Safe Canal Cruising

The Safer Way To Cruise, take your time and just follow a few simple rules…

Steer In The Centre Of The Canal, Pass Oncoming Boats On The Right.

Boats pass left side to left side, the opposite way to on the roads in the UK. However if there are no boats coming towards you then keep in the middle of the canal, the water will usually be deeper there. Avoid cutting corners, the inside of a bend is where the canal is shallowest and you stand most chance of grounding, or at least losing control. If you do go aground try reversing off rather than trying to force your way forwards through the mud.


Keep Under Control And Below The 4mph Speed Limit.

The maximum permissible speed on narrow canals is 4mph. But practically speaking, if you’re creating a breaking wave or the wash from your boat is hitting the bank, you’re driving too fast. It’s always advisable to slow down when approaching other boats, locks, bridges or tunnels, especially if they are on a bend and you can’t see clearly through.

Canal boats don’t have brakes, when you go into reverse you lose all steering. If you lose control it’s you that will look foolish! Also always slow right down when passing moored boats.

Approach Restricted Areas Slowly And Be Prepared To Give Way.

Take care when approaching bridges and tunnels. If a boat coming towards you is closer to the bridge than you are, they have right of way. Wave them through, slow down or stop keeping to the right, and wait for them to pass. If somebody waves you through, acknowledge their signal and proceed. On rivers, boats coming downstream always have right of way.

Traditional boats often need deeper water and loaded boats or those towing will find it much harder to stop, do the decent thing and let them through first, after all, who’s in a hurry?

Only Overtake A Slower Boat If They Wave You On.

There isn’t always much space for overtaking, but if you do want to pass another boat, make sure you let the skipper of that boat know your intention well in advance so that they can slow down, and wait until he or she is ready.

You usually overtake on the left, but agree this with the other skipper beforehand.

And remember – its your responsibility to steer clear of the other boat. If you both end up on the mud there isn’t much point!

Have Regard For The Needs Of Other Canal Users.

Canals are used by all sorts of different people: boaters, anglers, walkers, cyclists etc. Most people see them as places to relax and unwind, so it is important that everyone respects each others rights to enjoy the canals. Of course, you can’t stop cruising because somebody’s fishing, but you can  slow down to reduce your wash and pass by slowly. When mooring, don’t drive your stakes through the middle of the towpath. Hang a carrier bag or something else that’s visible on them to reduce trip hazards. And if everyone else is enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside, screaming, shouting and playing music loud might not be appreciated.


Be Cautious If You Meet Dredgers Or Maintenance Works.

Canals need to be dredged to keep them clear, and sometimes remedial work will need to be done on the banks. If you come across canal maintenance works, pass on the side that is showing a green or white light (sometimes just a shape or flag) – not the side showing red. Sometimes both sides of the dredger will be showing red, in which case you must wait to pass.

Be Careful With Water Supplies.

Locks can use up to 50,000 gallons of water each time they are used, so if you approach the bottom of a lock that’s full of water and you see a boat that wants to come down, let them go down before you go up. This saves water and is easier as you won’t have to empty the lock!


All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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