About Us

Canoe & Kayak Guidelines

The Urban Ecology Center has a small fleet of canoes, kayaks and tandem kayaks available to borrow at both branch locations. Our canoes and kayaks are very popular and we encourage members to reserve them by calling in advance. They also pose a degree of risk, so we have several policies relating to Canoes and Kayaks to keep all of our members safe. Please review the information below to learn more about borrowing canoes and kayaks at the Urban Ecology Center. If you have any questions, please contact Visitor Services Coordinator Mike Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Click here for a PDF with information about the following topics:

  • Transporting Canoes and Kayaks
  • Water Conditions
  • Canoeing and Kayaking in Milwaukee

Basic Safety Information

  • The canoe and kayak lending period at the Urban Ecology Center lasts from May 1st through mid-October when water levels and temperatures are safe for paddling.
  • There muse be at least one member per boat who has taken the Water Safety Course to borrow the canoes or kayaks.
  • Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) must be worn at all times in and around the water while using Urban Ecology Center boats.
  • We highly recommend that helmets be worn by kayakers in rough or shallow water.
  • Members must portage around all dams and waterfalls and should avoid rapids unless they are very experienced.
  • Our canoes and kayaks are built for use on rivers and small lakes and ponds only. They cannot be used on Lake Michigan under any circumstances.
  • Members borrowing our tandem kayak should be advised that tandems can be tricky to navigate (more difficult than a canoe). We recommend that you get some practice on a regular kayak before trying to tackle the tandem.

Water Safety Course

All members interested in borrowing a canoe or kayak must attend a brief Water Safety Course at the Urban Ecology Center and pass a written Water Safety Test. The course can either be taken at our Riverside Park or Washington Park branch, and a course taken at either site certifies you to borrow a boat at both locations. Members who passed the Water Safety Test in a previous year DO NOT need to retake the course every year. Once you’ve been “certified” to borrow canoes and kayaks, you’re certified for life. See our calendar for more information about dates and times for the course.

At least one member per boat must have taken and passed the water safety test to borrow the canoe/kayak. There are no exceptions to this policy.

Frequently Asked Questions About Canoe and Kayak Lending

I have an individual membership with a guest… can we come in and borrow two kayaks?

Unfortunately, no. There must be one member who has taken the water safety course per boat, so your guest wouldn’t qualify. You can, however, take out a canoe or our tandem kayak with your guest or another member who has not taken the course.

I’ve been canoeing for years and consider myself a pro, do I really have to take the water safety course?

Yes. We take the safety of our members seriously. The course is free and only lasts half an hour. It is offered several times a week during our lending season at both our Riverside Park and Washington Park branches. Please take it... it never hurts to have a refresher, and you might learn something new!

I took the Kayaking 101 course at the Urban Ecology Center. Does that count towards the water safety course requirement?

If you come to a canoeing/kayaking program at the Urban Ecology Center AND tell the instructor that you’re interested in becoming certified to borrow boats as a member, the instructor of that course can administer the Water Safety Test to you at the end of the program. If you pass than you can consider your Water Safety Course obligation fulfilled.



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