Wildlife and Waterways

Boat Station Chief Instructor Freddie Lovejoy shares some tips on what wildlife you might see as a cadet, and how to leave the natural world as beautiful as you find it

Boat Station Chief Instructor Freddie Lovejoy

Sea Cadets offers fantastic opportunities to see wildlife – from birds, seals and dolphins at sea, to otters, fish and other creatures on our rivers and lakes. But we have a duty to enjoy nature in a way that’s not harmful to wildlife habitats or the environment. Use this guide to make sure you do your bit to protect nature while getting out on the water.


An otter sitting on the grass
European Otter

“These beautiful animals are quick, graceful swimmers, so cadets will have to be lucky to see one fishing, resting or playing in the UK’s rivers, lakes, canals and lochs. They’re nocturnal, so dawn or dusk is the most likely time to spot them.” 

Otters should be observed from a distance so that we don’t disrupt their natural behaviour. Never, ever chase them in a canoe. 


Young Grey seal

“Seeing a grey seal from your kayak or canoe can be a special treat. They breed from September to December around the British Isles. Pups have a thick, cream-coloured coat, which gets replaced with a grey coat. Seals are naturally curious and will often watch you as you paddle past them.” 

If you see a seal either on land or at sea, approach quietly, stay at least 100m away, then slowly move away. Don’t make eye contact – this can make them nervous. 

Try to maintain a slow, steady rhythm if you are paddling past a seal. 

Never land on a beach where there are seal pups, except in an emergency. Sudden disturbances can lead to a
pup being crushed or abandoned by
its mother. 

Wales, dolphins and porpoises

A dolphin jumping out of the water
A Dolphin

“Seeing one of these from your boat or canoe will be a memorable experience, but make sure you’re not a danger to each other. Porpoises generally keep their distance, but dolphins are very inquisitive and might come up to a kayak or canoe. Some of the whales you might see include minke, humpback, fin and even orcas.”

If you see any dolphins, stay still and watch them, or maintain your course and they might follow you. 

The whales you might see will be bigger, so stay still and let them do the moving. 

If you’re in a boat, slow down and take action if needed to avoid a collision. Try to stay 100m away. 

Never chase them – if they are interested in interacting
with you, then they will come to you. 

Seabirds and shorebirds

 Oystercatchers flying over the sea

“The UK’s coasts, estuaries and shorelines are home to millions of birds that live, migrate, feed or breed there. Sea Cadets activities like sea kayaking or canoeing can be a great way to see some of the seabirds and shorebirds around our coastlines.” 

Stay at a safe distance from nesting seabirds – at least 50m from the cliffs.  

Keep a low paddle angle around birds on the water and avoid panicking them into flying away. 

Report any incidences or disturbances to birds or their nests to your regional office of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).


A moon jellyfish swimming in bright blue water
Moon Jellyfish

“You might see a variety of jellyfish washed up on UK shores or in the sea. They like warm waters, so you’re most likely to see them in the summer – especially moon jellyfish, which float near the surface of the water. 

Never get close to a jellyfish, either on shore or at sea and even if it looks dead, as it can give you a nasty sting. 

How to look after nature while you are on the water

• Find out about the area before you go. What wildlife might be there and how can you avoid disturbing it? This is especially important for places not regularly visited by humans. 

• Be aware of protected areas that might have restrictions on human activities to protect wildlife and habitats. 

• Stick to designated paths and launching points whenever possible. Don’t damage plants or other habitats that animals might rely on for survival. 

• If you spot any wildlife, paddle at a safe distance from it and try not to make any loud noise or sudden moves. Don’t linger too long.

• Never surround wildlife or block their escape. 

• Always take litter home with you, and better yet, safely pick up any other litter that you see. 

Information from British Canoeing, RYA and the RSPB – check out their websites for more information about how to protect nature when you’re enjoying the water, including the RYA’s Green Wildlife Guide for Boaters. 

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