Boating on the British waterways is an activity that is surrounded with etiquette, mannerisms and both spoken and unspoken rules of the road. So make sure you know your rights of way and brush up on your waterways etiquette before tackling some of the busier areas of the canal.
Locks along the Canal
There are locks all along the UK waterways and it is important to know proper ways to safely pass through a lock and once you have nailed that, how to do it without ruffling the feathers of others on the canal. As you approach the lock – first and foremost check whether the lock is set in your favour i.e. the water level is at the same level as it is on your side of the canal. If it isn’t – allow any oncoming boats through the lock before you start to empty or fill it to cross to the other side.
Depending upon the width of the canal there are a few scenarios – the most important
piece of etiquette advice that you can take with you though, is not to jump the queue and whilst you are waiting in the lock, it’s always courteous to offer a helping hand to those boats in front of you. Last but by no means least, as you leave the lock, make sure you have closed any gates or paddles unless of course others are queuing up to use it behind you.
If the lock is wider than that of a narrow lock, then you can usually put two boats in side by side. This can get a little complicated, particularly if you don’t know the owners on the other boat. Make sure you determine who will be working each side of the lock and that the paddles and gates are opened evenly at the same time.
Avoid hitting the other boat by ensuring you have secured your boat with a centre line and nobody wants their boat being hit.
Staircase Locks although manned by a lock keeper do have their own set of etiquette rules. You will need to wait your turn to be let in, but also make sure you have found the lock keeper first to avoid any unexpected boats coming down on you.
River locks are usually operated by lock keepers and they will give you explicit instructions as you approach. It is important to leave room for others to come up behind you as you may be waiting there for a short while. Impatience is never a good thing at river locks – you may not be called in to the lock in the order in which you are waiting and there are quite often very good reasons for this so definitely do go charging up to the lock if you think it should be your turn. It is common practise to ensure your boat is secured with a bow and stern line rather than a centre line on river locks.
Mooring Etiquette on the Waterways
When looking for spots to moor your boat on a canal, it is important to make sure you use common sense and moor safely. If you are in a situation where you may need to moor abreast of another boat – it is usually courtesy to check with them first whether it’s ok to do so. Be prepared with tyres to keep the boats apart – even wheelbarrow wheels to keep a little distance between yourself and the other boat for a little privacy.
If you are mooring and there are no mooring pins provided – think again! Tying up to a nearby post/fence/structure is not the safest way to moor and is very likely to cause an obstruction on the tow path. Remember tow paths are used by cyclists and walkers as well as those on the canals.
Speed and Noise on the Canals
Most people come out to the canals for a relaxing time pottering around in the English countryside. Don’t make the UK waterways a stressful place by ramping up your speed or creating a lot of noise or havoc. No one likes to feel like a party pooper, but the waterways are a quiet and sometimes narrow place so it helps to be considerate of others.