Many people are itching to get back on the water, and it seems that some regions of the UK might be starting to slowly release their lockdown. So what’s the current position across the countries of the UK?
For Scotland and Northern Ireland, it’s a straightforward no. You’re only permitted to leave your house for clearly defined reasons, and the exercise reason is for walking, running or cycling close to your house.
For Wales, the Welsh Government and Canoe Wales / Canw Cymru have issued guidance that allows you to paddle if you stay in your local area, and if you walk or drive to your get in only within the local area. The definitive advice is available here
The situation is slightly different in England
On May 10, 2020, PM Boris Johnson announced that people could leave their properties for unlimited exercise and drive (without limits) to visit parks and beaches, as long as social distancing measures are kept, as of Wednesday May 13, 2020.
Watersports are explicitly included in this exercise, but full details of what this means to the management of our waterways/beaches are still being worked through by the relevant management authorities and national governing bodies.
Here’s an update on what this means for different types of water:
Lakes – these are nearly all privately owned, so it is up to the lake owner to ensure social distancing measures can be maintained and to provide safe access. The Lake District tourist board and National Park have asked people to stay away from the Lake Distrcit because of the impact on local communities and because Cumbria currently has the highest rates of infection in England.
Rivers – the Environment Agency is responsible for navigation and management of most rivers in England. They have not updated their online advice since 04 May, but British Canoeing have been in contact with the EA and have said this:
The River Wey navigation, managed by the National Trust is currently closed, although it is reported by British Canoeing to be opening soon. Check here for the latest information.
The Broads Authority who manage the Norfolk Broads have confirmed that the Broads are open for paddling.
Canals – the CRT is responsible for most canals in England, and they have issued a statement saying that exercise on non-powered craft can resume from Wednesday subject to social distancing measures being observed, particularly around portages.
To see which canals the CRT are responsible for check this map. For other canals, you will need to find and check with the current owner/management authority.
Coastal waters – there has never been a restriction on using coastal waters. However, up until Wednesday May 13, you’ve only been able to drive a very short distance or walk for your exercise. Further, the RNLI have been asking people to not partake in watersports in the sea to reduce the risk to their volunteers.
Whilst the restriction on driving to the coast is lifted on May 13, and the RNLI have udpated their advice by removing their previous request to ask people to stay out of the water, many people, businesses and organisations remain concerned about the impact of large numbers of watersports users turning up at locations where the infrastructure (car parks, lifeguards, shops etc) are still operating with limited or no capacity, and where social distancing might be difficult to observe. Although the risk of transmission of SARS- CoV2 is known to be low in outside environments, it is still possible.
British Canoeing have issued pragmatic and balanced guidance to all paddlers which can be found here.
So what do we think?
As of today (13 May 2020), we can stand up paddle board again with the government’s blessing.
Different people will have different views of the risk, and we must all be aware, and empathetic to that. Some people are still shielding and have to stay inside. Others will still choose to to reduce their personal risk of catching coronavirus.
Others of you will see the risk of catching or transmitting the virus as very small outdoors and be happy to paddle. However, please be aware that water temperature is still icy cold, which almost certainly possess a greater risk than coronavirus to those without experience. And if you’ve not paddled since last summer, you might be in for a big shock, both in terms of water temperature and your personal ability. So take it easy, and stay safe. Having a mishap and needing help from rescue or emergency services will cause a public backlash.
And for us personally, driving long distances to the beach or other put-ins feels wrong, for the reasons mentioned above, but driving short distances to your local quiet put-in seems reasonable.
In order to be safe, you probably shouldn’t paddle alone. The government’s detailed guidance suggests you can do exercise with your family, or you can meet up with one other person outside your family, as long as social distancing measures are observed. So you could interpret that to mean you can paddle with one friend, and that interpretation is supported by British Canoeing.
Whatever decisions you make to go paddling in the near future, please be considerate, be safe, and be alert.