[November 2023] This article is an attempt to clarify what the rules are about paddling on Bristol Harbour, and under what circumstances club members, and non-members, are permitted to use the harbour. Note that Bristol Harbourmaster’s authority goes from Hanham lock all the way down to Avonmouth, not just the section we know as Bristol docks, so this applies to the whole stretch downstream from Hanham.

What is actually required?

Essentially, you need two things to be legally allowed to paddle on the harbour. You need permission, and you need insurance. These may be obtained in different ways, and are different for members of Bristol Canoe Club, or non-members.

For Members of Bristol Canoe Club:-

The club buys a set of harbour licences from the Bristol Harbour Master; these provide club members with permission to paddle on Bristol docks. The club also provides members with insurance (obtained via the club’s affiliation with the national governing body; British Canoeing), but (importantly) the insurance only covers you when you are participating in a Club Activity. See our Definition of a Club Activity page to clarify what constitutes a Club Activity.

If you are a member of Bristol Canoe Club, and you are also an individual member of British Canoeing, then your direct membership of British Canoeing provides the insurance which you need, so you are also covered to paddle on Bristol docks even outside the definition of a Club Activity.

For people who are not a member of Bristol Canoe Club:-

You need both permission and insurance to paddle on Bristol docks.

Note that individual membership of British Canoeing does not provide permission to paddle on the docks. To get permission, you need to buy a harbour licence from the Harbour Master.

If you buy a one-day harbour licence (currently £10), then this can also include insurance to cover you to paddle (extra 85p), so you are OK to get onto the water.

If you buy an annual harbour licence (currently £50), then you must separately obtain insurance (and provide evidence of this to the harbour master). The easiest way to get this insurance is to become a member of British Canoeing; the membership does include insurance for paddling on the docks, even though it doesn’t provide direct permission.

References / links

Bristol Harbour licence rules:

British Canoeing membership:

British Canoeing Insurance: and

British Canoeing Waterways licences, relevance to the Bristol Avon: See the search box within this page:

River Avon (Bristol)

Please note. British Canoeing membership covers you from Hanham Lock (on the outskirts of Bristol) [upstream] to Thimble Mill (Bath). PLEASE NOTE: From Hanham Lock downstream, this section is managed by Bristol City Council and if you are paddling here you need to purchase a day ticket from the Bristol Harbour Office. The cost is approximately £7 for the day.