Using your horn & lights on the canal

The horn

Every narrowboat should have a working horn. Typically mounted somewhere on the bow, this can be used to alert other boats of your presence around tight, blind bends, or when exiting or entering marinas which often have limited visibility.

Whilst ‘proper’ mariners know there is actually an official code of what different blasts on the horn mean, almost no canal boaters do because it’s just not used most of the time. Instead, the horn is just used as a general “I’m here!” alert, so if you hear one, go slowly and expect to see another boat coming the other way.

That said, plenty of canal boaters don’t use their horn at sharp bends and just come barrelling around the corner, often on the wrong side, as a nice surprise for you coming the other way.

Whilst over-use of the horn can be loud and annoying, under-use can lead to collisions. Best to use a bit of common sense, though sadly this is in short supply these days.

Blinded by the light

Another thing all canal boats will have is a bright light for going through tunnels. This should be angled upwards and to the right, so that it’s illuminating the tunnel walls and not blinding any oncoming boats. Sadly, the latter is all too common and will elicit shouts of rage from the blinded boater once you draw level with them. Modern LED beams are fantastic things, long-lasting and bright, but by golly they can be a nuisance if you point them at someone else.

Always, always check your light is switched on and working before going into a tunnel (doubly, even triply-so if the tunnel is ‘one way’ traffic and you’re expected to check for oncoming boats before going through. If a boat coming the other way can’t see your light, they’ll assume the tunnel is clear and then one of you is going to have to reverse out when the two boats meet)