There are four broad groups of activities that are covered by licensing. They are defined in the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004, regulation 2(1):
Caving is the exploration of underground passages (other than those principally used as show-places open to the public) in parts of mines which are no longer worked; or in natural caves where the exploration of those passages requires, in order to be carried out safely, the use of rock climbing or diving equipment or the application of special skills or techniques. Caving is sometimes also known as pot-holing.
Mine exploration is different from caving. Some of the techniques are the same but the hazards can be quite different.
Climbing is climbing, traversing, abseiling or scrambling over natural terrain or outdoor man-made structures (other than structures designed for such activities) which requires, in order to be carried out safely, the use of equipment for, or the application of special skills or techniques in, rock climbing or ice climbing.
The most commonly encountered climbing activities are rock climbing, abseiling, ice climbing, gorge walking, ghyll scrambling and sea level traversing. Climbing walls are exempt from licensing, as are abseiling towers and ropes courses.
Trekking is journeying on foot, horse or pedal cycle or skiing over terrain which is moorland or more than 600 metres above sea level; and from which it would take more than 30 minutes travelling time to reach any accessible road or refuge; but it does not include skiing on a prepared and marked-out ski-run.
The most familiar trekking activities include hill walking, mountaineering, fell running, orienteering, pony trekking, off-road cycling and off-piste skiing.
Watersports are the use on specified waters of:
- canoes, kayaks or similar craft propelled or steered by paddles held in the hand (but excluding rowing-boats propelled or steered by oars);
- rafts (including those which are inflatable or which are improvised from various materials but excluding those propelled by means of a motor or towed by a motor-boat); or
- sailing boats, windsurfers, sailing dinghies or other craft whose principal means of propulsion is the wind but excluding craft whose construction, equipment and use of which require a certificate in line with the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 or any regulations made under it.
The most familiar watersport activities include canoeing, kayaking, dragon boating, wave skiing, white-water rafting, improvised rafting, sailing, sailboarding and windsurfing. This list is not exhaustive and you should ask the AALS if you are unclear if a particular activity is licensable. For any of these activities to be licensable, they need to be done on 'specified water' – this is the sea, tidal waters (e.g. estuaries), inland waters more than 50 metres from the nearest land excluding any island or on turbulent inland waters.