5 Do's and Don'ts of Narrowboating

If you are new to narrowboating, it can seem a bit daunting with all the rules and information you need to remember. So we've compiled this simple guide of things you should and shouldn't do when driving a narrowboat on the UK's inland waterways...


1. Slow down when you pass other boats

You'll regularly pass boats that are ether moored up on the canalside or are cruising in the opposite direction. Either way, it's important to slow down to make sure that you can pass safely and without causing any disruption to those other boaters.

2. Always pass moving boats on the right

So it may seem very European, but on the canals, we do pass on the 'wrong' side!

    View from the top of three locks on the grand union canal at sunset

    3. Share a lock with other boats

    Even if you have to wait for a few minutes for another boat that is approaching behind you, if they are heading in the same direction and planning on using the lock, make sure you wait and go in together. It helps to preserve water levels along the canals, plus it's a great opportunity to pop the kettle on for a nice cuppa while you are waiting for the lock to fill or empty.

    4. Close the paddles and gates when leaving a lock

    This is an important one, and if not done properly, can cause all sorts of problems for the canal and some very unhappy boaters. When you are finished in a lock, always moor up outside and go back to close the paddles and shut the gates. Not only does it avoid water flowing through and potentially draining the pound above the lock, but it also means that the next boater approaching the lock doesn't have to do extra work to prepare it for themselves.

    5. Give way at bridges if the oncoming boat is closer than you

    If you can see another boat approaching in the opposite direction, pull over to the right and let them through first. Never try to race to it first or try to pass beneath a bridge.


    1. Moor on the bollards by a lock or water point

    The black and white bollards that you'll see at locks and utility points are there for boaters using those facilities. They should only ever be used temporarily, so as soon as you are done, cast off and find another place to moor if you need to stop for longer.

    2. Travel more than 4mph

    So I know it sounds very slow (it's only a fast walking pace) but this speed limit is there to keep everyone safe. If you can see that the waves created by your boat are breaking against the bank or causing moored boats to move, then it's time to slow down and take it a bit slower. Remember, it's not about how far or where you get to; it's about enjoying the journey, so slow down and admire the view!

    3. Drink and drive

    Just like driving a car or any other machinery, don't drink alcohol if you are planning on driving your narrowboat... Simples.

    Self drive Holiday Hire Canal boat approaching bridge on the Grand Union canal

    4. Drive after dusk

    Not only is it a safety thing, but it's also respectful to other boaters to avoid driving during the darker hours. There are a lot of people along the canals who live on their boats, and the noise and movement caused by other boats passing by can be disruptive. So when the sun goes down, it's time to moor up.

    5. Call it a barge

    'Barge' is a common term that's used when referring to boats on the canal, but a barge is actually a very different type of boat to the one you would hire for a holiday (go on, you know you want to go and google it now!). But, if you want to sound like you know what you are doing, then it's best to call it a narrowboat :)

    Want to know more about narrow boating? Click below to check out our beginner's guide.

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