Checklist to follow before you cruise a Narrowboat

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Welcome back to Canal Boat UK. Whether you are an old or a new narrowboater, safety has to be everyone’s concern. New boaters need to learn the ropes and old timers need to remember not to get complacent!

Here are the checks we think everyone should be doing before they go cruising in their narrowboat.

The pre-cruise narrowboat checklist. Works on canal boats of all kinds.

The Narrowboat Pre-Cruise Checklist

Weed hatch inspection

Get in the habit of checking your weed hatch, especially if you have been cruising through shallow water recently. This will make sure your propellor is moving freely and putting as little stress on the engine and its related components as possible.

Make sure to reseal the weed hatch properly after your checks, you would be surprised how many canal boats have been seriously damaged due to carelessness here! It has been known for whole narrowboats to sink due to leaks from weed hatches, lets put it that way.

And be sure to test your weed hatch with the engine on and in gear, as this is when leaks start to happen.

Engine checks

These are the checks we would recommend doing before you move your boat at all, especially if you are planning a longer journey. These checks will give you a snapshot of your engine’s status, making it much easier to diagnose problems if they arise through the day.

These are checks for a regular diesel narrowboat engine. Remember, as well that most canal boat engines are pretty antiquated by modern standards. They can punish you heavily if you don’t keep track of their condition and have a feeling for how they run. This is the heartbeat of your boat, and you must get familiar with it.

This is the acronym you should follow to help you remember your narrowboat engine checks W.O.B.B.L.E.


Before you start your engine, make sure your water coolant header tank is at the correct levels. This will vary from engine to engine, so I won’t go into exact details. Make sure you got the information from whoever you bought the boat from or an experienced boat mechanic. Read your engine manual to find out the type of coolant you should use.


Before you start your engine, check the oil levels in your engine with a dipstick. To get an accurate reading, never just take the first reading. Clean your dipstick and put back in for a proper reading. Never tilt your dipstick either, otherwise the oil can run along it and give a false reading.

Do the same to check the oil level in your gearbox. Most narrowboat engine gearboxes need oil in order to work and there will be a separate dipstick for this.


Check the integrity and condition of your engine’s drive belt. If it breaks, do not attempt to run your engine without one. It won’t take long to do some major damage this way. Look out for cracks and worn edges on the drive belt so you can replace it before failures happen.

Also check the tension to make sure it isn’t too loose. Find the longest section of belt between two pulleys and make sure it can’t wobble more than half an inch. Loose belts will slip and degrade faster. A squealing sound coming from your engine is another indicator of a slipping drive belt.


Check your starter battery to make sure you have at least 12.5 volt output to start your engine. Use a voltmeter to check this and if your starter battery drops below 10 volts upon firing up your engine, they may be in need of replacement.


Check your engine for signs of leaks. If you find any, trace the location and have them fixed. If you are checking your levels regularly you should spot any excessive loss of liquids before it gets serious.


Now is the time to start your engine and examine how well it is running.


A bit of smoke on startup is usually nothing to worry about on the typical diesel narrowboat engine. However, if you see excessive blue or black smoke when the engine is warmed up, this could indicate a problem.


Listen to your engine after start up. If you hear/see any excessive rattling, vibration or squeaking there might be a problem. Your engine should hold a constant rev pattern on idle. Any spikes or dips in this could also point to a problem.

Engine on and warming up

Make sure you have turned on your engine and let it warm up before you start cruising.

Move Fenders out of the Way

Fenders can be dangerous if left down when cruising. Mainly, they can cause your boat to get wedged when going up or down in locks. Always cruise with your fenders up, either out of the way, or even on your boats roof.


Most narowboats thesedays come with a removable tiller (the arm used to steer the boat). Make sure your tiller is properly attached with the tiller pin in place.

Check all on board

Check everyone on board, that they are OK and ready to depart.


Finally, untie your mooring ropes, make sure to pick up any mooring pins and/or chains used.

Be Vigilant! Stay Safe!

It is so easy for us to forget about these checks or get overconfident and think we don’t need them. Whoever you are, these checks should form the start of any cruising you do. I have seen narrowboaters with many years experience coming unstuck because they have neglected these checks.

If there are any other checks that you do (that aren’t in the list), let me know all about them in the comments section below.

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