What is Canoe Marathon?

Marathon Canoeing is a fun, but challenging endurance outdoor sport, happening across the country on rivers, lakes and canals, a nature-rich environment you don’t usually get to see from roads or footpaths.

It offers progressive challenges from a couple of miles to the ultimate challenge of the 125 mile Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race. As you learn more boat handling skills, it becomes tactically as well as physically challenging, with boats racing in groups and contesting sprint finishes.

The racing system is based on ability divisions, so you can learn as you race against people of similar ability to you. As you progress, you’ll get promoted to higher divisions and ultimately face some of the best paddlers in the world like our 2017 World Champion, Lani Belcher of Nottingham KC.


Racing canoes is surprisingly accessible, and very safe. Beginner boats are very stable and steer easily, with most races on calm inland rivers and canals. Top end boats are built for speed, long and thin (and tippy!) with rudders on kayaks for steering. This gives the sport the speed of running with the tactics of road race cycling – falling off is a lot safer, if colder!

Beginners and juniors  wear buoyancy aids, but a marathon racer doesn’t usually have to rely on one, the aim is to stay in the boat and get to the finish. More advanced and adult paddlers may choose not to wear one, once they are comfortable with the boat they are in and the water they are on.

Canoe racing clubs offer a combination of marathon, and shorter distance (sprint) racing, with practical coaching and club sessions to develop skills in racing kayaks and canoes. Clubs usually hold a stock of boats and paddles for beginner members. Our sister discipline Sprint Canoeing is included in the Olympic Games, and many athletes pursue both disciplines of the sport.

Over 70 regional or national events were held across the country in 2017, with over 12,000 race entries.  In our flagship competitions, the inter-club Hasler Finals and the National Championships, over 1,000 racers vie for honours across age and ability classes. Races are organised typically every weekend between March and October and a few over the winter too. Click here to see the racing calendar.

Canoe Marathon has seen strong growth in recent years, with a quarter more race entries over the last 4 years. In the same period, Great Britain teams have won twenty nine medals at European, and World Marathon Championships.