Courtesy, Ettiquette and Common Sense


Never, never, never moor on the outside of bends. Let no temptations lure you otherwise. There may be very convenient bollards installed by someone who knows nothing of boating, there may be an attractive hostelry on the bank or not far distant, there may be 48 hour or 14 day mooring notices to lull you into a sense of false security but despite all these do not forget never, never, never moor on the outside of bends!

The inside of bends silt up preferentially and boats should aim to navigate no nearer the inside edge than the centreline. Deep boats need to put their fore ends well towards the outside bank in order to turn properly and retain their counter in the channel. Unloaded ex-working boats may need to put their fore ends almost against the bank due to their turning axis being so far back in the boat. And don't assume that because you have stopped for the day everyone else has done likewise.


When travelling downhill in a flight with intermediate pounds which are not 'on weir' lift the top paddles of the next lock down before emptying the lock above. If there is traffic in the other direction, do not draw the lock you are in if someone is just about to open the top gate of the next lock down; the flush of water will prevent them opening their gate. Leave bottom gates open for any ascending boat unless they are several locks down and you have traffic coming down behind you.

If you reach a lock, uphill or downhill, and see a boat coming in the other direction then if the lock is more than 50% 'against' you prepare it for the other boat to use first. If it is less than 50% 'against' you prepare it for your own boat to use and perhaps mention how you found it when the other boat arrives to allay any animosity.

Before emptying a lock check that boats queuing below it will not be adversely affected by the flush of water. Likewise if anyone is approaching and about to moor wait until they have their boat held securely before 'pulling' the lock.

When helping a boat through a lock: a) keep your eye on the boat at all times whilst the lock is filling or emptying and b) establish eye contact with the steerer and await their signal before winding paddles. Solo boaters will probably prefer to operate the lock on their own as they may have their own techniques or will need time to position their fore ends snugly against the gate before the lock is filled or emptied.

When you arrive at a lock check that both sets of gates are closed and all paddles are lowered. If a paddle is drawn at the far end, or the gate is open, it may well mean that a boat is about to arrive from the other direction being worked single handed so look and listen out for it.

If you are next to use the lock then draw at least one paddle at the end closest to your boat. Never, never, never let go of the windlass when it is still on the spindle of a raised paddle. The catch may slip, the paddle drop and the windlass be spun off in any direction at a speed which is capable of causing severe, if not fatal, injury.

Lean with your back on the gate balance beam. When the water levels are equalised the gate can be opened.

When your boat is in the lock close the opened gate(s) and draw half a paddle at the other end. Keep your eye on the boat at all times. It may get caught, or hang up, or surge suddenly forwards or backwards. Check that the fore end fender does not become trapped under the balance beam of the gate ahead. If the boat is yours consider hacksawing through one side of a link in the fender chain so that the chain fails before the boat is compromised. If you do it just on the left or right hand side of the stem post then the intact chain(s) on the other side will retain the fender to prevent its loss into the water when the link on the other side fails.


The speed limit on canals is 4 m.p.h. This is equivalent to a brisk walking pace. I think my boat cannot even achieve this speed as I timed it over a 1 mile stretch on the BCN new main line and it came out at 3.25 m.p.h.

As far as I am aware this speed limit applies to boats, canoes, water skiers and all other craft of whatever shape or size. The speed obtained at any given engine power output depends on depth, of course, and slower speeds may often be required in order to avoid damaging earth banks with a breaking wash or when passing moored craft.


I have noticed a growing tendency for present-day boaters with high revving modern multi-cylinder engines to approach, at quite a brisk pace, the place where they intend to stop their boat and then, when their boat is very close to its desired position, to bring the craft to a halt with a sudden large burst of reverse power.Whilst this might achieve the objective of bringing the boat to an approximate halt near to the desired position it requires that someone goes rapidly onto the bank with a line in order to control residual speed and the unpredictable effects of the water currents generated. Furthermore the burst of power sounds totally out of keeping with the gentle pace of canal travel and, in my opinion, only demonstrates (and loudly so) the incompetence of the steerer in bringing his craft to rest.

I am a firm believer in the acquisition of skill when undertaking any task. With my slow-revving Russell Newbery engine I shift into reverse, at reduced revs, some distance from my destination. It is a matter of experience and judgement precisely where this is done and one needs to know how one's boat is going to react when in reverse gear but still travelling forwards. However, direction and rate of loss of speed can be controlled, with practice, to bring my 24-ton boat to a halt at the desired location with little or no residual inertia.

Hotel Boats

If you meet a pair of hotel boats at a lock then they will almost certainly wish to take both boats through one after the other without letting a boat through in the other direction between motor and butty. They are professionals earning their living as they have every right to do. Stand well clear and let them get on with it as they know what they are doing. I say this as 999 people out of 1000 have no experience of working pairs of boats. DON'T take issue with them over waste of water as you'll probably shoot yourself in the foot. If the pounds are 'on weir' then they are not wasting anything and you will have made yourself look an idiot although I doubt they will point this out!


It is a sad but unavoidable fact of life, at time of writing, that you will find litter almost anywhere you choose to look. Towns generally win hands-down over the countryside but even there the ubiquitous plastic bag or thick plastic manure sack can be found. When I tie up, usually for a period of a few days, I take the trouble to collect the (accessible) litter, bag it, and retain it onboard for disposal at the next convenient point, for otherwise the modern-day louts will simply throw it back in again! I recommend this to all boaters on our Inland Waterways. At the minimum it makes your own venue more congenial even if you are only there for the night and it probably also benefits those next tying up at that location.

If every boater tended to the bank by his boat's length, and for a boat length in front and behind, then ½ of the navigable system would be cleaned up every day!

I would suggest that there is no place on the Inland Waterways for those whose regard for others, and for farm and wild animals, falls so low that they will fling a bag of their rubbish into the hedgerow as they pass.


In the days of the long distance working boats, when carrying rates per ton were forced down by the competition from the new railways, husband, wife and children would crew the boats and live in the back cabins of motor and butty. Many were born, grew up, married, had their own children and eventually died in that 8'6" x 7' space. When idle waiting for work, the boats might be tied 'end on' to the bank, as in Bulls Bridge layby for instance, with back cabin doors open to the fresh air and light. It was accepted by all boatmen and women that if you walked past on the towpath you did not look into the back cabins which were the only place that the family had to conduct their lives. Likewise if you were breasted up and against the bank then you would leave your boat by walking forward and crossing at the back end having first announced "stepping on" clearly enough to be heard in the cabin. For the avoidance of doubt, the 'back end' is the forward bulkhead of the engine room at the rear of the cargo carrying hold, not the counter top (motor) or hatches (butty) at the stern of the boat.

In this day and age most of us have fully cabined boats but this courtesy can still be applied by not peering in through any uncurtained windows as you walk past.