wear a PFD. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. We always recommend an appropriate PFD for the environment you’re paddling in.

What is cold water shock?

Cold water shock is a killer. Even in the height of summer, sudden immersion in cooler water (sea, lake or river), can cause a number of physiological responses that can kill you, unless you know they’re coming. Taking 5 minutes to watch this video from the RNLI might just save your life


  1. Conclusion of a QC review of current case law ” Thus the public right of navigation is any operation which could reasonably be described as navigation by any vessel that could reasonably be described as a boat, on any flowing water which has the natural and visible capacity for use, unless Parliament has said otherwise. This is the Law.