What is good narrowboating etiquette? [20 RULES OF THE CANALS]

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Welcome back to Canal Boat UK, the place where we talk canal boats and narrowboats all day every day 🙂 If you are new to narrowboating, it’s important that you quickly pick up the etiquette on the canals. No-one likes grumpy narrowboaters shouting at them! So here are the basic manners most people expect on the canals. The unwritten rules of narrowboating 🙂

1. Pass at Tickover

When passing moored boats, always pass with your engine on tickover. This is to stop the wake from your boat disturbing those boats.

2. Don’t Speed

When you speed, you are creating a wake from your boat. This wake will create a wash that could cause wear to the sides of the canal in some areas. Even worse, it could affect wildlife that live on the banks of canals. Nothing worse than seeing destroyed birds’ nests and such like from speeding.

The official speed limit is 4 miles per hour, but use your common sense and keep to a low speed. Narrowboating is something to be done at a slow pace. If you are in a rush, do something else 🙂

3. Lock Sharing

If the lock you are going through is big enough for two boats and you see others behind you, why not ask them to share the lock and save water. Having two boats in a wide lock is a good idea anyway, as it will prevent your narrowboat from being moved around too much by the incoming or outgoing water. Saving water is a big thing when cruising canals.

4. Leave the lock open for the next person

After exiting a lock, it is a good idea to keep an eye out for boats coming in the opposite direction. If someone is coming, you can leave the lock open for them to speed up their journey. However, if no-one is coming, make sure to close the lock doors after you leave. You could cause low water levels and ground boats if you don’t.

5. Before you fill or empty a lock, check for oncoming traffic

Before you empty or fill a lock, the polite thing to do is check for traffic coming in the opposite direction. For example, if you empty a lock and someone else is coming that needs it full, they would have to wait for you to come through. It would be much faster if you let them go first and empty the lock as they come down.

6. Ask the lock volunteers if they need help

In busy locks at busy times of year, you will often find lock volunteers helping you with the lock operation. Even when you see lock volunteers, don’t assume you can stay on your narrowboat and they will do everything. The polite thing to do is ask them if they need help.

7. Pass on the right!

It can be quite confusing in the United Kingdom, as cars drive on the left-hand side of the roads. However, when on the canals you should pass others on the right. I am sure they did that just to confuse everyone 🙂

8. Honk your horn on blind corners

When you get to a tight section with a blind corner, you should give your horn a quick honk to warn any boats coming in the opposite direction. Narrowboats are slow, but accidents do still happen if you are not careful.

9. When the canal is single lane…

When you get to a section of canal that is single lane (only big enough to fit one boat), the polite thing to do would be to walk ahead to check if someone is coming in the other direction before you enter. This is especially true for thinner tunnels but can also be done on single lane stretches of regular canal. If you see anyone in a single lane tunnel already, wait for them to come out fully before you try to enter. Even if you think there is enough room, the other boater probably won’t be best pleased if you try to squeeze past. British canals and British canal tunnels are not known for being wide 🙂

10. When following boats through tunnels….

It is fine to follow another boat through a tunnel, but don’t get too close. firstly, you will dazzle them with your light if you are too close. More importantly, if they have a sudden issue, you are likely to run into their boat, which of course nobody likes 🙂

11. Mooring Up

When you are out cruising and want to moor up for the night, if you want to moor up next to someone, it’s a good idea if you ask them first. This is not necessary in a marina, but it would go a long way to politely introduce yourself to any neighbours you may have in one.

If you are already moored up in visitor moorings (especially if you know they are busy), think about whether you can close the gaps to other boats around you to make space for any new boaters wanting to moor up.

Also, don’t permanently moor up by water points or other utilities that others need to use. If you are not using it, find somewhere else to moor up. Locks often have lock landings, waiting areas directly before and after, these are designed for boats to wait in before entering a lock. They are not places to permanently moor up in.

12. Be Considerate

When moored up, try not to make a lot of noise late at night. I know you love that double disc album by Madonna, but many other people probably don’t 🙂 Dial the music, and any other loud noises, back when it is nighttime!

13. Engines and Generators

Don’t Run your engine when moored up or run those noisy generators after 8pm or before 8am. This is an official rule by the Canal and River Trust, and will be much appreciated by those moored around your boat.

Alongside the official rules, try to use a bit of common sense. I have seen some boaters with worn out batteries constantly running their engines and/or generators pretty much all day long. This constant buzz is annoying for other boaters even if it is in the daytime. Replace those worn out batteries instead of annoying your boating neighbours 🙂

14. Don’t step onboard other boats without asking

A boat is someone’s territory and I wouldn’t just step up on someone’s boat to try to talk to them. Instead, knock carefully on the side of the boat to get the attention of the people inside. Ask them if it is OK to board their boat and explain the reason why you would like to come on 🙂

15. Talk!

As a general rule of thumb, just talk to people and be friendly, you will be amazed at how many boaters will be friendly in return.

When passing other boats, you should wave and/or call out a quick greeting. It’s a bit like when two truck drivers flash lights at each other when passing 🙂

The canal boat community is a strong one and people in it will stick together. If you are not sure about something, just ask and be polite about it. If you see canal workers, have a chat and tell them you appreciate their work. All these things will help you have a more enjoyable time on the canals.

16. Keep Shared Facilities Clean & Tidy

When using any of the shared resources that boaters need to regularly use, make sure to leave it clean and tidy after use. For example, after tipping away your black water, make sure to rinse out the disposal point ready for the next person. After using a water point, turn it off and leave as you found it. These small details can make life easier for everyone else 🙂

17. Debris and Rubbish

It goes without saying that all rubbish from your boat should be properly bagged and disposed of at the designated rubbish points on the canals. This includes ash from your fire. Wait for it to be fully cooled before you do so though!

Another type of debris that people don’t seem so aware of is debris from the cut itself. Sadly, you will find many forms of rubbish in the canals, from old shopping trolleys to old plastic bags. If you have to take any of this out of the canals, or it gets stuck on your prop and you then take it out, make sure to dispose of this debris properly. Many people just throw it on the towpath, but it will more than likely end up back in the canal, annoying another boater!

18. Party Pooper

If you are planning to have a party, make sure to let your boating neighbours know about this plan. Not everyone loves the sounds of a group of people fuelled by Sauvignon Blanc and laughter 🙂 Then other boaters can make other plans or let you know any grievances about said party plans 🙂

19. They’re boats, not bumper cars!

Show me a boater that hasn’t bumped into another boat and I will show you my million pound house in the country 🙂 The fact is bumps happen whilst on the canals. Just make sure that when you do bump someone, do the right thing and say sorry 🙂

20. Ice Cruising

Unless it is an emergency, try not to cruise when the canal is iced over. Unless the ice is very thin, that ice is going to scrape on other boats as you pass and push the ice over.

There you go, all the etiquette and rules you will ever need to know when canal boating in the UK.

If you have any of your own ideas about narrowboating etiquette, we would love to hear all about them in the comments section below.

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