Mind Your Manners! Narrow Boating Etiquette
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Wed May 20, 2015 at 9:14am

Knowing how to behave on the water will make your boating experience a more pleasurable one. Some issues are caused through inexperience and lack of knowledge; others unfortunately are caused by disrespectful people.  

Having a basic knowledge of what is “cool on the water” will go a long way to make your boating journey and life on the canal system a happy and pleasurable one. It seems that there are more and more novice boaters using the system and the ways of doing things the “right way” are not always passed on to new boaters.

This guide is designed to help newbies, and also remind experienced boaters of good boating practices that should be followed on the canal system.

This guide is nowhere near exhaustive and if you have any suggestions we can add into the guide please leave your comments in the box below.

Cruising and Mooring

When passing moored boats you should slow the speed of your boat right down to around 2mph, merely reducing speed by a token amount of revs is not acceptable.

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 boats 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 and in winding holes, even if it’s for a short stop. These locations should be avoided for your own safety.

When cruising behind another boat, just like when you are driving your car, don’t sit right up close, give them some space. The water turbulence is affected by the distance left in 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.

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.

You shouldn't move too far into the shallow sides as you are likely to go aground.

It is very rude to 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. Your journey has been broken anyway as the lock was set against you, so this is why it would be rude to not let them through first.

When leaving the lock, check to see if another boat is coming from the other direction, if there is 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.

No matter how good one might be at using locks, it is up to the crew of the boat in the lock as to how quickly paddles are opened. Consider it to be their lock and it's up to them how it's operated. Position your boat in the best way to allow speedy but safe filling of the chamber, taking care not to crash the boat onto the cill.

When operating your narrow 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.

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 with a marina. Rules are set for a reason and generally they are there for the benefit and safety of everyone in the marina.

If you feel you will not be able to follow the rules set out, then you had best look for alternative moorings. 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 they think you are a good egg!