Speed limits on the canals & rivers

Let’s not go mad on that throttle. The general speed limit on the canals is 4mph and frankly if you’re doing that, you’re going too fast to be civilised anyway. Generally, boats will cruise along at 2-3 mph which is a decent walking pace. Whilst canal boats don’t tend to have speedometers, you can very easily look to your side at how fast the towpath is speeding by, and imagining yourself walking to keep up with the boat. If your imaginary self is having to jog, you’re going too fast. The whole idea of canal boating is to chill out, calm down, let the slowness envelop you. It’s absolutely not a race.

There is another limit though and that is you shouldn’t leave a breaking wash behind you. So even if you’re doing less than 4mph, if the waves you’re leaving behind are crashing over themselves, they’ll be eroding the soft canal bank as well as flooding many animal habitats along the shore. Slow down!

On rivers, the limits tend to be a bit higher such as 6mph upstream and 8mph down. The higher downstream figure is because rivers have a flow of water, unlike the canals, and this will inevitably push you along faster even for a given number of engine revolutions.

In all cases, it is not only polite but required to slow down to barely tickover when you are passing moored boats. This is so that you don’t rock them about, causing people inside to fall over or tip hot tea all over themselves etc, and crucially so that you don’t cause the mooring pins of those boats to be pulled out of the ground and the boat set adrift. Yes, this really happens.

You’d be amazed at just how much ‘pull’ a passing boat exerts on other craft. For a typical steel narrowboat you’ve got 15-ish tons of metal pushing its way through the water and that water has to go somewhere – to the side and underneath. That pressure of the water being displaced then pushes against everything else in the immediate vicinity, such as moored boats.

Furthermore, as you go by, the water then rushes back to fill the space behind your boat – water does, after all, try to maintain a constant level – and that movement will try to drag other boats along with it. In that way, there’s a fair degree of force exerted on the mooring pins which, after all, are just long metal spikes banged into the ground. In soft earth, it’s all too easy for these to pull upwards and out, setting a moored boat free.

If you try to hold onto your boat by the centreline while another one comes past (as you will do when mooring), you will feel just how strong this force is.

Don’t be that inconsiderate boater who roars past other boats. You’ll get a lot of hate for it from the people you’re racing past and it’s just plain inconsiderate. One day someone will blast past you, and you can be certain you won’t be happy.