Canal Cruising Skills - Canal Boat Cruising Tips and Advice
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Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 2:19pm

Try before you buy

A lot of people like the idea of living on or owning a canal boat, but until you have experienced it you will not really know if it’s for you. So why not hire a canal boat or book a short break before making a purchase this way you can get a feel of what it’s going to be like. You will also be able to find out more about life on the canal during this time. You can find a lot of valuable information on our website and in other blog articles we have written.

For further canal boat information check out our sister companies you tube channel, here you can see demonstrations on varies topics such as checking a stern gear on a hull survey, reversing a narrow boat and mooring at a pier. The videos are very informative and have proved very popular so it’s worth taking a look, find the channel here Whilton marina Canal Boat Videos

Unlike owning a car you do not need a licence or have to pass a test to steer a canal boat, but if you are hiring a canal boat the company will train you on how to operate the boat before you sail off.

When we sell a canal boat we offer a hand over service so that you are happy you know how everything works on the boat before you leave us. We would however if you are new to boating, take a RYA course (Inland Waterways Helman’s Course).

Most people find steering a canal boat relatively easy as the controls are simple to use, you have a throttle that moves you forwards and backwards and then the tiller that stirs you left and right. Once you have got the hang of the basics and remember the narrow boat does react differently to a car you will be happily cruising along. In this article we are going to give you a few basic canal boat tips which you will need before going on your first canal trip.

The three C’s

Common sense + Care + Caution = A happy canal cruise

Before setting off

Make sure you have everything you require for your journey for example if you are going through locks you will need a windlass, mooring pins for when you stop and if you are taking young children check they have life jackets.

Starting up the canal boat

Take a look at our sister company’s website to see how to start a canal boat. You must make sure that your batteries are in working order and fully charged, and that you have your battery isolator keys at the ready. Once your batteries have been turned on, and you have turned your engine on then you are steady to start maneuvering your canal boat.

Steering the canal boat

River cruisers and Dutch barges are slightly different to canal boats as the have a wheel for steering and the canal boat has a tiller which is at the rear of the boat. The main thing about a tiller is it operates in the opposite direction to the way you want to go so; if you push it to the left this will move the canal boat to the right and vice versa. Be aware that canal boats react a lot slower than a car so you need to be thinking ahead to prepare the canal boat to do what you ask of it and be ready to react if you need too. It’s a good idea to begin with to make small steering moves at a low speed and learn to anticipate the boat’s movement, you will soon realise a boat doesn’t react instantly like a car. Once you have the feel of the boat you will be able to increase your speed during your journey.

If a particular manoeuvre doesn’t go correctly then just straighten the boat up and try again. The main tip we can give you is don’t panic! The canal boat top speed is 4mph and if you do have a little bump then not much harm will come of it.


Now for the fun bit, cruising along you will find that the canal boat travels and is easier to steer in the deeper water which is in the middle of the canal so as long as there isn’t a boat heading towards you this is where you want to be cruising. If a boat comes up behind you it’s courteous to ask if they would like to overtake if they do slow right down and pullover to allow it to pass. If you wish to overtake then as in a car pass the other canal boat on the right hand side.

When navigating a bend slow down a little and keep to the outer side where the water tends to be deeper. You will find as you are cruising along that the canal boat will not always stay in a straight line and you will need to make some small steering corrections, to help you keep going in a straight line. Stand in the middle of the boat and use the bow as a sight.

Turning the canal boat may require you finding a “winding hole” as some parts of the canal will be narrower than your boat. You will find these places every few miles along the canal.

Stopping and Mooring

When you are ready to stop start slowing down and aim for the bank at around 30 degrees and as you come closer to the bank around 6 feet start steering away from the bank so the boat continues to approach the bank but starts to straighten up. Now pop the canal boat into reverse gear to slow you right down and stop, the boat should now be parallel with the bank and be close enough for you to jump on land to tie up with your mooring pins.

We hope this article will give you some useful tips before taking out a canal boat for the first time. We are always happy to talk through any queries you may have down at our marina. We are open 7 days a week and would love to see you.

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