Etiquette on the Canals – Top Tips

If, like many people, you’ve decided to hire a narrowboat for the first time for a holiday – or perhaps thought of using a day boat from a hire company for a summer trip – it can sometimes be a bit daunting understanding the instructions on handling your boat that should have been issued by your hiring company.

A basic knowledge of etiquette can make a boat trip of any length much more enjoyable – and this applies to existing boat owners as well – often some of the worst culprits on the cut!

What I’ve tried to do below is list just some of the things that you are likely to have forgotten by the time you leave the boat hire centre – or may never have been told in the first place….

Unless you are on a narrow canal (i.e. only one boat at a time can use the lock) it is likely that the first lock you come to can accommodate two boats side by side. I know it may not look it at first, but thousands of boats before yours have managed to fit two in alongside each other and despite the torrential rain this winter, water is still a valuable resource, and shouldn’t be wasted. So – before you plough on through, take a minute or two to see if any boat is following, and can share your lock – or, if the lock is full against you, whether a boat is approaching from the opposite direction and could use that full lock avoiding waste.  When ascending a lock, do not open the gate paddles until the water level from the ground paddles has risen to cover them. Opening the paddles the opposite way round could cause water to flood into the front of the boat, risking damage to vessel and crew. On leaving the lock, drop all paddles and close the gates behind you. But use common sense here – if a boat is coming towards you to use the lock – don’t shut the gate in their faces!

Share locks where possible

Share locks where possible

Be sensible when mooring – even if it’s a short stop for a mid-morning cuppa. I have seen boats that have moored in a rural location with the ropes tied to a fence on the opposite side of the towpath – 6 to 8 inches off the ground! Apart from the risk of pulling the fence over, this constitutes a real trip hazard for walkers and cyclists passing the boat. Use the mooring pins provided with the boat. If the ground is too hard to hammer them in – move on a little – there’s always good scenery around the next corner! If you intend to moor overnight – DON’T moor on the bollards approaching or leaving a lock. These bollards are for boats using the lock only – and single handed boaters in particular find it incredibly difficult trying to bang a pin in while holding their boat steady – just because someone has decided they don’t want to cruise any further that day.

Don't moor right on top of locks

Don’t moor right on top of locks

Keep your speed down. The absolute limit on a canal is 4mph – that’s walking pace. Let’s face it – you probably chose a canal holiday to get away from the hustle and bustle in the first place so under no circumstances should your boat create a breaking wash – and slow right down past moored boats – you would be surprised how much you bump around when a boat goes by a full pelt! If you keep your speed down in general and slow down when approaching hazards, the worst you’re likely to suffer is a bump rather than a crash should you hit something.

Enjoy your time on the canals of Britain – and remember – if you show a little consideration for other boat users, you’ll be welcomed back with open arms!

10 thoughts on “Etiquette on the Canals – Top Tips

  1. tony bowyer

    It is worth mentioning that the maximum practical speed of any boat is always limited to the depth of water below the boat [and to some extent the narrowness of the ‘cut’ or canal]. If you open up your engine too much all you will do is suck water past the boat [and sink lower in the water with greater risk of grounding] and waste fuel. Look how the water level drops on the side of the cut as you go along as an indicator

  2. Pingback: How fast and how far can a narrowboat go? | narrow boat info

  3. Helen Forder

    The usual response when asked to slow down past moored boats is ‘I am going slow’. Perhaps if boaters realise they are pushing a ‘wall’ of water ahead, and that slowing down before reaching a moored boat will lessen the effect, it will avoid some angry confrontations!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *