Mind Your Manners! - How to be a Considerate Boater
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Mon Nov 13, 2023 at 3:50pm

Knowing how to be a considerate boater and having a basic knowledge of what to do and what not to do on the canal will go a long way to making your time on the canal a happy and pleasurable one - let’s face it, no one wants to be shouted at by an angry boater when they are trying to enjoy their trip. Some issues are caused through inexperience and lack of knowledge; others unfortunately are caused by disrespectful people. There are more and more novice boaters than ever using the system and the correct ways of doing things are not always passed on.

This guide is designed to help newbies, and also remind experienced boaters of good boating practices that should be followed on the canal system. Remember, everyone was a novice at some point, so be willing to offer or accept advice from other boaters. Most people want to be considerate boaters, and no one sets out to upset anyone else, so be mindful of others’ situations

Cruising and Mooring

The speed limit on canals is 4mph, which is equivalent to walking pace. The speed limits are in place for safety reasons and are there to protect the people using the canal, the local wildlife, and to reduce damage to the banks.

When passing moored boats, you should slow the speed of your boat right down to tick over, which is around 2mph, to stop the wake from your boat disturbing other people. Merely reducing speed by a token number of revs is not acceptable.

When cruising behind another boat, just like when you are driving your car, don’t sit close up behind them, give them some space. Water turbulence is affected by the distance left between the lead boat and the boat behind; it will affect any boats passing in the opposite direction and will actually slow the lead boat down.

If you want to overtake another boat, it is up to the boat you are following to decide if it is acceptable for you to pass, so wait for indication from the lead boat that overtaking is safe to do. When a boat is coming towards you and you are both at cruising speed, slacken the revs off a bit until you have passed each other. This lessens the likelihood of the water being 'stolen' from one boat or the other - remember that a narrow boat sucks water in behind it and alongside it. Don’t move too far into the shallow sides as you are likely to run aground.

When mooring your boat, it is your responsibility to moor properly. Unsecured boats will be thrown around by passing boats, or even go adrift (this will not be the passing boat’s fault). Secure your boat by using proper ropes set at approximately 45 degrees, consider the ground conditions to make sure the mooring pins are securely in the ground.

Don’t moor in unsuitable places - this includes next to locks, moveable bridges, tunnels, at the apex of a bend, or in winding holes, even if it’s only for a short stop. These locations should be avoided for your own safety.

It is very rude to cast off (pull out) from a moored position in front of a cruising boat, let the boat pass before you leave your mooring spot.


Be prepared to share locks - this will conserve water supplies and reduce the effect of lock queues. You have no right to refuse to share a lock with another queuing boat of a suitable size. If you are not prepared to share, you should go to the end of the queue. 

When a lock is set against you, you need to check that there isn’t a boat coming in the opposite direction that would be able to use the lock first. By letting the other boat go through first, you are saving water and actually setting the lock up ready for you to use. If you don’t let the opposite boat go through, you are actually delaying their journey by around 15 minutes. If there are people waiting, then pull over into a lock waiting point, using your central line to help you pull the boat over.

When you have finished using the lock, ensure the paddles are down and the gates are closed to keep the water in the lock. If you leave them open, you risk draining the canal! If there is a boat waiting to come into the lock you are leaving, you can leave the gates open for them and the paddles down. If you are approaching a lock and can see the boat emerging is going to leave the gates open, but you don’t intend to use the lock as you are about to moor up, let the boater know so that he shuts the gates behind him.

When operating your boat through a flight of locks, there is no point in queuing boats up in the short pounds between locks. Efficiency of travel through a flight is largely dependent on not causing hold-ups to others. By putting several boats in a congested queue, you block things up for boats coming in the opposite direction and you are actually slowing things up for everyone, including yourself. 

Remember, you cannot progress any quicker through the lock than the boat ahead of you. Leave paddle pawls in place on the ratchets - it's bad and dangerous practice to lift them off whilst winding paddles up (you should be able to hear them clicking). When putting the paddles down, you obviously need to lift the pawl, but only by an inch or so above the ratchet so that in an emergency merely dropping the pawl will stop the paddles from falling uncontrollably.If setting locks ahead on a flight (as most experienced boaters do), don't go so far ahead with the process that you end up reversing locks on those coming in the opposite direction.


As with a lock, you will need to check for oncoming boats before you enter the tunnel as many are only wide enough for one boat. Look for oncoming headlights and use your horn to warn other boaters that you are there. Don’t forget to turn on your own headlight as you go into the tunnel.

Winding Holes

Before starting to turn in a winding hole, once again, check for oncoming boats. Allow other boater to pass before you start your manoeuvre, and if you need to, signal to them that you plan on turning by rotating your hand in the air above your head.

Mooring In A Marina

Every marina will have its own set of marina rules, so it’s wise to check these before signing an agreement to moor your boat there. Rules are set for a reason and generally they are there for the benefit and safety of everyone in the marina. 

Living together with other boaters in a marina requires you to respect others, so leaving your rubbish stacked up rather than in the facilities provided, or blasting your music out for the whole marina to hear it isn’t going to make you very popular with management or your neighbours! It’s all about getting on with each other and it’s good to be a good neighbour. People are more likely to help you out if you are respectful and easy to live next to. 


This guide is by no means an exhaustive list, but we hope you found it useful. If you have any suggestions of things to add, please let us know in the comments below.