Kayaking ban in Venice – the city’s proposal

The City of Venice has issues a wide ban on kayaks, canoes, SUPs, dragon boats and more.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a representative of the municipal government, sufficiently high up in the hierarchy to be able to influence municipal policies. While the meeting itself was rather inconclusive, there was a recognition that there is a real problem to solve, and another meeting will be called later, with both politicians and technicians present, in an attempt to find a solution.

The proposal from the municipal administration is to ease the ban a bit, allowing free passage for everybody after 5pm on Monday to Friday, after 1pm on Saturdays and all day on Sunday.

We have no idea whether they’ll stick with this or if we can still make suggestions. We will no doubt make our suggestions.

For Venice Kayak the proposed modifications will be worth very little. We will have to move our longer tours to later hours, and the viable season for longer tours will be cut from 7-8 months a year to 3-4 months, if we are to avoid returning after dark.

Kayaking ban in Venice – dialogue with the city administration

Venice has issued a ban on kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and more, which is effective from Sunday, March 1st.

Currently it is illegal to go by kayak, canoe or dragon boat on the Grand Canal and several other canals in the city.

As a consequence, the city’s canal network has been cut to pieces, from a kayaker’s point of view, where it is not longer possible to go from one part to another.

Today I have had a meeting with the city official who have signed the new regulations, and it was not as bad as I had anticipated.

As things stand now, the ban is there and it is an offence to even paddle across the no-go canals.

However, the city administrators have finally understood that they have made a mistake by issuing a blanket ban like they have. Being unable to turn back, there will be a modification to the new rules, which will give kayaks, canoes and dragon boats more room so it will be possible to move around the city in a reasonably rational way.

In short, there will be some points on the no-go canals where passage will be allowed, most notably on the Grand Canal.  There will be some limits on when you can pass, it’ll be mostly in the afternoon, and maybe even on who can pass, for example a requirement that there is a qualified coach in a group of kayaks.

It is my hope that they will also allow passage, at least in the afternoon, on parts of the lower Canal Grande, so we can still visit the ancient gondola shipyards in the Dorsoduro area, which will otherwise be unreachable.

While this will not be a perfect solution, it will be a marked improvement on the no-exceptions-allowed ban they have made for now.


The current rules banning kayaks etc from the Grand Canal and more, are not made by the city administration alone, and the city administration cannot therefore change them alone.

The changes from February 11th were published after a meeting of what they call a conferenza dei servizi, where all the different public bodies meet to coordinate.

A change to the new rules will have to pass the same way. This means that there will be a meeting on March 12th, where a commission will meet to prepare everything for the next meeting of the conferenza dei servizi, where a change can be formally decided.

Once we get there, we’ll know what they’ll come up with.

I do not know the date of the next meeting of the conferenza dei servizi, but I’ve been told that they’re normally held once a month.

Legal Challenge

The legal challenge to the kayaking ban in Venice will not stop before the city administration publishes what exactly they intend to do, and they cannot do that before the meeting of the conferenza dei servizi has met, and at than point they have also decided.

There will be no public hearing, beside the kind of privately requested meetings with city officials, like the one I had today.

The Arcobaleno association has no intend of backing down before they know what the new rules will be, so the process will go forward.

The collection of funds in support of the legal challenge continues.

 The meeting

My appointment today was  on behalf of my company Venice Kayak,  so I did not represent anybody else there.

Besides explanations about what we’re doing — kayaking excursions in Venice lead by qualified guides, and not any kind of rental to whoever shows up — the discussion was mostly about what kind of modifications we would need to be able to continue our work.

This maps shows the ‘dispensations’ we’ll need to be able to carry on in the way we have done now in seven years, without accidents or conflicts.

Venice kayaking ban - suggested changes

Summarised we need

  • a few passages on inner city canals to connect the otherwise detached segments of the city’s canal network,
  • some predetermined points where we can cross the Grand Canal, on each of the three parts of the canal, and
  • the possibility of transiting on a part of the lower Grand Canal to reach otherwise unreachable areas.

For now we’re crossing our fingers, hoping for the best.

If the city administration cannot come up with a working solution for us and the other paddlers in Venice, we will have no choice but the throw all our effort at the legal challenge the Arcobaleno association is preparing.

Kayaking ban in Venice – legal challenge

Venice has issued a ban on kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and more, which will be effective from Sunday, March 1st.

This ban will harm the activities of several groups.


The local kayaking association Arcobaleno has initiated a legal challenge to the new regulation banning kayaks and canoes in Venice.

Arcobaleno is one of the oldest kayaking clubs in the wider Venice area, and they have been active for many many years.

A Paypal account ricorso@arcocanoa.org has been set up to collect funds for the legal battle ahead. The needs aren’t huge, all in all around €3000 will be needed, but it is more than the club and its supporters have.

Even contributions of €5, €10 or €20 will be a help in the fight to keep Venice open for paddlers.

Kayaking ban in Venice – where and how to help

Venice has issued a ban on kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and more, which will be effective from Sunday, March 1st.

This ban will harm the activities of several groups.

All of these groups, together with the Italian Federation for Canoe and Kayak (FICK) and other organisations are trying in various ways to counter this blanket bans of most paddle crafts in Venice.

Salviamo Venezia andando a remi e pagaie

A lot of discussion is going on the Facebook group called Salviamo Venezia andando a remi e pagaie.

Most of the discussion is in Italian, but it is open for all interested parties. I try to put in something in English every once in a while, but I’m neither the creator nor an administrator of the group.

Screenshot from 2015-02-26 21:39:34

There’s a petition on change.org asking for the new regulations to be recalled.

At the time of writing it is approaching 2000 signatures, and you can all give us a hand by heading over there to sign.


The local kayaking association Arcobaleno has initiated a legal challenge to the new regulation banning kayaks and canoes in Venice.

Arcobaleno is one of the oldest kayaking clubs in the wider Venice area, and they have been active for many many years.

A Paypal account ricorso@arcocanoa.org has been set up to collect funds for the legal battle ahead. The needs aren’t huge, all in all around €3000 will be needed, but it is more than the club and its supporters have.

Even contributions of €5, €10 or €20 will be a help in the fight to keep Venice open for paddlers.

Who’s affected by the new prohibitions in Venice

The new regulations banning kayaks, canoes and dragon boats will affect quite a few clubs and activities in Venice.

The association Venice Canoe & Dragon takes (or rather, has taken) school kids in dragon boats through the city. Until now they have done so for 9000 kids, but that is a thing of the past now. Now the kids cannot experience the city on water from the water any more, unless they take a taxi.

The Pink Lionesses of Venice is an association for women who are survivors of breast cancer. Their pink dragon boat was once a common sight on the Grand Canal, but they too will have to paddle elsewhere.

Several of the rowing clubs based on the mainland will no longer be able to row or paddle in the Grand Canal. This also seems to apply to Venetian rowing, if the club is not based in Venice city or on the lagoon islands. This will affect the Società Canottieri Mestre and, I believe, the Voga Veneta Mestre, both well respected members of the Venetian rowing community.

All the individuals, clubs, associations and companies from outside Venice, that used to do the occasional tour to Venice in kayak, canoe or dragon boat will now face a fine if they venture onto the Grand Canal or any of the no-go canals in the future.

Due to the massive exodus from Venice towards the mainland during the last decades, there are actually more Venetians living in Mestre and Marghera than in Venice proper, and they will now be excluded from experiencing their native city as it was always intended, in a rowed by from the water.

At a cultural level, this new ban in a blow to the heart of everything that is Venetian.

My company Venice Kayak will at least be impeded by the published ban on kayaking on the Grand Canal, but we will probably be less hurt than the others, since we can still use some of the smaller canals in the city, where dragon boats cannot go.

“Detourism” in Venice

The City of Venice has a project they call “Detourism” supposedly promoting sustainable tourism in Venice.

They describe it this way:

Travel Venice like a local

DETOURISM  is a new project of the City of Venice for curious travellers who enjoy wander off the beaten path looking for the Venice most unusual and secret places and discovering its original characters.

Because Venice is the perfect place to get lost.
Travelling in a different way.
Experiencing Venice like a Venetian.
Discovering another Venice.
So ditch the itinerary and become a detourist, find out what travel guides never tell, and discover an unexpected Venice.

The idea of  DETOURISM is to invite guests to the lagoon to put themselves in the shoes of the local people; not to be a tourist but to travel the city slowly and with love, to get lost in search of a more authentic and lesser-known Venice.

And then they ban kayaks, canoes and dragon boats, harming a whole series of very off-the-beaten tracks offers of sustainable tourism.

Vogalonga and the ban on kayaks in Venice

As I have written earlier, the City of Venice has made a partial but extensive ban on kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and others, effective from March 1st, 2015.

The Vogalonga is a rowing event that has been held in Venice every year for the last forty years. It is organised by a non-profit committee, the Comitato Vogalonga.

After the publication of the new regulations on February 11th, everybody expected a reaction from the Vogalonga committee, but they were silent. After much soliciting online, and maybe also offline, they finally made a statement on the 20th, on Facebook but not on their web site, and in Italian only.

The Facebook post received quite a lot of comments, and in there one of the members of the organising committee made a further statement.

I find it important that everybody knows the stance of the Vogalonga committee, so I have reproduced and translated (to the best of my abilities) the two statements below.

First statement (in Italian)

Il Comitato Vogalonga, valutati i vari aspetti della questione e le molteplici proteste anche a livello internazionale, si esprime rispetto all’ordinanza del Comune di Venezia circa la restrizione ad alcuni tipi di natanti a remi, come canoa e kayak, per la circolazione lungo alcuni canali del centro storico.

La congestione del traffico sempre più pressante e l’utilizzo di natanti da parte di persone inesperte e non edotte in merito alla navigazione nei canali interni di Venezia giustifica la presa di posizione del Comune che andrebbe però formulata in senso cautelativo per l’incolumità delle persone più che in senso restrittivo. Quindi, sarebbe auspicabile che i vogatori in questione venissero informati, preparati ed eventualmente accompagnati da persone qualificate prima di affrontare i percorsi cittadini piuttosto che interdire la navigazione a determinati tipi di imbarcazioni.

Rispetto alle proteste che stanno arrivando numerose da parte di circoli e associazioni italiane e da varie parti del mondo, il Comitato Vogalonga, che confida di poter fruire della deroga in occasione della prossima edizione, invita i vogatori a seguire itinerari che corrano nei canali non interdetti del centro storico e lungo i margini dello stesso e che soprattutto li portino a godere degli ampi spazi ed impagabili orizzonti lagunari.

Il Comitato Vogalonga sottolinea anche in questa occasione il proprio impegno per la salvaguardia della laguna e la lotta contro il moto ondoso.

First statement (my translation)

The Vogalonga Committee, having taken into account the various aspects of the question and the numerous protests, also internationally, expresses itself regarding the City of Venice’s new regulations, restricting the circulation of some types of oar driven crafts, like canoes and kayaks, in some of the canals in the city centre.

The ever worsening traffic congestion and the use of boats by inexpert persons, not informed in matters of navigation in the inner canals of Venice, justifies the intervention of the city administration, which, however, should have been phrased in terms of safeguarding the well-being of the persons rather than as a interdiction. Therefore, it would have been desirable that the rowers in question be informed, prepared and eventually accompanied by qualified persons before they embark on routes in the city, rather than prohibiting the circulation of certain types of boats.

With regard to the protests which are arriving in great numbers from clubs and associations in Italy and various parts of the world, the Vogalonga Committee, confident that it will receive a dispensation for the upcoming event, invites all rowers to follow routes which runs in the non prohibited canals in the city centre and along the edges of the same, which will also allow them to enjoy the ample spaces and priceless horizons of the lagoon.

The Vogalonga Committee wants to underline in this occasion too, its commitment to the safeguarding of the lagoon and the fight against wave pollution.

Second statement (in Italian)

This second statement, from a member of the Vogalonga committee and not officially from the committee itself, was in response to a comment of mine, that the committee has thrown in the towel.

Il Comitato Vogalonga non ha gettato la spugna …

La posizione del Comitato (di cui mi onoro di far parte), a differenza di qualcun altro che lucra sul noleggio e sulle visite guidate con kayak a Venezia, è quella di un confronto con la pubblica amministrazione che tenga conto delle esigenze e dell’incolumità di tutti senza prevaricarne i diritti. Il fatto che alcuni canali di Venezia siano eccessivamente trafficati, ha portato alla necessità di rivedere la regolamentazione del traffico interessando tutti i settori della navigazione. Il fatto che qualche mezzo pubblico di linea sia stato fatto fermare in mezzo al Canal Grande perché un paio di kayak a noleggio senza accompagnatore si stessero fotografando vicino al Ponte di Rialto non è da sottovalutare né da demonizzare, ma va presa in seria considerazione. Ovviamente il problema sta nel conducente o vogatore e non nel mezzo che si conduce, ed è su questo che bisogna focalizzarsi.

Il Comitato non è interessato alla sola voga alla veneta a scapito di altri tipi di voga, ne ad ottenere la deroga per la manifestazione (che tra l’altro è già prevista nell’ordinanza anche per altre manifestazioni). La precisazione è stata fatta poiché ci sono state richieste da tutto il mondo in merito al regolare svolgimento della manifestazione.

Prima di prendere una posizione, il Comitato si è confrontato con esponenti delle associazioni e delle federazioni per stabilire una presa di posizione ed è in attesa di un incontro per cercare una mediazione.

La Vogalonga vive grazie ai vogatori e ai sostenitori che vi partecipano e non è una attività commerciale ne sponsorizzata e vuole accogliere tutti i vogatori che amano Venezia e questa manifestazione partecipando e credendo nei valori che cerca di trasmettere.

Fomentare una protesta per salvaguardare la propria attività, come fa qualcuno, non è l’unico modo di affrontare i problemi che vanno prima analizzati e condivisi per cercare primariamente una soluzione condivisa.

Scrivo a titolo personale per spiegare cosa sta alla base delle scelte fatte, non avendo ancora avuto modo di confrontarmi con il resto del Comitato.

Second statement (my translation)

The Vogalonga Committee has not thrown in the towel…

The position of the Committee (of which I’m honoured to be a member), in opposition to other who profit from rental or from guided tours in kayak in Venice, is that of a confrontation with the public administration which takes into account the needs and the well-begin of everybody without infringing their rights. The fact that some canals in Venice has too much traffic, has lead to the necessacity of a revision of the regulations of traffic, with regard to al the sectors of navigation. The fact that some public transport vessels have been forced to an emergency halt in the middle of the Grand Canal because a couple of rental kayaks without a guide had stopped to take photos of the Rialto Bridge from close up, should be nor underestimated, neither demonised, but taken seriously into consideration. Obviously the problem is the pilot or the rower and not the vessel conducted, and focus should be on this.

The Committee is not exclusively interested in Venetian rowing at the cost of other types of rowing, nor in obtaining a dispensation for the event (which is already foreseen by the new regulations also for other events). This is underlined because there have been inquiries from all over the world about the execution of the upcoming event.

Before taking a stance the Committee has met with representatives of associations and federations to to find a common stance, and it is currently waiting for a meeting in search of a compromise.

The Vogalonga Committee lives thanks to all rowers and supporters who participate, and it is not a commercial activity, neither sponsored, and it wants to welcome all the rowers who love Venice and this event, participating and believing in the values it tries to transmit.

Instigating protests to save one’s own business, as some do, is not the only way to confront the problems, which should frist be analised and shared searching primarily for a compronise.

I write this on my own account to explain what is behind the choices made, as I have not yet had the possibility of hearing the rest of the committee.

Kayaking ban in Venice

The City of Venice has published a modification to the city traffic rules, which bans kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and others from navigating certain canals.

The relevant text is this:

Nei Rii principali interni di collegamento: Canal Grande, Cannaregio, Giardini, Greci – San Lorenzo, –
Santa Giustina – Sant’Antonin – Pietà, Noale, Novo, Ca’ Foscari, Santi Apostoli – Gesuiti, è vietata la
navigazione dei natanti denominati jole, dragon boat, pattini, pedalò, canoe, kayak e tavole a vela e/o a remi.

It lists a series of city canals where  “navigation is prohibited” for a series of paddled and rowed types of boats.

Navigation is prohibited

The canals in question are these, coloured red.

Canals in Venice where kayaks are banned.

Now, besides the Grand Canal it doesn’t look excessive. There are a few other restrictions on traffic, not specifically targeted at kayaks and the like, for military areas, heavy traffic, or dedicated areas for the gondolas.

With these added (in violet) the map of the no-go canals become:

Venice restricted areas for kayaks etc.

The canal network in Venice is Medieval in origin, and anything but regular. Some are very interconnected, others are detached from most others. A lot of very narrow canals lead down to some of the no-go canals, so if you went down there in a kayak, you wouldn’t be able to get out legally.

Therefore, the ban is for more than just the listed canals. The de facto banned canals are added to this map in orange.

Venice canals where kayaks won't be able to go legally.

Now, that’s a good deal more.

If you enter one of these nominally ‘legal’ canals, you won’t be able to get out again, unless you paddled backwards through a narrow, winding and possible busy canal.

The above map is made under the assumption that “navigation is prohibited” in the canals marked in red, which would mean that you can’t even paddle across.

If the city were to allow crossing of some of the no-go canals in some places, the map above would have to be changed, but with the current wording of the regulation, it will not be possible to go in kayak in any of the canals on the map above, which are marked in red, violet or orange.

I realise that it is hard to see from that map where you can actually go, so I have made the reverse map which shows in green the canals where you can go in a kayak and still have a legal way out.

Venice canals where you can paddled after March 1st.

As is apparent, after the introduction of the new regulations you can only paddle in a few separate and non contiguous areas of the city.

As before, this map relies on a strict interpretation of the wording of the new regulations, where we’re not allowed to traverse any of the no-go canals.

There are six distinct zones, where you’ll need to get out of the city canals, potentially in some very busy waters, to get from one area to another.

Safety issues

The two areas in Dorsoduro (marked in a darker green) are only accessible through the Canale Giudecca, which is where the big cruise ships pass. It is a very busy canal, and not safe for even intermediary level kayakers.

To move from the eastern part (Castello basso) to the central part around San Marco, it will be necessary to cross the Bacino San Marco, which is likewise very busy. Besides a large number of water buses and taxis, this area is also full of large tourist tour boats, which moor there for boarding and disembarking. Paddling through there will too require a good deal of skill and nerves.

And let’s remember the new rules are introduced for safety reasons.

To keep us and everybody else safe, they send us out in the middle of the busiest parts of the city.  And not just busy, but busy with far larger boats that are ever allowed inside the city, even on the Grand Canal.

Curious as to why they have decide this? Look here.

Links and documents:

Venice about to ban kayaks in the city

Ever since the fatal accident in August 2013 there has been a lot of debates about what to do to make boat traffic safer in Venice.

There has been little change in the year and a half since the accident. All changes have been blocked or sabotaged by the various vested interests in the city: the taxi cooperatives, the transporters, the gondolieri and the city administration itself, through the public transport company ACTV.

In short, nobody has wanted to give any concessions to make the city’s waterways safer for everybody.

Traffic today is more chaotic than ever.

Change is on the way, it seems. Articles in local papers refer to new regulations, which has not, however, been published on the city web site.

This might be a thing of the past
This might be a thing of the past

The new rules would (it seems) prohibit the passage of kayaks, canoes, SUPs, water cycles, dragon boats, yole and even some types of traditional Venetian boats (‘sandolini’), in the Grand Canal and about a dozen of other unspecified city canals.

Already published changes include limitations of the movement of all kinds of rowing boats on the Grand Canal, including the traditional Venetian boats from the local rowing clubs.

Venice is selling its soul for short term profit.

Now, how come such draconian changes come just now?

The thing is that Venice has no elected city administration. The former mayor fell on a corruption charge, and the entire city council sent in their resignation. Without a city council, the city is governed by a state appointed official until the next local elections in May this year.

The city is therefore run by people who have no knowledge of local affairs and traditions, and it seems they just try to manage by finding compromises acceptable to the most powerful lobbies.

When changing the rules, the city administrators have heard the taxi cooperatives, the transporters and the gondolieri, but they have failed to communicate with the local rowing clubs or any other with interests in how the city traffic operates.

Venice is ruled by the lobbies now.

We all know how it’ll end when decisions are taken exclusively based on short term economic interests. This does not bode well for Venice.

Copenhagen paddle

These photos are from a short paddle in early January in Copenhagen, with our friends Per and Lise.

Many thanks to Kajakhotellet for lending us the boats.