You would be just as confused and angry as us reading this headline. United Utilities, who manage 170 waterway sites across the north west, UK, has released a statement banning participation in Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) in all but five of its locations. Thoughts? We'd love to hear them below.
Statement from United Utilities: “Whilst we allow supervised water sports at a small number of sites across the North West, UK under appropriate licencing, we do not want to encourage additional activities where people are likely to spend an extended amount of time in the water. By their very nature, paddle-boarding and other water sports often result in time spent in the water, exposing users to the associated risks”.
British Canoeing, Royal Yachting Association (RYA), BSUPA, Water Skills Academy and other governing SUP bodies are encouraging United Utilities to change their stance on the issue. United Utitlies have expressed safety concerns citing that a small number of people have died on their waterways and they want to keep users safe so it doesn’t happen again. Below, you can read the British Canoeing press release.
The ban will not only affect SUPs, but also many canoe clubs, paddlesport providers, sailing clubs and training centres, all who currently offer SUP as part of their activities.
Stand up paddleboarding and the ownership of personal paddle craft has been growing steadily for many years. The pandemic has caused a step change in this growth, leading more people to explore outdoor activities they could do closer to home and more widely in the UK.
Toward the end of summer 2021, British Canoeing was contacted by a number of concerned SUP paddlers and groups who had been banned from paddling on Thirlmere and Ennerdale Waters in the Lake District. Paddlesport activity has been enjoyed safely and responsibly for many years on both these bodies of water and increasingly so by small groups of SUP users. In response to the ban, British Canoeing reached out to United Utilities to offer practical support and guidance around understanding and managing the perceived risks.
Rather than introducing bans, we encouraged United Utilities to work closely with British Canoeing to develop a supportive climate for safe activity, based on safety information and raising awareness. Over the last two years, British Canoeing has produced extensive guidance for SUP activity, primarily aimed at inexperienced paddlers.
Along with our partners such as the RNLI, Environment Agency and Canal & Rivers Trust, a lot of general guidance has been published on what people need to do to prepare for going on the water and general information on most types of paddling.
Increasing our concern, United Utilities have said to a number of sailing clubs and providers:
“….we will not allow existing leases to be extended to include paddle boarding or any other new water sports in the same location”.
Given that many of the leases between United Utilities and sailing or paddling providers predate the growth of SUP, a significant amount of participation is likely to cease. This of course, will prevent many people who currently participate in paddlesports, from enjoying being out on the water.
Both British Canoeing and the RYA consider the safety of people participating in watersports to be of the highest importance.
British Canoeing fundamentally disagrees with the assessment that “paddle-boarding and other water sports often result in time spent in the water, exposing users to the associated risks”.
Paddleboarding, like canoeing, kayaking, windsurfing and sailing are all activities that can and do take place safely on large bodies of water, on rivers and on the sea. While we recognise the hazards associated with open bodies of water, with cold water and with ‘operational assets’, we believe that Stand Up Paddleboarding presents no greater risk to participants than activities already permitted on United Utilities assets.