General Rules And Information
- A valid ID must be presented, including government issued ID card, UW-Madison student ID card, or Wisconsin Union membership cards.
- If renting equipment for a group, the individual renting equipment is responsible for all equipment as indicated on the contract and any late, lost, repair or cleaning fees.
- Rentals are first come, first serve. Want to rent more than 5 pieces of equipment at a time? Please contact the Outdoor UW staff.
- No pets allowed on or in any rental items.
- Payment will be collected after the rental is complete.
- All rental equipment is to be used as intended by the manufacturer. Customers are encouraged to request a demonstration in the proper use of all equipment rental items.
- Lifejackets must be worn at all times while on the water. Failure to adhere to this rule will result in a loss of future rental privileges with Outdoor UW.
- Maximum number of people in canoes and tandem kayaks is 2; maximum in solo kayaks and SUP boards is 1. The maximum number of people on the SUP Squatch is 8; Minimum on the SUP Squatch is 3.
- Age requirements:
18+: Eligible to rent any piece of equipment
16-17: Legal guardian must sign liability waiver; renter is eligible to take out any paddle craft.
15 or younger: Legal guardian must sign liability waiver and be present in tandem kayak or canoe. Sorry, no solo lake rentals unless in a private or group experience with an instructor.
We are able to accommodate individuals and groups. Please visit the group activities page to learn more and make a group/private paddling reservation.
Late/Cleaning/Damage Fees And Cancellation Policy
All cleaning, damage or late fees are assessed and due at the time of equipment return. Renters are responsible for returning gear in a condition that is similar to the time of pick-up.
Each hour-long rental starts from the time the paddle craft is launched to the time the paddle craft returns to the launch site. We allow 10 minutes between rentals for return of equipment to boathouse, however after 15 minutes, we will charge for an additional hour. All boats should be returned to the launch site at minimum 15 minutes before sunset.
A $15 cleaning fee will be applied if equipment is returned dirty, wet or stained.
- Equipment should be returned in reasonable condition, not outside of the normal use of rentals. All damage fees are assessed by the Outdoor UW staff and due at the time of return or shortly after and will account for repair cost and time. Any unpaid charges will be sent to a collections agency.
- If equipment is returned in unusable condition or if it is lost or stolen, the full replacement value of the equipment will be charged
While we want each customer to have the best experience, it is the responsibility of the renter to prepare for poor weather conditions. We will not refund for time lost during an individual rental session. We require at least a 24-hour advance notice for group cancellations to receive a credit with Outdoor UW for the deposit.
Rental Information & Forms - General Information, Rules and Regulations
Group Rental Forms - Please read rental information below. Must be completed and signed by every participant in the group.
To be documented and submitted if injury/accident:
Group Paddling Rentals
make a date with the lake to Get your team on the water
Host a meeting on the lake or take a summer team outing to a new level. Outdoor UW can facilitate group paddling experiences for your office (on or off campus), RSO, dorm floor, youth group, charitable organization, family reunion, or just for your group of friends. Click here to learn more about group paddling and yoga.
Logistics And General FAQs
How Do I Find Outdoor UW?
We are located on the lower level of Memorial Union, on the Lake Mendota shoreline, just west of the Memorial Union Terrace. Access Outdoor UW through the Memorial southwest entrance or from the shore.
What Should I Wear?
As always, dress for the weather! If you're out on the lake and it's windy, bring a sweatshirt and a light waterproof jacket made to prevent you from getting wet. If it's sunny and calm, a t-shirt and swimsuit will work! Be mindful of your footwear. Shoes are not allowed on SUP boards so stash your shoes in one of our coin-operated lockers. If you plan on using a kayak or canoe, footwear is up to you. However, keep in mind that sandals are more comfortable when wet than sneakers and socks.
What Should I Bring?
For any type of rental, remember to bring money and your ID! If you are paddling, we recommend you bring...
- A quarter for a coin locker
- Waterproof watch
- Water bottle with clip
And you leave...
- Your phone. Most phones are not waterproof, and even if they are kept in a plastic bag, they will still sink if they fall into the water. However, should you wish to take your phone, you may purchase a waterproof phone pouch for $7.50 at Outdoor UW.
We have some items for sale, such as sunglasses, snacks and beverages, water bottles, and lip balm.
Are Lockers Available?
Yes! There are coin-operated lockers located in the hallway right before the boathouse. If you do not have quarters, we can break a dollar. (Sorry, we cannot accept debit/credit payment in exchange for quarters.)
What If I Am Not 18 Or Want To Take My Child Out?
Youth under 16 must be accompanied in a paddle craft by a legal guardian who has signed a liability form. Youth 16 and 17 are able to take out individual watercraft as long as a parent or guardian signs their liability form.
How Will I Know When My Paddling Rental Session Is Up?
It is advised that you bring a waterproof watch with you on the water! If you don't have one, ask our staff to help you determine how far you can paddle in about an hour.
Lake And Weather Conditions
All Outdoor UW lake rentals abide by UW Lifesaving policies and their assessment of environmental conditions on and around Lake Mendota. Outdoor UW rents paddle craft only on green flag days when UW Lifesaving is open. However, depending on the speed and direction of the wind, Outdoor UW reserves the right to not rent even if the flag is green. See Lake Mendota's current conditions.
Before you come to Outdoor UW, check the weather and Lake Mendota's current conditions. Please call us at (608) 262-1630 with any questions.
Learn more about UW Lifesaving operations and lake safety.
The recommended paddle area is an imaginary line between Picnic Point and Tenney Park. Beginner paddlers and 1-hour rentals are encouraged to stay close to the mooring field, as this is the best site for rescue from UW Lifesaving in case of an emergency.
How To Prepare For A Day On The Lake
What's The Weather Like?
Always check the forecast before you come to Outdoor UW and before you go out on the water. A lot of rentals are dependent on the wind direction and speed, and storms or high winds may cause the lake to be closed for a period of time. Long exposure to sunlight and extreme heat is also something to be aware of; be prepared with proper hydration, sunscreen, and clothing.
Are You Open If There Is A Northwind?
If the UW Lifesaving flag is green but the wind direction is from the North and higher than 12 mph, we will not be open for paddling rentals. On a Northwind day, the waves have the entire length of the lake to grow, so when they reach our launching point they're quite big. This can be challenging in even lighter winds, but in moderate to heavy wind it is an extremely challenging for stand-up paddleboards and inexperienced paddlers.
Are You Open If There Is A Southwind?
If the UW Lifesaving flag is green and the wind is from the South, we will be open for paddling rentals unless the conditions are too strong for beginning paddlers. However, keep in mind that on a Southwind day, the lakefront buildings block most of the wind, so while it is calm in the bay, beyond the mooring field the wind can be unsuspectingly strong. When you're paddling against the wind it will take you twice as long to get back to the rental area.
Are You Open If There Is An Eastwind Or Westwind?
If the UW Lifesaving flag is green and the wind is from the East or West, we will be open for paddling rentals unless the conditions are too strong for beginning paddlers. The most important thing to remember with these winds is that it will be harder on the way back if you begin by going with the wind.
I Have Never Been Paddling Before. How Do I Get Started?
No worries! We are here to help you and also have a handful of resources to help get you started:
Canoes: It is important that the person in the back of the canoe (helm) knows how to steer, and that the person in the front (bow) has more strength. Basic paddle strokes will be taught by the staff member helping with the canoes. Check out this video for instruction on getting in and getting started and this one for the golden rules of canoeing!
Kayak: As with the canoe, staff members will be able to offer instruction on how these paddling strokes should be executed. Check out this video for instruction on getting in and getting started and this one for the golden rules of kayaking!
SUP: This is a much simpler craft for paddling, but the form of the stroke is very important. Staff members will offer instruction on how these paddling strokes should be executed. Check out this video for instruction on getting on and getting started and this one for the golden rules of SUP!
Emergency Situations On The Water
Note: In the event of an emergency, each life jacket is equipped with a card on how to proceed in the event of an emergency.
Don't panic. Stay with or on the craft as even swamped canoes float. If in shallow water, stand up and bring the boat to shore to empty the water. If not, stay by or on the flipped craft and wave your arms in the direction of the Capitol, which is where the UW Lifesaving Station is located. Keep waving and they'll be by soon!
I Need Immediate Help And/Or Can't Paddle Back To Shore!
Don't panic. Simply find a comfortable position in your craft and make sure you are visible to the UW Lifesaving Station and wave your arms in the direction of the Capitol. If you have a working cell phone, call them at (608) 262-5865.
I Lost Something In The Water!
Do not attempt to dive for it. If it is a valued possession, try to remember best where you were and upon return notify the staff.
I Hit Another Boat Or Something Else!
If you cannot paddle, or if someone is injured, stay where you are and wave your arms in the direction of the Capitol to notify UW Lifesaving. When you return to shore, notify the Outdoor UW staff of the accident and any damage.
I Lost A Paddle!
If possible, try to retrieve the paddle while staying in your craft. If someone is near you, ask them to help retrieve the paddle. If the paddle is lost or out of sight, wave your arms in the direction of the Capitol to notify UW Lifesaving. Notify the Outdoor UW staff immediately of the missing paddle.
Ready to take your outdoor adventuring to the next level? Want to be part of a close community of other outdoor enthusiasts, from novice to experts? The Wisconsin Hoofers clubs might be just the thing you're looking for. With six different clubs catering to all kinds of different outdoor activities, the Wisconsin Hoofers have something for everyone. To learn more about these clubs or to become a member, please visit the Wisconsin Hoofers page.