The term ‘Paddlesport’ is used to describe the various forms of canoeing, kayaking and rafting. All these activities have the common denominator of involving small craft being propelled by paddles, but the activities do have a range of characteristics and as a result have differing recommendations in terms of safety and good practice.

The Paddlesport section has therefore been split into four main areas related to the derivation of the craft: kayaking; canoeing; rafting and other paddle boats.


A kayak can be defined as a craft powered by a sitting paddler using a double-bladed paddle. Typically (but not exclusively) the kayak will have a covered deck, with the cockpit covered by a spraydeck and will be paddled by one person.

Kayaking as an activity provides opportunities for adventure, relaxation, exploration & competition. The challenge of descending a white water river; the graceful feel of meandering on quiet lochs or the investigation of remote waters are all part of its appeal. #


A canoe can typically (but not exclusively) be defined as an open decked craft powered by a kneeling paddler using a single-bladed paddle. The traditional open canoe is the form in most common use within the spheres of outdoor learning and general recreation. It is a relatively stable and immensely versatile craft that is normally paddled by two people but can equally be handled solo. Paddling a canoe as a pair requires effective communication and the development of good teamwork between partners. It is perhaps these characteristics which represent part of its worth as a learning medium, but it is the unique potential of the canoe as a ‘journeying vehicle’ which is responsible for its rapidly heightening profile both in learning and recreational situations.
Note: Although this document makes a clear distinction between ‘Canoeing’ and ‘Kayaking’ as two separate disciplines within Paddlesport it also, in line with common usage, frequently refers to ‘canoeing’ as a generic term to cover both. We hope this will not cause the reader undue confusion.
Canoeing is an adventurous activity and therefore has an element of attendant risk. Canoeing activities taking place within the scope of this document should only be undertaken under the direct supervision of those qualified to assess and monitor risk, and thus maintain it at an acceptable level.

River Rafting

River rafting refers to the use of robust inflatable boats, designed for use on white water rivers. Rafts can potentially carry up to 10 or 12 passengers (6 – 8 is more usual), dependant upon the size of the boat. They are usually steered by an experienced guide and propelled by the participants using single bladed paddles.

Other forms of home made rafts using rigid materials will be dealt with in the ‘Other Adventurous Activities’ section.

In outdoor learning terms, river rafting focuses well on co-operative team effort and is very effective in developing a sense of camaraderie within a group.

Rafting also provides an opportunity to introduce a broad range of individuals including older people and those with disabilities to the delight of river travel. It is a medium in which people can be introduced to the thrills and excitement of running white water without prior training. This makes it a most useful tool for work with ‘difficult to motivate’ young people.

Other Paddle Boats

In recent years there has been major growth in the use of a variety of smaller inflatable paddle boats by commercial, recreational and education sectors.  This provides an activity which is a cross over between traditional canoeing & kayaking and white water rafting.  The inflatable crafts come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, allowing paddlers to paddle solo or in pairs and paddle from a sitting or kneeling position.  Generally these crafts are known as:

  • Inflatable kayaks – where paddlers sit and power the boat with double-bladed paddles either solo or in pairs
  • Duckies – where paddlers sit or kneel and power the boat with single-bladed paddles either solo or in pairs (more usually in pairs)

Also seen to be more common in recent times are “sit-on-top” craft, described as an open top kayak (i.e. without the enclosed deck), where paddlers sit on a hard shell base (usually plastic) and power the boat with double-bladed paddles either solo or in pairs.

These types of paddle boats offer the potential of a more stable platform from which to learn paddlesports for the first time, and because they are designed with the beginner in mind, quick results can be achieved with minimal skill training.

Therefore in a similar way to rafting, these craft are often ideal for a broad range of individuals including older people, “difficult to motivate” young people and those with disabilities.

The variety of craft described here is only a sample of the more common types on the market at present and this list is by no means exhaustive.

Recommended Reading

BCU Canoe & Kayak Handbook                                     BCU Supplies
BCU Coaching Handbook                                               BCU Supplies
BCU Coaching Directory (also available on CD ROM)        BCU Supplies
Path of the Paddle                                                         Bill Mason
White Water Kayaking                                                   Ray Rowe
River Rescue                                                                 Les Bechdel & Slim Ray
White Water Safety & Rescue                                        Franco Ferrero
Scottish White Water                                                     SCA Supplies
Scottish Canoe Touring                                                   SCA Supplies
Sea Canoeing                                                                D Hutchinson
Sea Kayak                                                                     Gordon Brown
Sea Kayak Navigation                                                    Franco Ferrero
Scottish Sea Kayaking                                                   Doug Cooper & George Reid
Scottish Rafting Association Code of Practice              SRA