Water sports governing bodies join forces to challenge restrictions in North West reservoirs

RYA holds talks with United Utilities following statement on reservoir activities
Boards 25 Jan 22
Young people paddle boarding at Glossop Sailing Club

We are disappointed that United Utilities, the organisation responsible for water and wastewater services the North West of England, has announced that it will not permit Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUPing) to take place on the majority of its reservoirs.

Whilst we are not the national governing body for this activity, many of our affiliated clubs and training centres have diversified to include SUPing and other water sport activities. This has grown membership and enhanced their position as a key sports facility within the local community. As such, the ban will not only affect stand up paddle boarders, but also many sailing clubs and training centres, canoe clubs, and paddlesport providers who currently offer SUP as part of their activities. 

Recreational boating in the UK has a long-established tradition of self-reliance and individual responsibility and we believe United Utilities’ decision to restrict water sport activities to be disproportionate, so would welcome the opportunity to better understand the evidence that is driving this action.

We are working with a number of stakeholders to review the position United Utilities has taken. We believe that SUPing is an accessible and safe gateway activity that builds water confidence and very much compliments sailing, windsurfing and other water sports. We are supporting our clubs and centres that may be impacted by United Utilities’ decision.

According to United Utilities there are five reservoirs where paddleboarding is already allowed under the terms of an existing lease (out of a total of 170) – and we have asked it to identify these sites. It has stated that it does not intend to prohibit the activity at the five sites as it is satisfied that it is acceptable in those locations, and that appropriate risk assessments have been undertaken and safeguards are in place. We will be seeking assurance from United Utilities that they will honour existing lease arrangements when it comes to renewal negotiations.

The RYA considers the safety of people participating in watersports to be of the highest importance and we fundamentally disagree with the assessment that “paddleboarding and other water sports often result in time spent in the water, exposing users to the associated risks”

Paddleboarding, like windsurfing, sailing, canoeing, and kayaking, 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. 

We will keep RYA members, affiliated clubs and training centres informed of developments. 

Update on 28 February: We are actively and positively engaging with United Utilities on SUP activities At a recent meeting, our discussions were encouraging and solution focused with a desire from all parties to work towards a position where managed activity is allowed in as many venues as possible. We have a further meeting scheduled in two weeks' time.

Update on 4 April: The RYA continues to have positive talks with United Utilities (UU) on reviewing SUP activity on its reservoirs.  Following our last meetings, the RYA has shared its insight, processes and procedures to help support UU in developing a robust pilot which will take place over a specific timeframe. Once the details are finalised, we will publish a joint statement and work with the relevant stakeholders to deliver a successful pilot and evaluation report. We are all conscious, that the core season for water sport activity is fast approaching and hope to progress the pilot in time for Easter holidays.

Photo credit: Glossop Sailing Club