Rowing, surfing and sailing in the UK


All watersports, including sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, rowing, power-boating, canoeing, surfing and subaquatic sports are popular in the UK – which is hardly surprising considering it’s surrounded by water and has hundreds of inland lakes and rivers where such sports can be enjoyed.

Boats and equipment can be hired at coastal resorts, lakes and rivers, and instruction is available for most watersports in holiday areas. Jet and surf skis can also be hired more frequently nowadays. 


There are around 500 rowing clubs in the UK and over 300 regattas, the most famous of which is the Henley Regatta. The University Boat Race (inaugurated in 1836), between eight-oared crews from Cambridge and Oxford universities, at Easter, is the most famous rowing race in the world (it’s shown live on TV). Canoeing for children is sometimes taught in indoor swimming pools in winter. Budding canoeists must be able to swim 50 metres before being admitted to a canoe club and the wearing of life jackets is compulsory (see www.ara-rowing.org ).

Surfing, Windsurfing, Waterskiing & Sub-aqua

Wetsuits are almost mandatory for surfing, windsurfing, waterskiing and sub aquatic sports even during the summer months (the water is freezing in and around the UK at almost any time of the year). They can be hired in areas where there’s a demand. Surfing is popular and is centered at Newquay in Cornwall, which has staged a number of world-class events. Pollution is one of the biggest problems for water sports enthusiasts off the UK’s coastline, and ear infections and stomach complaints are common among surfers. Scuba diving is another popular sport. Participants must pass a medical examination and undergo an approved training course to obtain the PADI open water diving certificate. Courses are run at many swimming pools and cost from around £230 to £300. Equipment can cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds, although second-hand equipment is available. The season runs from April to September, and the best areas in the British Isles are Cornwall and the Scilly Isles.


Sailing has always been popular in the UK, which has a history of producing famous sailors, from Sir Francis Drake to Sir Francis Chichester. There are sailing clubs (around 1,500) and schools in all areas of the UK and boats of all shapes and sizes can be hired, from ocean-going racing yachts to dinghies (if you don’t like water, there are land yachts). In recent years, there has been a marina boom in the south-east and, if you’re a sailing enthusiast, it’s possible to purchase a home where you can moor your boat outside your front door. Many inland lakes have a maximum speed limit of 16kph (10mph) for power boats. There has been a huge increase in stolen boats and equipment in the last few years (outboard motors, navigational and other electronic equipment are the most popular targets). Ensure you have good security and adequate insurance for your boat. Websites such as www.uksail.com  can provide detailed information of brokers.

The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) runs excellent courses for sailors wishing to become safe and proficient skippers. The Coastal Skippers and Yachtmaster courses lead to qualifications for commercial and racing skippers, but there are also courses for power-boaters and coastal ‘potterers’. For details visit the RYA website (www.rya.org.uk ).


Visit Britain publishes a leaflet about residential water sports holidays in the UK, which includes canoeing, power boating, rafting, sailing, surfing, waterskiing and windsurfing. Many magazines (over 20) are dedicated to boating and yachting, plus some ten more to various other water sports.

No experience, test, safety training or equipment is required to take to the waters in and around the UK, and many people needlessly risk their lives and carry no safety equipment. e.g. flares, life jackets or radios. Don’t get caught unprepared and be sure to observe all warning signs on waterways.

This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.

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