In seven years of living on a narrowboat I never learned to tie a proper knot, much to my shame. However, when you have a boat you are going to have to get to grips with ropes and at least some form of lashing them round things.
There are two main uses for ropes (which proper boaters love to call ‘lines’); one is to tie the boat up so that it remains moored to the bank; the other is for controlling the boat from the towpath, such as bringing the boat into a lock landing or indeed when bringing it in for mooring.
To this end you will find all canal boats have long ropes secured to posts at the bow (front) and stern (back). You can then take the other end of the rope ashore with you and use it to secure the boat (click here to see more specifics about where you can moor, and click here for mooring procedures).
There will also be at least one rope, called a centreline, which is secured to a point roughly in the middle of the roof and taken back to the stern so that it can be grabbed with ease by you as you step off the boat, and taken ashore. By pulling (hard!) on this rope, you can bring the boat into the towpath.
You might be wondering why you need that – surely you can just drive up to the bank, stop the engine and step off? Well, firstly it’ll be very hard to come to an absolute dead stop so the boat will keep moving slightly, and secondly on a river there is a current so even if you stop, the boat may promptly start floating away.
Hence when you need to come up to the bank (eg to moor, or to use a lock), you get as close as you can, go as slow as you can, and at the last moment give a burst of reverse then drop the engine into neutral and step ashore with the centreline, at which point the boat is under your control via that rope. Do remember to pop the engine into neutral else you’ll be pulling against it and it will likely win.
This is less of an issue if you have other people aboard as someone can always stay at the tiller and control the boat that way if needed. Or you can drop someone else off with the centreline while you stay at the tiller. But if you’re alone on the boat – and there are a lot of single-handed canal boaters – then getting used to handling the boat with just the centreline will be essential.
Particularly as you come up to locks, when bringing the boat into and out of a lock, and when controlling the boat within the lock, the centreline will be your best friend.
One thing to be aware of is that the centreline should be long enough to be usable but not so long so to get caught by the propeller in the event that the end falls into the water. Believe me, there is nothing quite so frustrating as having to cut a rope free from around your propshaft while you lie across the engine bay with your arms down the weed hatch into the freezing, dirty canal water!