Canal FAQ

Canal Holiday Advice

Everyone Can Enjoy The Canals...

Single Handed Boating, how to safely enjoy canal boating on your own.

1. Know your ropes and knots.

When a single handed boater gets off the boat the main method of control is by using ropes. You need be able to effectively slow, hold steady and move your boat using ropes. That means having well maintained ropes and using ropes, bollards, rings and knots effectively and safley.

2. Get a centre rope and central fixings.

It is difficult to control a single handed boat when using ropes fastened to the bow or stern. A centre line with decent central attachment points allows your boat to be moved in any direction and slowed, stopped and temporarily tied. Have the rope on the towpath side of the boat, move it over when the towpath changes sides.

3. Keep tidy and safe decks, roof, handrails and gunwales.

You have to be able to move on, off and around your boat using your decks, gunwales and perhaps roof, so make sure they are tidy and not slippery. Don’t have gunwales blocked by fenders hanging from handrails. Don’t use gunwales if they are too narrow.

4. Have a safe and comfortable control and steering position.

Never stand alongside the tiller (single handed or not!), make sure you can reach the engine controls and keep a decent boat pole and hook within easy reach in case you go aground.

5. Keep refreshments, protective clothing, umbrellas etc. close to hand

Single handed boaters have no one to make tea and sandwiches or bring waterproofs or torches when needed. Make sure the things you are likely to need are easy to reach.

6. Develop and use a safe locking technique

This is a big and important subject. Some single handed boaters prefer to rope their boat in and out of locks and hold it steady, some use their engine and lock ladders to get on and off the boat. Whatever you do make sure you work safely, no difference to any safe lock working (see our Lock Skills advice pages) except you have to do it all yourself. There’s more information about single handed lock working in Colin Edmondson’s little book ‘Going it Alone’ (see right).

7. Find a safe way of opening and closing bridges

Lift bridges and swing bridges also create problems for single handed boaters. They were designed in the days of Horse boating and  if they had been on the towpath side would have been in the way of the horse and line. You probably need to find places on the offside to tie your boat while working the bridge. Following another boat through is easiest!

8. Working with helpers

Help with locks and bridges and manoeuvring a boat is often available, whether from bystanders or other boaters. Some single handed boaters rely on others to help with locks and opening bridges. Make sure that helpers know they are ‘helping’, doing what you want, not taking control themselves. Sharing a wide lock can make reduce the effort in locking, but can cause major problems if both boats are not matched and crews are not attentive.

9. Show consideration for other boaters

Single handed boaters will probably work through locks and bridges more slowly than an experienced couple of people or crew. Be aware that other boaters may be helping you through locks or bridges just to speed you up and get you out of their way. It might be better to offer to let them go ahead, or even plan to do locks in early morning or evening when less people are around.

10. Plan for safety, take your time

Canals are a risky environment. The water may not be deep but it's often weedy, muddy and cold. Uneven towpaths, tangled ropes and heavy slow moving boats all have the potential for causing bruises and broken bones. Then there’s the risks of locking, and leaking weed hatches, and solid fuel stoves ….. When you are on your own all those risks are increased and the likelihood of getting immediate help reduced. So take extra care, and keep a mobile phone handy so you can call for help if the worst happens.

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