United Utilities bans paddleboarding on 165 of its reservoirs

, United Utilities bans paddleboarding on 165 of its reservoirs

Back in January, United Utilities, the company that manages water supply in the northwest of England, announced that it was prohibiting paddleboarding activities on all but five of its reservoirs.  As to be expected, there was an outcry, not only among SUP enthusiasts but paddlesport governing and training bodies including British Canoeing, the Royal Yachting Association (RYA), and the Water Skills Academy, some of whom who were quick to add their thoughts to the debate online and on social media.

Why have United Utilities banned paddleboarding?

The interest in paddlesports has risen sharply over the past few years, fueled in particular by the pandemic and an urge for many to enjoy the great outdoors during lockdowns. United Utilities issued a statement advising that paddleboarding put users at risk of spending long periods in the water and that as reservoirs are ‘operational assets’, they were ‘unsuitable’ for such activities. United Utilities also said that while paddleboarding can take place under existing licenses (on five of its 170 reservoirs)  they would not be granting new licenses for paddleboarding.

Who is affected by this ban?

It’s not just SUP’ers who are now restricted to where they can practice, it also affects numerous clubs and organisations who have extended their activities over recent years to accommodate the popularity of the sport – many of which are still recovering from the economic effects of the pandemic.

Why is this decision so controversial?

In addition to the above, British Canoeing and RYA have since approached United Utilities over some of the points it made about paddleboarding. British Canoeing has said that it “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.” 

Both organisations have joined forces to challenge the notion that paddleboarding is any riskier than watersports like windsurfing. Others add that SUPers usually have to register with clubs before using sites and undergo a basic level of training to reduce their level of risk on the water. A ‘buddy system’ is usually the norm for any new SUPers to clubs.

Where can I paddleboard now?

The five United Utilities sites that still permit paddleboarding are: Fishmoor in Blackburn, Lower Rivington, High Rid and Jumbles in Bolton, and Hollingworth Lake, Rochdale. We’ve listed a few details below.

The Anderton Centre at Lower Rivington

Postcode: PR6 9HG

The Anderton Centre hosts outdoor activity sessions on Lower Rivington and High Rid, including SUP, canoeing and kayaking. The Paddle Sports club runs paddleboard sessions on Wednesday evenings during British Summer Time. The centre also offers Pay and Play sessions on Saturdays throughout the summer months, where for £12 you can hire out paddleboards and safety equipment. Sessions are supervised but no formal instructions are given. 



Postcode: BB1 2LL

Run by the Lancashire School Sailing Association, the facilities at Fishmoor have grown considerably in size since 1981. The SUP season at Fishmoor is generally from Easter through to September (weather dependant!)  Most paddling sessions are organised via community groups although there are opportunities and events throughout the year for non-members to join in.


Hollingworth Lake

Postcode: OL15 0DQ 

The Water Activity Centre at Hollingworth Lake in Rochdale lays out a few options for paddleboarding,  including adult tester sessions for beginners – held under the supervision of instructors; and private tuition (either 1:1 or 2:1) for anyone of any ability. Paddleboard hire sessions are also available on Thursday evenings and weekend afternoons. All sessions need to be booked in advance online.


Don’t forget there are other areas of the UK that offer amazing opportunities for SUPing. Many of which are accessible from the northwest of England.   Check out our blog post here for some top UK paddling spots, as recommended by one of our SUP ambassadors.

As we’ve seen here, terms and conditions around SUPing can change over time, so it’s worth checking your plans in advance with the relevant centre or trust before setting off on any long-distance adventures! 

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