Paddling in French Waters the regulations made easy

Ammendment to Regulations made on 1st May 2015

The following Original text will be ammended in Blue to indicate the changes.

Paddling in French Territorial waters

UK paddlers will be very used to jumping in their kayaks and paddling off on their journey generally unregulated.  Some paddlers will be aware of ‘Local’ regulations and byelaws such as those on the Tidal Thames, and will have made themselves familiar with them as and when necessary

However in France there are regulations which affect everybody navigating on French territorial waters, and this page details those requirements and suggests ways to comply

It is worth mentioning International law at sea.

All vessels have authority and right of passage through the territorial waters of another country  from the United Nations Convention of the law of the sea
(You must be complying with the laws of the UK and other relevant international conventions SOLAS, COLREGS etc )

At first sight then it appears that there is no requirement to comply with the host Nation regulations.

However, the ‘right of passage’ referred to is clearly defined in the convention as meaning a “continuous and expeditious passage through territorial waters” If you are visiting or touring the coast then you come within the jurisdiction of the coastal state, and will have to comply with their regulations

Download PDF


There are three aspects of the regulations that affect Kayakers in France

1.  Registration

2.  Construction and fitness for purpose

3. Zones of navigation and required equipment



1.  Registration is only possible for residents in France, (a proof of address is a required submission).  There are no requirements to register a Kayak under UK law, but  you may wish to voluntary register your Kayak on the MCA Small Ships Register.  (A fee is charged £25 )  This gives you a SSR number that must be displayed on the kayak, a Registration card from the MCA and is proof the kayak is from UK.  In any case a “Red Ensign” should be displayed prominently on the kayak. If you decide not to register on the SSR, then some document to prove ownership should be carried, the original bill will be good, but if you have no  original document a formal “Attestation sur l’honneur” detailing your ownership will ‘probably’ be acceptable  (eg for a 10year old boat where original docs have been lost, see sample at end)  Registration is no longer required for Kayaks navigating in the “Basique” Zone  ( 300 meters up to 2 mN  )

NB:   This actually means you can make an open crossing of up to 4 miles without a registration requirement, but you must carry the equipment detailed for paddling in that zone Basique

2.  Construction and fitness for purpose is established in the registration process usually with certificates issued by the manufacturer.    Current UK professionally built sea kayaks will conform with construction requirements. It is acceptable to ‘self certificate’  using an “Attestation sur l’honneur”   (sample at end) Again nothing of real concern in this section


3.  Zones of Navigation are defined in the regulations,  they are;

a)  “Basique”         Up to 2 Nmiles from a ‘safe landing place’

b)  “Côtier”              From 2 Nmiles up to 6 Nmiles  from a ‘safe landing place’

c)   “Hauturier”     Over 6 Nmiles    This zone is forbidden for Kayaks

Additionally, all other “Beach craft and craft not registered” are restricted to  the area from the shore out to 300 meters.  Kayaks and Sit on tops under 3.5 Meters Long also fall into this category.

To paddle in the Côtier Zone new regulations are in Force, for French residents Registration is still required, additionally there must be a minimum of  TWO Paddlers, and there must be a minimum of One Waterproof VHF radio readily available for each pair of paddlers.

Solo Paddling in this Zone is forbidden, except for ” Members of an association registered for Solo paddling”         This really is unclear, and I’ve yet to meet someone who understands this requirement. I’ve searched the Regulation Text for a definition of the Association, but there is none. Its likely to be CKMER  or Pagayeurs Marins, there is absolutely nothing on the FFCK website (French equiv. of BCU ).  If you really wanted to Solo paddle in this Zone, I’m sure a BCU Card with a high star certificate would satisfy this requirement, but that’s for the paddler to decide and at their own risk. 

Whilst this appears a bit restrictive, in fact it means that Two paddlers can make an open crossing of up to 12 Nautical miles  (ie 6 miles from either coast)  This offers some of the best paddling in Europe

a)  Basique. The regulations require the following ‘minimal ‘ items of equipment to be carried.

i      PDF  with minimum 50N, and CE marked
ii     A Torch
iii    A’means’ of getting back into the kayak
(commonly seen in France are paddle floats with spare paddle , but full
decklines on the boat will satisfy )
iv    The boat must be self emptying (ie SOT) or  a Pump is required, for Sit In
Kayaks, a spraydeck must be used)
v     A fixed towing point ( eye plate screwed to deck) and Tow line

b)  Côtier.   In addition to the above list you must also carry;

vi    3 x Red hand flares
vii   Signal mirror   ( A mini CD disc does the job )
viii  A Sound signal ( a good loud whistle or locals carry an air horn without
the canister )
ix    Magnetic Compass ( not electronic)
x     Chart of the area you’re paddling
xi    A sticker on the boat with a resumé of the COLREGS
xii    A sticker on the boat identifying IALA buoyage
xiii   Plus one VHF radio for each pair of paddlers

To summarise:

Carry proof of ownership,  declare your kayak is seaworthy, and be in possession of the right kit for the zone you are in.


The last two items (stickers) can be found in ships chandlers Online Store
( Or just print your own out with some sticky plastic, not that I see many fixed on boats ! )

My abbrieviated version, an aide memoire  for COLREGS can now be downloaded     Here     (You might decide you would prefer more detail , your choice)

This account relates to kayaks professionally built,  with hatches and bulkheads constructed in a glass reinforced plastic or moulded polyethylene. If you are considering taking a home built boat, Strip built, skin on frame, or a folding boat, you will need to carry out more research to establish you and your kayak comply with the regulations.

These are only guidelines, and can not represent the full regulations in force, you need to use your own judgement and seek further advice to ensure you comply with the law. The law is subject to change, and while the author believes this text reflects the current law in place, he can not guarantee this




“Attestation sur l’honneur”  =  A formal written declaration,  often demanded in France when other paperwork has been lost/ does not exist



Je, soussigné            Joe Brown

Demeurant au          (Your address  )

Déclare sur l’honneur être le propriétaire du kayak

P&H Sirius Sea Kayak”   Numéro de Série : 07543.      (make model and serial no.)


J’ai acheté le Sirius Kayak chez
BROOKBANK Canoes Kayak environ 2006.   (orignal place & date of purchase)
La facture originale est perdue         (original bill is lost )


Fait à      Home Town Name where you signed this declaration,    le      14 .07.  2011  (date declaration signed)

Your signature here


Déclaration de conformité d’un navaire de plaisance non immatriculé en France

Je soussigné  M ( Add your name)
né(e) le     (add date of birth)     Demeurant au          (Your address )

Certifie sur l’honneur que le kayak répondant à la description  suivante:

Marque     (Enter manufacturer  )      Modèle     (enter model )
Numéro de série      (Enter serial number)

Est conforme aux dispositions du chapitre 2 de la division 240 en vigueur


Signature du déclarant Paddling in French waters


9 Responses to Paddling in French Waters the regulations made easy

  1. Hi, We have been escorting kayaks across the channel and have heard the French have been stopping people. I intend to escort them to the French shipping lane then boat them across the five miles then they can kayak again as they will be in the “Côtier” zone according to your info which is very good by the way. I would appreciate your thoughts on what they should carry. Thanks

    • admin says:

      Hello Will; sorry for the delay have just spent the last month paddling in Norway with no decent Internet access. French Territorial waters Extend to the midpoint of the the Channel (up to 12 Nautical miles) so around 9 Nautical miles from the French coast. French regs permit paddling up to 6 miles from the coast leaving the 3 miles to UK Territorial waters under Question.

      I have previously written for consent to the French Authority (Prefet Maritime) to paddle through this Zone and permission was refused. It was also stated that they would never grant permission to paddle outside the 6 mile limit. (I had a British Army work Boat Escorting) In short this is for crossings from the French Coast

      However when crossing from the UK Coast there are no regulations which limit the distance from shore that a kayaker can paddle. However the Dover straight has been singled out for special consideration by a joint Anglo French and here’s the MCGA Info on a website that explains clearly MCGA Info
      Hope this helps

  2. Michael Halloway says:

    Thanks, I found this really useful


  3. Humphrey Wrey says:


    Thank you for the article, it was very interesting. I did have one question. A friend and I want to cycle London to Dover, then kayak the channel, then cycle to Paris for charity.

    From your article I see this may be a problem, however, have you ever heard of exceptions being granted?

    Thank you very much in advance!

  4. Neil Johnston says:

    Very useful. Do you know if a manual bilge pump is acceptable please?

  5. Hi, great, if daunting article thanks – do you have any experience of the Normandy crossing (Cherbourg to Swanage) by kayak. I was hoping to attempt this next year, with a buddy and a 7m Escort boat. I would prefer to paddle from France to England, do you know how prohibitive the French authorities are with this crossing and are there any ways to ‘get around’ the difficulties that you know of?

    • admin says:

      Hi John, to be absolutely frank the challenges crossing the channel relate to avoidance of Shipping. and you have the issues of dealing with the french authorities, the Normandy crossing was done not so long back by Royal Marines cellebrating the 350th anniversary. They started on the French side but permission was only granted exceptionally because they were escorted by a landing craft with AIS and miltary Radar, in addition they were practised in recovery drills to the landing craft. The resource accepted by the French is way outside your budget.
      I advise anyone thinking of this challenge to look elsewhere. In the UK there are several absolutely epic ‘Open Crossings’ You do not need a safety boat and you can do them solo for the ultimate challenge. If you are raising money for charity, why waste on safety boats ? Take a look through my blog I have completed a good number of open Crossings, most with just one other paddler, but some Solo. In terms od distance there is the Seven Estuarry, you can make it as long as you like, then there is Lundy, and I really reccomend the Scilly isles crossing, not to be undertaken lightly, far more challenging is North wales to the isle of man, and then Wales to Ireland .

      All of these offer a first class challenge with absolutely no legal overheads, but always file a passage plan with the coast guard

  6. Hello,

    I am a traditional kayak and canoe builder based in Northern Ireland. Sole trader/Artisan builder. I have recently received and email from a Frenchman interested in buying a Greenland kayak from me.

    He has asked if my boats are ‘approved’ for paddling in the French waters.

    I’ve never been asked this at any stage since I began building professionally in 2004 and have open canoes to customers in Norway, Denmark and Crete. My kayaks have been part of my product line since 2014.

    Any idea, comment or suggestion for me?

    Any advice would be much appreciated.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.