Top Tips – Staying Safe On A Narrow Boat
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Tue Dec 6, 2016 at 11:09am

A Few Basic Tips To Follow To Stay Safe When You Are On The Canal Network

Keeping safe on your narrow boat and on the canal network is very easy, basically just use your common sense and be aware of what’s going on around you.

But just like in day to day life we all pick up bad habits and cut corners, so there’s no harm in looking at the best practices for boating to remind us all of how we should conduct ourselves, so we stay safe and still have a good time on the network.

Crew Safety

First of all let’s start at looking after the passengers on board.


How To Avoid Slips and Trips!

  • Watch out for mooring ropes, bollards, holes and other hazards
  • Use the grab rails
  • Wear non-slip shoes
  • Don’t try to jump from the boat onto the land
  • Wear a lifejacket if you can’t swim, the deck’s slippery or the boat’s rocking. We also advise that children wear a life jacket whilst on deck.

Don’t Get Crushed!

  • A moving boat has the force to crush you – keep your body out of the way
  • Don’t fend off with your arms, legs or a boat pole – let the fender take the impact
  • Don’t have your legs dangling over the side, your hands over the edge or your head out of the hatch Keep off the roof when underway (low bridges could knock you for six or worse)

Watch Out for Fire and Fumes!

  • The bottled gas used for cookers, fridges and heaters is heavier than air and, if there’s a leak, it’ll lie in the bottom of the boat where it only takes a spark to ignite.
  • Watch out for fumes from cookers, cabin heaters and water heaters or from engine exhaust building up in the boat.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning is extremely dangerous – early signs include headaches, tiredness, sickness and dizziness, and other flu-like symptoms. Anyone affected should get medical help right away.
  • Switch off appliances when you’re not using them
  • Keep ventilators open and free of obstructions If you smell exhaust, gas, or petrol fumes, raise the alert right away

Don’t Rock the Boat!

  • Think carefully before climbing onto the cabin roof as the boat could become top heavy and roll over
  • Don’t all stand together on the same side as it risks tipping the boat over

Looking After Our Four Legged Friends

If you have a dog on board it’s important that they are going to enjoy the experience and be safe. Remember if you have tied your dog to the boat with a lead that allows them to move around freely then that lead is long enough for them to fall over the side of the boat, so please don’t presume this is a safe option for your pet. A better idea when you are not able to supervise your pet is that they are safely kept inside the vessel until you can give them your full attention.

If you are walking along the towpath and taking your dog with you, make sure they are under control at all times. If you are negotiating the locks make sure that they don’t get in your way and potentially cause an accident.

Safety At The Locks

  • Take your time – and keep an eye out for problems
  • Enter and leave slowly so bumps are less likely to cause damage
  • Always have a competent person on board while the boat’s in the lock Keep your boat well away from the gates and cills
  • Boats tend to bang about when water flows in and out of a lock – stay alert
  • When using fenders, make sure they don’t get caught up on the lockside or gates
  • Watch out for slippery surfaces when you’re pushing the gates open Work out some clear signals so that the crew and skipper can communicate quickly – a signal that means ‘close all the paddles,’ for example
  • Wait for the boat already in the lock to leave before you start opening or closing paddles Watch out for unprotected drops around the lock side, especially when opening gates
  • If there is a bridge, use it when crossing the lock. If not, take care using the walking board attached to the gates – do not jump across part-opened gates
  • Ask before helping other boaters with their lock operation
  • Don’t use a lock when it’s discharging flood water

Mooring and Tying Up

When tying up and mooring, make sure your mooring ropes do NOT cross the towpath, and that your mooring pins are clearly marked with a bright rag or other item to alert walkers and cyclists.



  • Mooring on the towpath is free (for short periods of time) and you can moor anywhere along the towpath. You will find occasional mooring points which have rings or posts you can use to tie the boat up. If there are no designated points with mooring pins you will need to use your own stakes. Always leave room for other boats to go pass you and to moor near you. 
  • For your own safety and so not to get in the way of other boats don’t moor near to a canal lock unless there are designated points already there, if that is the case you will be able to stay at these points for 48 hours
  • The same goes for swing bridges it is not safe to moor near these bridges.
  • Don't moor in turning points as this will make it difficult for other boats to use.
  • Moor on the straight parts of the towpath and not on a bend.
  • Try and stay away from designated fishing areas as you will be in the way of the fishermen.

Tying Up

  • Decide where you are going to moor, look for the mooring rings on the bank if there aren’t any, you will need to use your stakes. The front and the back of the narrow boat need to be tied to the canal bank.
  • Fasten the front of your boat to the mooring ring or stake just to the front of your boat, then do the same for the back of your tying again just behind the back of the boat.
  • The angle of the rope between the canal bank and your boat should be about 45 degrees.
  • If using mooring stakes before hammering make sure there are no cable or pipes visible, and the ground is firm enough to hold your boat in place.
  • To prevent you or other pedestrians tripping over your stake and rope once it has been put in the ground mark it so it is visible. You can use a carrier bag or tie some light coloured material to the stake.
  • Your rope should never use the whole width of the towpath, as this will cause problems for pedestrians obstructing their right of way.
  • Make sure there is some slack in the rope as the boat needs some space to move, especially on a river that is tidal.
  • As a final step you can also use an anchor if you feel you need that little bit extra.


Steering the narrow boat is fairly straight forward, there are just two levers one is for the speed and the other allows you to go backwards and forwards these can be found on the control panel.

The other control is called the tiller which is found at the back of the boat and this steers the boat to the left or the right. By moving the tiller to the right the boat goes to the left and by moving the tiller to the left it makes the boat go to the right. Which at first may sound a bit confusing, but by taking your time and staying at a low speed you can practice using the tiller and when you feel more confident you can increase your speed.


Over taking; When you meet another boat the etiquette to overtake is the same as it is in a car, pull out and overtake on the right. If another boat wishes to overtake you, it is considered good manners to slow down move over so they can pass you by. Most important thing to remember is to SLOW DOWN it’s not safe just to reduce the revs when over taking.

Safety Precautions when going through a tunnel; You must have a light fitted to your narrow boat and have this on at all times - it is best that the light is angled down and to the side so as to illuminate the tunnel rather than dazzle anyone. Take a spare torch in case the light breaks. Turn on some lights in the cabin. Make sure that no crew members are on the roof.

Make sure that children and pets are safe. Do check your engine temperature, oil pressure, cooling water and fuel gage before entering the tunnel. You do not want to break down when you are half way through the tunnel! Remove all items that are not waterproof from the outside of the boat and make sure that you are wearing waterproof clothing! You will always encounter drips of water from the tunnel.

Have you got any tips you would like to share with other boaters? – If so add them into the ‘Comments Section’ at the bottom of this page. Thank You!

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