Canal Rules and Regulations - Etiquette on The Canal System
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Mon Oct 13, 2014 at 12:32pm

Etiquette on the Canals

A basic knowledge of etiquette can make a boat trip of any length much more enjoyable


Before operating a lock which is set against you, do check that there is not a boat coming in the opposite direction that could use the lock first - By pausing for a short time then helping the opposite approaching boat through saves wasted water and you are actually then setting the lock for your passage at the same time. To reverse the lock may delay the opposite direction boat by about 10-15mins. Your passage was delayed anyway, with the lock being set against you, so such a short pause to give the other boat precedence will cause negligible delay

When emerging from a lock, look to see if there is another boat approaching from the other direction.  If there is, leave the gates open for them (but the paddles down).  If you are that approaching boat, but you do not wish to use the lock (perhaps you are mooring up for the night just before the lock, or going to stop at a water point), signal to the outward boater that you do NOT want the gates left open. Otherwise the emerging boater (thinking he is doing the right thing) leaves the gates open for you - only to find that the gates are left open without a boat entering the lock.

When operating your boat through a flight of locks. Efficiency of travel through a flight is largely dependent on not causing hold-ups to others. So if by putting several boats in a congested queue you block things up for boats coming in the opposite direction, you are actually slowing things up for everyone, including yourself. Remember you cannot progress any quicker through than the boat ahead of you - so why cram yourself up his/her stern.

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 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. When we find pawls left off the ratchet and hanging, it means that we have to replace them in their correct position.

If setting locks ahead on a flight, don't go so far ahead with the process that you end up reversing locks on those coming in the opposite direction.


If in a suitably sized boat, be prepared to share locks up to the capacity of that lock. This will conserve water supplies and reduce the effect of lock queues.


Be sensible when mooring – even if it’s a short stop for a mid-morning cuppa. Use the mooring pins provided with the boat. If the ground is too hard to hammer them in – move on a little – there’s always good scenery around the next corner! If you intend to moor overnight – DON’T moor on the bollards approaching or leaving a lock. These bollards are for boats using the lock only – and single handed boaters in particular find it incredibly difficult trying to bang a pin in while holding their boat steady .


Keep your speed down. The absolute limit on a canal is 4mph – that’s walking pace. Let’s face it – you probably chose a canal holiday to get away from the hustle and bustle in the first place, so under no circumstances should your boat create a breaking wash – and slow right down past moored boats. If you keep your speed down in general and slow down when approaching hazards, the worst you’re likely to suffer is a bump rather than a crash should you hit something. Enjoy your time on the canals of Britain – and remember – if you show a little consideration for other boat users, you’ll be welcomed back with open arms!

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