Located in northeastern Italy, Venice is well known for being the country’s (and probably the world’s) most beautiful and romantic city. But it’s more than just that. With over 150 canals and waterways (totalling approx. 26 miles) it’s a SUPboarders heaven and should be on every paddlers ‘to do’ list. It’s great fun and a great way to see the city. But because the waterways are the cities equivalent to roads, they get pretty busy and there are some rules which are worth being aware of.
Paddleboarder Richard Allen recently explored Venice by SUP, and kindly shares his experience and paddling tips with SUPboarder…
When you head out on your board it’s usually on a local river, maybe a lake, or the beach for a surf. It’s not often a SUP session in the middle of a city, with some 150 canals spanned by over 400 bridges… well it is if you go paddling in Venice.
Venice is a beautiful city, full of history and architecture. Every corner is a photo opportunity. But the canals are not just there to look nice, they are the arteries of a busy city. Like any city where people get about by road, in Venice people get about by water, making the canals extremely busy. This adds to the fun factor, and the experience of paddling on these busy waterways is like nothing you’ve done before.
There are some basic city laws that need to be observed if you want to explore the Venetian waterways; swimming is totally forbidden in the canals (no jumping in), you must be over 14 years old, swimsuits are also forbidden in the city as well as bare chests so shorts and a rash vest are in order. All sensible stuff really!
You don’t need a licence to navigate the canals, but insurance is mandatory. There are a lot of Gondolas on the canals ferrying tourists about and doing tours of the city. A Gondola can be worth as much as forty thousand euros, so scratching one with your paddle would be like scratching someone’s prized sports car! You damaged it, you pay for it!
There are a number of rules to observe as you navigate this system of scenic canals. You can’t paddle before 3pm on the Grand Canal and some main canals. With so many boats sharing congested waterways crafts carrying commercial goods are restricted to between 4am and midmorning. Barges that collect and carry away household waste etc also have restricted hours, leaving the Gondola free to use the canals from midmorning onwards.
When paddling you have to stay on the left hand side. It’s important to shout the appropriate term when approaching any junction on your board to warn other canal users of your approach. All canal users do this; motor boats beep their horn and manually powered craft (including Gondola) shout in Venetian that they are approaching a junction and if they intend to turn left, right, or go straight ahead. There is also a one way system on many canals for motor boats, this doesn’t apply to Gondola, SUP or other manually powered craft so you are free to explore wherever you like (except for the San Marco and Rialto areas, where SUP are not welcome). Watch out under the bridges, you’ll find it near impossible to put in a good stroke or change hands with your paddle!
Right of way can be complicated. As a general rule motor boats should give way to oar and paddle craft. It’s not always as easy as this as it depends on currents (some canals do have quite a current flow), boat size and momentum, available space on the canal to pass etc… Some of the waterways are very narrow.
Think of it more like using a road network. One tip is to look behind you before you pull out and to have a quick check now and then what’s coming up behind you. Gondola are large and silently work their way up and down the canals, looking behind you isn’t something that normally factors into a SUP session but you do get the fright of your life when you do glance back and there is a Gondola silently pacing you a few meters behind!
Motor boats have to observe speed limits on the canals, although if you hear sirens it’s likely to be an ambulance or fire boat. These craft don’t have to adhere to speed limits and can create a powerful bow wave as they speed through the narrow waterways… beware!
Everywhere you turn there is another amazing view, another fantastic photo opportunity, or another land based tourist trying to take a photo of you as you paddle past! SUP and kayaking didn’t appear that popular on the canals of Venice; in the 4 days I spent in the city I didn’t see any other SUP boards and only saw one kayaker the whole time I was there. It’s such a unique and rewarding place to paddle, the low bridges, the other traffic, the location, all make it well worth taking the time to head out on the water.
It’s worth approaching the local surf and SUP club (Surf Club Venezia) to arrange a SUP tour of Venice. Equipment hire, insurance, and experienced guides all make exploring Venice by SUP as easy and hassle free as it can be.
Words by : Richard Allen
SUPing definitely sounds like the perfect way to explore Venice and escape the crowds. But with a no swimming rule just make sure you keep an eye out for the expensive gondalas and don’t fall in!
Which cities have you paddleboarded around? SUPboarder would love to hear and share your paddling experiences.