Find Out More About Canal Boating

We've put together this page with great tips on boating on the UK Canals before your holiday aboard NB Maddison.

There are Video Tutorials, Downloadable books and Smartphone Apps to help you get the most out of your canal holiday.



This is an excellent video put together by Canal River Trust.

  • Provides excellent instruction on boat handling, operating locks and bridges, rules of the road and general canal etiquette.

  • It's a condition of booking our boat that you watch this video. We suggest you watch this a least twice. It's packed with good advice and guidance to help you be a more confident skipper & crew.

  • Confidence and control over the boat means a more relaxed enjoyable trip and everyone stays safe.

Well worth watching even if you have boating experience!


  • 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

  • Make sure fenders don’t get caught up on the lockside or gates

  • Agree clear signals so that the crew and skipper can communicate quickly – a signal that means 'close all the paddles, for example

  • Ask first before helping other boaters to work the locks.


  • Turn on your tunnel and interior lights. Use the torches or wear head lights when steering at the back.

  • Wear water proof jackets. It can be wet.

  • As you go in, sound one long blast on your horn. Now steer by looking at one side of the tunnel only and keep to a low speed. Move the tiller or wheel as little as possible – it’s a common illusion to feel the boat’s being pulled to the side.

  • Watch out for the changing roof height, though – tunnels are rarely straight.

  • If it’s two-way traffic, keep a look-out for oncoming boats and pass slowly on the right.

Special Tunnel Safety Tips

  • Keep your crew and passengers inside the profile of the boat in tunnels and aqueducts

  • Make sure you have enough fuel to get you through

  • If you break down in a tunnel, switch off the engine and sound the horn every few minutes.

  • Don’t smoke or use cookers and heaters.

  • Wear a life jacket, especially if you are boating single handed.



Casting Off

  • Start the engine, keep it in neutral and allow some time for it to warm up before you move off.

  • Check for any boats heading towards you from the front and rear. Just wait for them to pass!

  • Get one of your crew to hold the centre line, whilst you untie the front and back mooring ropes.

  • Push the front of the boat out and walk to the back, taking the centre line with you, ready to use when you stop again.

  • On rivers, untie the downstream rope first. Make sure your ropes can’t trail in the water and get caught in the propeller. Don’t forget to stow the mooring hooks / stakes and hammer.

  • Because the boat steers from the back, you can’t drive away from the bank as in a car. Check the area is clear of boat traffic then push the boat away from the bank so you can make a clean getaway, with your propeller in deep water.

  • In shallow water, push the back of the boat out, then reverse away until there’s room to straighten up. When the boat’s straight, go into forward gear and accelerate gently to cruising speed.

Under Way

  • On all waterways, the rule of the road is to drive on the right. On wide waterways this may be easy. But on most canals, unless there’s another boat coming towards you, you’ll steer down the middle as it’s likely to be shallow near the edges.

  • When you do meet an approaching boat, keep to the right and pass ‘port-to-port’ (the left side of your boat passes the left side of the approaching boat).

  • Don’t cut the corner when going round bends. You run the risk of a collision or going aground.

  • Go slowly past moored boats, anglers and other waterway users.

  • Don’t let your boat create a breaking wave or a lowering of the water along the bank just ahead of the boat. These are signs that you should throttle back to prevent damage to the bank and disturbance to moored boats. Excessive speed will dislodge moored boats.

  • Look out for swimmers, canoes, punts, rowing boats. Remember they cannot always see or hear you approaching. Slow down so that your boat isn’t creating a wave. Give them plenty of room as you pass by. Warn other boaters coming in the opposite direction if you can.


  • Using a tiller to steer is simple – as long as you remember that pushing to the right will make the boat head left and vice versa.

  • Be patient and plan ahead as far as possible. Anticipate what you will do if another boat comes around the blind bend.

  • You have less steerage at very low power. The boat will respond more quickly to the tiller when the propeller is turning more quickly.

  • Most boats pivot from a point about halfway along their length. That means you need to watch out for the front and the back. If you line up the front only and then try to turn into a narrow gap – a bridge or lock, for example, you risk hitting the side with the back of your boat.

  • Watch out for currents or cross-winds pushing you off-course too.

Going Aground In Shallow Water

  • Everyone goes aground at some point – it’s not a disaster.

  • REVERSE- Don’t try to force your way over the obstacle or you’ll find yourself even more stuck. Instead, use reverse gear to back away into deeper water.

  • If you’re firmly stuck, ask some or all of the crew to move to the side or back of the boat that’s still floating.

  • Now use the pole to push off against a solid object or the bed of the waterway. If you put the pole straight down and try to use it as a lever, it’ll either break or you’ll fall in.

  • Don't put yourself between the pole and the boat.

Slowing Down And Stopping

  • Because boats don’t have brakes, you need to give yourself plenty of time to stop, especially when travelling downstream on flowing waters.

  • Ease off the throttle, move into neutral and then use reverse gear to slow down and come to a final halt.

  • Use more reverse throttle to increase the braking effect. Remember that it’s extremely difficult to steer when you’re in reverse gear. You may need an occasional forward boost to get better control.


  • Prepare your crew in advance. Make sure they know what their jobs will be.

  • Slow down almost to a stop and carry out all your manoeuvres as slowly as possible.

  • Stop short of where you want to moor with your boat straight and in deep water. Move forward very slowly, pointing the front of the boat towards the bank, then use reverse to stop the boat just before the front hits the bank. Put the engine into neutral.

  • Your crew should step ashore and not jump. They can either carry the ropes with them – making sure there’s plenty of slack and that one end is fixed to the boat or you can pass them the ropes once they’re on land.

  • On rivers you should moor with the front of your boat facing into the stream flow. This gives you more control as you slow to a halt. So, if you’re heading downstream, you’ll need to pass the mooring and turn your boat around. The same applies if you have a very strong wind behind you.

Tying Up

  • To keep your boat secure, you need to tie it to the bank with a rope from both the front and the back. On rivers, you should fix your upstream rope first.

  • Many mooring sites have bollards or rings to tie up to. Choose ones a short distance beyond the front and the back of your boat. Run your ropes at about 45º from your boat, loop them back onto the boat and tie securely, but not too taut.

  • If there aren’t any bollards or rings, use your mooring hooks or ground pins if the ground is suitable. Do not attempt to hammer into concrete or other hard surfaces. If the ground is soft, check the stability of the bank and watch out for signs of underground pipes or cables before you start hammering. Position the stakes as far from the bank as you can, but don’t tie your ropes across the towpath.

  • Knock them in to about three-quarters their length and make sure they’re firm. Mark them with a piece of light-coloured cloth or a white plastic bag or bottle so that other towpath users can see them clearly.

  • Leave some slack in your ropes – this is especially important on tidal waterways or rivers. If the ropes are too tight and the water level drops, your boat could be left hanging from the bank.


Swing And Lift Bridges

  • Well before you reach the bridge, land your crew with the windlass or key.

  • If it’s a traffic bridge, check that the road’s clear and close the warning barriers if there are any. Don’t forget to open the barriers once the bridge is back in place.

Manual Swing Bridges

  • Let your crew off well before the bridge – it’s easier then to get the boat lined up correctly.

  • Unhook the retaining chain and give the bridge a good – but controlled – shove. You might need to slow the swing down to stop the bridge bouncing back across the canal when it hits the buffer stop.

  • When the boat’s through, push the bridge firmly into place and put the retaining chain or lock back on.

Manual Lift Bridges

  • Pull the chain hanging from the balance arm.

  • When the bridge is open, unless it’s obvious that there’s a mechanism to stop the bridge from lowering by itself, sit an adult on the arm to keep it raised until the boat’s clear.

  • Gently lower the bridge by the chain, taking care not to let it drop.

Mechanised Bridges

  • Mechanised bridges are either opened using the windlass, or are powered and need a navigation authority facilities key. Always follow the instructions set out on the control box.

  • With some swing and lift bridges, you can’t move the traffic barriers until you’ve unlocked the control box. And you can’t move the barriers back again until the bridge is back in its original position.

  • Windlass-operated bridges need to be unlocked first, but you must make sure you lock them again before cars are allowed back over.

  • Some modern bridges use wedges to stop them bouncing when cars drive over. You should find instructions at the bridge on how to release them. Always make sure they’re back in place, though, or traffic will damage the bridge mechanism.


The Boaters Handbook - This is a downloadable PDF copy. Again it has been put together by Canal & River Trust as a guide to safely navigating canals & boat handling. Ideal for learning that little bit more about boating. Download it to your smart phone for quick reference whilst aboard. Download The Boaters Handbook PDF

The Waterways Code - Sets out some basic standards and good practice for everyone who uses the canals. Download The Waterways Code


Canal River Trust - Provide some excellent resources to assist in planning a route and avoiding any hold-ups due to stoppages.

Canal Planner - Is very useful site that allows you to select a start point and destination. It will then tell you how long it will take to cover the distance dependant on your preferred daily cruising hours.

Water Explorer - A website that helps plan and record your journey along the inland waterways. For the more tech-savy amongst you, it also has downloadable software that you can link up to GPS to track your progress and much more.


Open Canal Map - Android & IOS. We've not had time to use this as yet so would be interested to hear your views. Open Canal Map comes in three flavours: Google Maps overlay, Android app and iPhone/iPad app. The Android and iPhone apps are built using Mapbox. This means they can offer a more intuitive interface while boating. The Google Maps version allows you to search for shops and travel directions from within the Google Maps App – available for Android and iPhone.