canal boat holiday

Canal Boat Holidays

A canal boat holiday is the perfect getaway

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The beautiful canals of England and Wales wind their way through a variety of interesting and distinctive canal boat holidays locations offering you the chance to stop off and investigate further at a mooring of your choice or to simply continue cruising onto the next destination.



The safety of you and your crew is the most important issue for us and we want you and other canal users to be safe at all times. You do not need any experience, a licence or any special qualifications to hire a canal boat as we give you full safety instructions at handover. At this comprehensive training you will be instructed on how to handle the boat and how to use the equipment, how to operate locks and bridges, safety on the waterways and navigation.

Please ask any questions you have as we want you to be completely confident before you set off on your canal boat holiday. Don't worry if you do forget some points there is an instruction manual and safety DVD on board each narrowboat that you can refer to.

This brief summary will help you to have some knowledge of safety procedures and how to stay safe before you set off on your canal boat holiday. You can also download The Waterways Code or The Boaters Handbook from British Waterways at

When on board it is a good idea to make one person in charge, `The Skipper`, and then there will only be one set of instructions given at any one time. The rest of the crew should work as a team and listen to the Skipper’s instructions. Children should always wear buoyancy aids and should be supervised by an adult at all times. They should not run by the waters edge or play along side the locks and they must be told of canal side hazards such as slippery banks, mooring pins, ropes and bollards.

Keep arms and legs inside the boat at all times when the boat is moving. Canal boats are built from steel and are very heavy so they can take the odd bump or scrape but arms and legs are much more fragile. If you do sit on the roof watch out for overhead branches and low bridges and never sit on the roof whist the boat is in a lock.

Injuries can be avoided by:-
Not over-stretching yourself, take things calmly and share the work.
Make sure you know how to use the tools and equipment properly.
Pay close attention to whatever you are doing.
When leaving the boat step off carefully and do not jump off whilst the boat is moving.
Where non slip shoes whilst on deck or when operating locks as surfaces do sometimes get slippery.
Don't place their fingers between the ropes and the bollards or mooring pins.

Keep your ropes coiled on the deck for easy use and do not allow ropes to trail in the water as they could get wrapped around a propeller. If you do get a rope, or something else, round your propeller stop the engine and switch off before you try to untangle it.

Part of the fun of a narrow boat holiday is mooring up where and when you want to and this includes stopping at a canal side pub for lunch or for dinner. Please remember that drinking and canal boats do not mix and you should never drink and be in charge of a narrowboat and take note it is also illegal.

Swimming is not recommended as you could get hit by a passing boat, get tangled in weeds or if by a lock or weir get drawn into the fast flowing water. The water is also very cold even on the hottest of days. There is also a very slight risk of contracting a water borne disease.

Be careful at locks never run and do not allow the kids to play around the vicinity. Avoid unnecessary getting on and off the boat once you are in the lock chamber. When operating the locks keep a firm grip on your windlass don't let it go as it may fly off causing a nasty injury. Keep long hair and loose clothing away from the mechanisms. If there isn't a bridge to walk across at the locks you then need to walk over the lock on the lock gate, extra care must be taken here and always hold onto the railing. Keep an eye on the position of the boat at all times ensure you are not to close to the cill or gates. If someone falls into the lock then close all of the paddles and throw a life line or life buoy. Stop the engine and keep the boat still. You may need to fill the lock to bring the water level up if you do do it slowly.

When approaching a tunnel check any notices first to see if it is wide enough for two boats to pass or if it can only take one way traffic. Look out for traffic lights, entry times and any special instructions. Switch your headlight on in good time and leave some interior lights on for extra light. A long blast on the horn will alert other boat users that you are about to enter the tunnel. Do not sit on the roof or gunwales whist in the tunnel and keep arms and legs inside the boat. If there is a boat in front of you keep your distance and if passing another boat give plenty of clearance. Do not scream and shout unless there is an emergency. Do not smoke or use gas appliances whilst the boat is in the tunnel.

Some bridges need to be opened before you can pass through and these come in different varieties. Some may need a windlass to open them some may need a British Waterways Key, these will both be supplied to you as part of your equipment. Land your crew in good time before you reach the bridge, making sure they have with them what tools they need. If it is a traffic bridge wait for the road to clear if you can, close the warning barriers if there are any and open the bridge. As once as the boat is through close the bridge in place and open the barriers again. If the bridge was previously locked make sure that you re lock it. Some bridges are powered if they are always follow the instructions. Don't try to take the boat through the bridge until it is fully opened and be mindful of clearance. Where bridges crosses over the canal it may be narrower so look out for any on coming boats and give way when necessary.

The speed limit on the canals is 4 mph but the average speed in closer to 3 mph. You must slow down when passing other boats, moored or moving, when passing an angler or when travelling through tunnels. Narrow boats do not have brakes so give yourself plenty of time to stop, easy off the throttle, move into neutral and use short bursts in reverse to slow down. Remember it is more difficult to steer when in reverse gear. Never leave the engine running with no one at the helm.

You can tie up more or less anywhere you chose on the tow-path side of the canal as this will almost certainly not be on private property. Any moorings restrictions will be clearly marked so please adhere to any such notices. Moor well away from bridges, weirs, water points, winding holes, bends and locks also stay clear of marina entrances or junctions. Be sure that your mooring ropes, and pins if used, are not going to cause an obstruction on the canal bank and never allow you mooring ropes to be placed across the tow path.
You will have a horn on your canal boat and just like a car horn this is only to be used as a warning. It is a good idea to know where to locate your horn for quick access. Do not use the horn for any reason apart from a warning.

Warning signals
1 blast – turning right
2 blasts- turning left
3 blasts – trying to stop or go backwards
4 blasts, pause, 1 blast – turning around to right
4 blast, pause, 2 blasts – turning around to left
1 extra long blast – warning sound used on blind bends, junctions and when entering a tunnel
1 long blast, 2 short blasts – I can't manoeuvre

If someone falls in the canal raise the alarm so that everyone knows what is happening - and then
Don't panic
Turn the engine off.
Don't reverse the boat.
Don't jump in.
Throw a line or a life belt tell them to try to stand up, reassure them and tell them not to panic.
Steer the boat slowly to the canal bank and get one of your crew to help the person climb out.
Keep a constant watch to ensure your propeller is well away from them.
Make sure they have a hot shower and all clothing is washed before it is worn again. If they do experience any form of illness then get them to a Doctor and tell them what has happened.
Be prepared and make sure everyone on the boat knows the drill in advance and also where to locate the lifeline or life belt.

Thankfully boat fires are extremely rare but in the event of fire raise the alarm quickly. If the boat is moving then bring to the side tie up and leave the boat in a calm orderly fashion. Attempt to put the fire out if possible with the correct fire extinguishers or the fire blanket which will be on board. If the fire is in the engine space do not open the main access as air will feed the fire. Call the fire brigade from a safe distance and bear in mind the risk of explosion from the gas bottles which are stored on board.

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