Avoiding canal holiday accidents and injuries

Canal holiday accidents and injuries are rare, but boats are heavy and water is potentially dangerous. Take some sensible precautions. Children should always be supervised.

  • Collisions with another boat or the bank are usually due to too much speed.
  • Injuries due to falls or jumping off the boat can be serious, take care.
  • Working locks and handling the boat can cause aches and strains, don’t over do it.
  • What should you do if someone falls in the water, stay calms, assess the situation before acting.


Collisions usually happen through inexperience, carelessness, and driving too fast. Take your time and keep the boat under control, slow down for obstructions and when you can’t see ahead. Look out for bridges, other boats canoes, dinghies and floating debris.

Falls and bumps

Falls and bumps are common causes of all accidents, and canals are no exception. Reduce the risk by:
• Hold the handrail if walking down the boat side. Better still, don’t walk down the side of the boat.
• Keep off the boat roof, there often isn’t room if you go under a bridge.
• Never jump ashore when mooring – wait until you’re close enough to step off.
• Take extra care if the surface you are stepping onto is wet or slippery.
• Keep the boat tidy and the ropes neatly coiled.
• Use a torch on the towpaths at night, and don’t cruise in the dark.

Operating Injuries

Opening locks, driving stakes into the ground, pulling on ropes, pushing off… boating can involve some work that you might not be used to. If you’re using muscles you don’t always use, then take care and take it easy, after all, you probably aren’t in any rush. Share the load as well – take in turns to do each of the jobs, that way they’ll stay fresh and you won’t overdo it.


You don’t want to get caught between your boat and anything else, because you’ll lose! Never push away from a mooring or try to reduce the impact of a collision with your hands – always use the pole. And don’t underestimate the momentum of your boat or another boat.

What If Someone Falls In The Water?

Don’t panic. Consider and assess the situation.
• If the person in the water is in danger of being hit by your propeller put the engine into neutral.
• Are they standing up and wading out?
• Are they wearing a lifebelt?
• Will they need some help getting out of the canal?
• Do they seem to be unconscious or concussed?
• Who is the most suitable person to help them?

The way you react will depend on the circumstances but usually;
• Put the boat in neutral and get someone to hold a rope to stop the boat drifting away.
• Go, or send someone, back with a rope and a lifebelt to help the person in the water.
• If you feel someone must go into the water to help, ensure they take a rope and lifebelt.
• In most narrow canals adults should be able to stand up and wade to the bank.
• Make sure everyone knows where the safety equipment is before you set off.
• Don’t hesitate to get medical support if the person is injured or acting strangely, they may be concussed or have internal injuries.
• Ring 999 and tell the emergency services exactly where you are or the number of the nearest bridge.



Don’t stand alongside the tiller when steering, a sensible boater always stands in front of the tiller. If the rudder hits an underwater obstacle it can twist round and knock the steerer off the back of the boat if he or she is standing in the wrong place. This is especially important when going astern.

Do We Have To Wear Lifejackets?

Canal hire companies will provide lifejackets for everyone if asked. Certainly children and those who cannot swim should wear them. But even swimmers can get in trouble, for instance if they are unlucky enough to hit their head when falling in. Sensible advice is that everyone should wear a lifejacket, modern designs are comfortable and easy to wear. All Canal and River Trust workers usually wear lifejackets.


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

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