Canoe polo

Canoe polo, also known as Kayak polo, is one of the competitive disciplines of kayaking, known simply as "polo" by its aficionados. Polo combines boating and ball handling skills with a contact team game, where tactics and positional play are as important as the speed and fitness of the individual athletes.

The game requires excellent teamwork and promotes both general canoeing skills and a range of other techniques unique to the sport. Each team has five players on the pitch (and up to three substitutes), who compete to score in their opponents goal which is suspended two metres above the water. The ball can be thrown by hand, or flicked with the paddle to pass between players and shoot at the goal. Pitches can be set up in swimming pools or any stretch of flat water.

The kayaks are specifically designed for polo and are faster and lighter than typical kayaks which give them superior maneuverability. The blades of a polo paddle have thick rounded edges to prevent injury. Paddles are also very lightweight and designed with both pulling power and ball control in mind. Nose and tail boat bumpers, body protection, helmets and face-guards are all compulsory.

In International Canoe Federation nomenclature used in some European countries, chiefly the United Kingdom, the term canoe can refer to a kayak too.[1] The boats in this game are paddled with a double-bladed paddle and are called "kayaks".

Canoe polo
Highest governing bodyInternational Canoe Federation
World Games2005 – present
European Canoe Polo Championship 2013, Poznan (7)
European Canoe Polo Championship 2013


The birth of the modern sport could be considered to be the demonstration event held at the National Canoe Exhibition at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, London, in 1970.

In response to the interest created at the Crystal Palace event, the first National Canoe Polo subcommittee of the British Canoe Union was formed, and it was this committee that developed the modern framework of the game. The National Championships were held every year at the National Canoe Exhibition, and this activity led on to the inclusion of Canoe Polo in the demonstration games at Duisburg, Germany in 1987.[2]


The game is now played in many countries throughout all inhabited continents, for recreation and serious sport. The sport has World Championships every two years and European, Asian, African, and PanAmerican Continental Championships held every year in between World Championship years. Internationally the sport is organized by the Canoe Polo committee of the International Canoe Federation, as one of the disciplines of the sport of canoeing.

Canoe Polo
Finnish canoe polo championships, Lahti, Finland, 2010
Canoe polo practice
Practicing on the River Cam, England, 2004

The game is often described as a combination of water polo, basketball and kayaking. The tactics and playing of the game are not unlike basketball or water polo but with the added complexity of the boats, which can be used to tackle an opposition player in possession of the ball, or jostle for position within 6 meters of the goal.


There are two referees (one on each side-line) and they are on foot rather than in boats. The score is kept by the scorekeeper and the timekeeper monitors the playing time and sending-off times. The goal lines are monitored by two line judges. Before play commences scrutineers check all kit for compliance with regulations.


Canoe polo is played either indoors in swimming pools or outdoors on a pitch which should measure 35 meters by 23 meters.[3] The boundaries of the pitch are ideally marked using floating ropes (similar to lane markers in swimming), although for smaller venues the edges of the pool are frequently used.

The area approximately 6 meters in front of each the goal can be defined as the Zone. This area is where defending players create formations to defend the goal from attackers.


The game is officially played as a 14- to 20-minute game consisting of two 7- to 10-minute halves. The teams change ends at the half-time period, which is 1 to 3 minutes long.[4] Each half begins with a "sprint" where each team lines up against its goal-line and the ball is thrown into the middle of the pitch by the referee. One player from each team sprints to win possession of the ball.

Shot clock

A shot clock may be used to speed up the game. The attacking team have 60 seconds to have a shot on the goal or they lose possession. The shot clock is reset when the ball is intercepted by the opposing team or the attacking team loses possession. The shot clock is a recent addition to the rules, and due to the expense and complexity of the equipment is not used universally.


There are several attacking and defensive tactics all with different variations.


  • Overload: 1 or 2 players attack the side of the zone, pushing the defensive players together and creating space for a 3rd player to sprint into the newly created space, receive a pass from the 4th player and take a direct shot on the goal.
  • Box player: A player positions themselves directly under the goal, next to the keeper. The aim is to keep this position and to receive a quick pass and then have a short, direct shot at the goal or pass to another player who takes the opportunity to break through the defence.
  • Star: The players position themselves around the zone and sprint in consecutively, a defensive player moves to block each player as they sprint in, the attacking team move the ball around as the players sprint in, threatening to take a shot. If done correctly the fifth player is able to sprint into the zone, will have no defensive player to block them, receive the pass from the 4th player and be able to take a direct shot on goal.


  • 3–1: Three players form a row above the goal keeper, 1 to each side and 1 directly above the keeper. This formation can provide a very solid defensive line, by protecting the sides and the middle. The remaining player patrols the top of the zone with the aim of pressuring the ball and stopping players running into gaps in the defensive line.
  • 2–2: Two players position themselves in front, and to the side of the goal keeper, and block attacking players threatening the goal from the side. The two other players go further forward and towards the middle with the aim of stopping players running in to the zone and to place pressure of the attackers. Looked on from above, it is not dissimilar to a Christmas tree formation. The aim is to force long-shots and errors from the attackers to win the ball back, while protecting the goal.
  • Five or out: Every player, including the goal keeper, marks a player and pressures the ball and every pass, trying to force a mistake or gain an interception.


Most of the rules concern the safety of the players involved or are designed to keep the game fast-paced and exciting to play and watch.

  • Illegal substitution and entry into the playing area: Only 5 players are allowed in the playing area at once. During a substitution a player must be completely off the pitch (including all kit) before another player can come on.
  • Illegal possession: A player must dispose of the ball within five (5) seconds of gaining possession, either by passing it to another player or by performing one throw causing the ball to travel by at least one metre measured horizontally from the point of release.
  • Illegal hand tackle: Types of hand tackle include any hand-tackle where the tackled player does not have possession of the ball or is sharing possession of the ball with another player or any body-contact other than one open hand to the opponents’ back, upper arm or side or any hand tackle which endangers the tackled player.
  • Illegal kayak tackle: Any kayak-tackle that results in significant contact between the tackler's kayak and the head or body of an opposing player, or endangering a player, tackling a player not within 3 metres of the ball or who is not competing for the ball.
  • Illegal use of the paddle: Playing, or attempting to play, the ball with a paddle when the ball is within arm's reach of an opponent, contacting an opponent's person or any use of a paddle that endangers a player.
  • Illegal jostle: When a player is stationary or attempting to maintain a position and their body is moved by more than half a metre by sustained contact from an opponent's kayak or jostling the player behind the goal line.
  • Illegal screen/obstruction: A player actively or deliberately impeding the progress of an opponent when neither player is within three metres of the ball or a player who is not competing for the ball who actively impedes the progress of an opponent who is competing for the ball on the water and not in the air.
  • Illegal holding: A player gaining support or propulsion by placing their hand, arm, body or paddle on an opponent's kayak, or holding the opposing player or their equipment or using surrounding pitch equipment (goal, side-lines, pool wall), fending off an opponent.
  • Unsporting behaviour: Players showing dissent, retaliation, foul or abusive language, delaying tactics, interference with opponents equipment, bouncing the ball out of play or any action that the referees consider detrimental to the game.

Three general principles can be applied when determining the severity of a foul.

Deliberate foul – A foul where no effort was made to avoid the illegal play. Any deliberate foul should receive a minimum of a green card- either immediately or at the next break in play if playing advantage.

Dangerous foul – Is significant contact with the opponent's arm, head or body that may result in personal injury and is illegal.

Significant contact – Any high impact or continuous contact, that may result in equipment damage or personal injury.


Water polo balls: old (left) and new designs.


Specialized equipment is needed to play Canoe polo. Items required are:

  • Ball: A water polo ball is constructed of buoyant material to allow it to float on the water. The cover is textured to give players additional grip. The size of the ball is different for men's, women's and junior games.
  • Buoyancy aids: A buoyancy aid is used to protect the players' torso from injury, and must provide an inch of foam on the front, sides and back of the player. All buoyancy aids are numbered to make the player identifiable to the other players, referees and spectators. Buoyancy aids are reversible and are colored with the teams primary and secondary colors on each side. This allows opponents to reverse their buoyancy aids and play in their away colors if the opposing teams primary color is the same or similar.
  • Helmet and face guard: Helmets and face-guards are compulsory to protect players head and face from injury caused by accidental contact from paddles or other kayaks.
  • Goals: The goals (measuring 1 meter high by 1.5 meters wide) are a frame with a net, suspended 2 meters above the water. A player, acting as goal keeper, defends the goal with their paddle by sticking it up vertically. Special rules concern the goal keeper, such as: the attacking team not being allowed to interfere with or jostle them. The length of the paddles used by the goal keepers are often longer than those used by other players.
    Canoe Polo Kayak
    Canoe polo kayak
  • Kayak: A special kayak is used. They are constructed from carbon-kevlar or a similarly lightweight material. This makes them faster and more maneuverable than other kayaks. They are fitted with an inch of protective foam around both ends of the kayak to prevent injury and damage at high speeds.
  • Paddle: A paddle is used to propel the players during the game. The paddle can be used to flick and play the ball. Paddles are strictly forbidden of being played within hands reach of an opposing player to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Spray deck: A spray deck is used to secure the cockpit of the kayak and prevent water filling the kayak during play.
Canoe Polo Kayak
Canoe polo kayak

ICF Canoe Polo at the World Games


Year Host Gold Silver Bronze
2005 Germany
United Kingdom
United Kingdom
2009 Taiwan
2013 Colombia
2017 Poland


Year Host Gold Silver Bronze
2005 Germany
United Kingdom
United Kingdom
2009 Taiwan
United Kingdom
United Kingdom
2013 Colombia
United Kingdom
United Kingdom
2017 Poland

See also


  1. ^ Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Canoe" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ Beasley, Ian (2009). "Boat, Paddle and Ball: a short history of canoe polo" (PDF). Retrieved 2 May 2016.
  3. ^ ICF field diagram. Archived 2013-12-03 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ ICF Rules Archived 2013-10-18 at the Wayback Machine.

External links

Governing bodies

Asian Canoeing Championships

The Asian Canoeing Championship is a Canoeing championship organised by the Asian Canoe Confederation for competitors from the Asian countries.

Canoe Wales

Canoe Wales is the national governing body for canoeing and kayaking in Wales. It covers all branches of the sport from recreational activities to whitewater racing, slalom racing and wildwater racing; flatwater sprint racing and marathon racing; canoe sailing; canoe polo; surf kayaking and canoeing; and extreme racing. The organisation has over 1,800 individual members and a further 2,000 members through affiliated clubs and centres. Members of Canoe Wales are also by default members of the British Canoe Union.

Canoe polo at the 2005 World Games

Canoe polo at the 2005 World Games.

Canoe polo at the 2009 World Games

Canoe polo at the 2009 World Games.

Canoe polo at the World Games

Canoe polo was part of the World Games from the edition of Duisburg 2005.


Canoeing is an activity which involves paddling a canoe with a single-bladed paddle. Common meanings of the term are limited to when the canoeing is the central purpose of the activity. Broader meanings include when it is combined with other activities such as canoe camping, or where canoeing is merely a transportation method used to accomplish other activities. Most present-day canoeing is done as or as a part of a sport or recreational activity. In some parts of Europe canoeing refers to both canoeing and kayaking, with a canoe being called an Open canoe.

A few of the recreational forms of canoeing are canoe camping and canoe racing. Other forms include a wide range of canoeing on lakes, rivers, oceans, ponds and streams.

Canoeing at the 2018 Asian Games

The canoeing races at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and Palembang were contested in three main disciplines: the slalom from 21 to 23 August, and the sprint from 29 August to 1 September. The slalom canoe competition was held at the Bendung Rentang in Majalengka Regency, West Java; whereas the sprint events were staged in Jakabaring Lake at the Jakabaring Sport City, Palembang. Additionally, the games also contested the canoe polo discipline as demonstration sport. Also in part of canoeing event was the dragon boat event.During a preparation meeting, West Java provincial secretary stated that the quality of the water in Bendung Rentang was polluted by sand and soil mining waste (galian C). According to Indonesian Minister of Public Works and People's Housing Basuki Hadimuljono, the quantity of water in Bandung Rentang was enough, about 15 cubic meters per second, so the speed (water) had met the standard, and to improve the water quality, sand excavation activity around the venue would be stopped for a while.

Canoeing at the Asian Games

Canoeing events have been contested at every Asian Games since 1990 Asian Games in Beijing.

Chris Arrowsmith

Christopher "Chris" James Arrowsmith born 9 November 1966 at the Royal Naval Hospital Imtarfa, Rabat, Malta is a Great Britain Slalom Canoeist who competed from the late-1970s to the early 1990s. He finished 17th in the C-2 event at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Christopher currently lives in Stratford upon Avon.

Christopher, along with the rest of his family, was introduced to Canoeing at a 'Try it' session in the Dorking, Surrey Swimming Pool at the age of 9.

He started in competitive canoeing in June 1978, entering the Novice event at Shepperton Weir on the River Thames in Surrey.

Over the next few years along with his Stratford on Avon Kayakists (SOAK) fellow canoeists he competed in all of the canoe competition discipline’s of:

Canoe Slalom in the discipline's of Kayak Singles (K1), Canadian Singles (C1) and Canadian Doubles (C2) - in the Canadian classes paddlers kneel in their boat with a small cockpit sealed with a Spraydeck. Chris's Slalom Ranking History is listed below.

(Canoe Polo) - in single Kayak (K1)

(Wild Water Racing) - in Single Kayak (K1)

(Canoe Sprint) - in single Kayak (K1)

(Marathon Canoe Racing) - in Single Kayak (K1)

Chris's Canoe Slalom history:

Canadian Doubles (C2) Ranking and Results - with Paul Brain

Year Division Ranking/ Result

October 1979 Novice First Slalom in C2 at Durngate Mill, Winchester

1979 3 Position 12

1980 3 Position 22

1981 3 ???

1982 3 Promoted to Division 2 during the season

1982 2 Position 13

1982 2 Promoted to Division 1 during the season

1983 1 Position 7

1984 Premier Position 2 (Premier Division created)

1985 World Champs, Augsberg, Germany Position 21

1985 Premier Position 1 - National Champions

1986 Great Britain Slalom Team Selected for Team in C2 Class

1986 Europa Cup, Mezzana, Italy Position 15

1986 Pre World Champs, Bourg St Maurice, France Position 9

1986 Premier Position 1 - National Champions

1987 Premier Position 3

1988 Premier Position 5

1989 World Champs, Maryland, USA Position 16

1989 Premier Position 3

1990 Pre World Champs, Tacen, Yugoslavia Position 11

1990 British Open Champions, Llangollen

1990 Premier Position 2

1991 Premier Position 1 - National Champions

1992 Olympic Games Selected for Great Britain Team

1992 World Cup 3, Nottingham Position 7/18

1992 World Cup 4, Merano,Italy Position 11/17

1992 World Cup Final Ranking Position 15/30

1992 Senior Pre World Champs, Mezzana, Italy Position 8

1992 Olympic Games Position 17

1992 Premier Position 2

1993 Premier Position 7

1993 Changed over to Canoe Polo Competition

Canadian Singles (C1) Ranking and Results

Year Division Ranking/ Result

1985 1 Ranking Status

1985 1 Position 3

1986 1 Position 31

Kayak Singles (K1) Ranking and Results

Year Division Ranking/ Result

June 1978 Novice First Slalom ever at Shepperton Weir on the River Thames

1979 4 Position 26 - Promoted to Division 3

1980 3 Position 146

1981 3 Position 41 - Promoted to Division 2

1981 2 Promoted to Division 1 during the season

1982 1 Position 13 Promoted to Premier Division

1982 1 Pyranha Youth Award Highest Ranked New Youth in Div 1

1983 European Youth Champs Team event - 3rd - Bronze Medal

1983 Premier Position 37

1984 Premier Position 54 - Demoted to Division 1

1985 1 Position 29 - Promoted to Premier Division

1986 Premier Position 61 - Demoted to Division 1

1987 1 Position 23 - Promoted to Premier Division

1988 Premier Position 70

1989 Premier Position 84 - Demoted to Division 1

Canoe Polo Achievements

Date Achievement

1988 Selected for Canoe Polo 1988 International Team Squad

Aug 1994 1st at Ieper, Belgium International in the Wimps 1st Team

Aug 1995 1st at Ieper, Belgium International in the Wimps 1st Team

Jun 2012 Dragons 3rd in Liverpool International Polo Tournament

Aug 2012 Dragons 2nd in Div 2 in the GEKKO Canoe Polo International Tournament, Gent, Belgium

Jun 2013 Dragons 1st in Liverpool International Polo Tournament

Aug 2013 Dragons 3rd in the GEKKO Canoe Polo International Tournament, Gent, Belgium

Aug 2014 Dragons 12th in the GEKKO Canoe Polo International Tournament, Gent, Belgium

Jun 2015 Dragons 1st in Liverpool International Polo Tournament

Aug 2015 Dragons 1st in the GEKKO Canoe Polo International Tournament, Gent, Belgium

Jun 2016 Dragons 1st in Liverpool International Polo Tournament

Aug 2016 Dragons 14th in the GEKKO Canoe Polo International Tournament, Gent, Belgium

Aug 2016 Dragons 4th in London International Polo Tournament

Aug 2016 Dragons 11th in the De Paddel Canoe Polo International Tournament, Belgium

Aug 2014 Coaching Canadian Senior Women 11th at World Championships at Thury Harcourt, France

Aug/Sep 2016 Coaching Canadian Senior Women 8th at World Championships at Syracuse, Italy

Dec 2016 Chairperson of Great Britain Canoe Polo

Doone Kennedy Hobart Aquatic Centre

The Doone Kennedy Hobart Aquatic Centre is a major, $17 million aquatic sporting facility located upon the Queens Domain, within less than 1 kilometre of the CBD of Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania, Australia. The venue has hosted the Australian Swimming Championships, the Tasmanian Swimming Championships, FINA Swimming World Cup, Pan Pacific Games and the Qantas Skins. Other major events held at the venue throughout its first seven years of operation include the Australian Canoe Polo Championships, Australian Diving Championships, Australian Water Polo Under Age and National League events and the World and Australian Underwater Hockey Championships.

European Canoe Association

The European Canoe Association (ECA) is the umbrella organization for canoeing sport in Europe. It was founded in Rome in May 1993. The organization has 44 member countries. The association was recognized by the International Canoe Federation at the ICF congress in Acapulco in 1994.

European Canoe Polo Championship

European Canoe Polo Championships is the main canoe polo championships in Europe.

ICF Canoe Polo World Championships

The ICF Canoe Polo World Championships are international competitions in the sport of canoe polo. They have taken place every two years since 1994, in a different venue each time. Medals are awarded by national team; the German team has won the most medals in total.

Italy men's national canoe polo team

Italy men's national canoe polo team is the national team side of Italy at international canoe polo.

Italy women's national canoe polo team

Italy women's national canoe polo team is the national team side of Italy at international canoe polo.

The best result at the international level was 4th place at the 2009 European Canoe Polo Championship held in Essen, Netherlands.

Portuguese Canoe Federation

The Portuguese Canoe Federation (Portuguese: Federação Portuguesa de Canoagem) is the governing body of canoeing in Portugal. It organizes the Portuguese representation at international competitions and the Portuguese National Championships of Canoe sprint, Canoe slalom, Wildwater canoeing, Canoe marathon, Canoe Polo and Canoe freestyle.The Federation was formed on 10 May 1979 in Portugal. It became a member of the International Canoe Federation and of the European Canoe Association in 1980.

Scottish Canoe Association

The Scottish Canoe Association (Comann Curach na h-Alba in Scots Gaelic) is the national governing body for canoeing, kayaking and other paddlesport in Scotland.

It covers all branches of the sport from recreational activities to whitewater racing, slalom racing and wildwater racing; flatwater sprint racing and marathon racing; canoe sailing; canoe polo; surf kayaking and canoeing; and extreme racing (including the international event on the Glen Nevis in Lochaber).

It was founded in 1939 by four canoe clubs, the Canoe Section of the Camping Club, Clyde Canoe Club, Forth Canoe Club (1934) and Scottish Youth Hostels Canoe Club. The body now has approximately 3,000 individual members, including 1,750 qualified coaches, plus 90 affiliated clubs and associate organisations.

St Andrews University Canoe Club

The University of St Andrews Canoe Club, abbreviated to StAUCC, is a sports club at the University of St Andrews. The club's primary focus is recreational whitewater kayaking, but it also engages in other aspects of paddlesport, including surf kayaking, sea kayaking and canoeing. Additionally, members of StAUCC take part in various competitive kayaking disciplines, such as whitewater slalom, canoe polo and wildwater racing.StAUCC is affiliated to the University of St Andrews Athletic Union and to the Scottish Canoe Association. The club was founded for the academic year of 1974–1975. The earliest known captain of the club was Gordon Harwell in 1981.The club is based in St Andrews mainly operating out of their boat shed near East Sands.

Water polo ball

A water polo ball is a ball used in water polo and canoe polo, usually characterized by a bright yellow color and ease of grip ability, so as to allow it to be held with one hand despite its large size.

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