Staying safe on your narrowboat and the canal network mainly involves using your common sense and being aware of what’s going on around you. However, whether you’re new to narrowboating or an experienced cruiser, it’s always a good idea to remind yourself of how you can stay safe on the canals.

Avoid slips and trips

We all lose our balance at one point or another, but on a canal, the stakes are higher - a trip, while you’re aboard, could seriously endanger you or someone else. Of course, you can’t always avoid those clumsy moments but there are some precautions you can take to make sure you stay upright.  

Firstly, try to keep the deck as tidy as you can. The very nature of canal boating means that ropes and other items often need to be on the deck, but make sure they’re neatly stored so they don’t get caught under your feet. Even if everything is tucked away nicely, you can still slip on the deck if it gets wet so be sure to wear shoes with plenty of grip.

Secondly, it’s never a good idea to jump ashore when you’re mooring for obvious reasons. Be patient and wait until the boat is close enough to the side so you can step off and take extra care if it’s been raining or if the side is frosty.

Lastly, try to avoid walking across the side of the boat if you can, but if you need to, always make sure to use the handrail - there’s not much room, and you’re only one missed step away from getting seriously wet!

Keep safe at the locks

There’s a reason that locks are one of the most common reasons for insurance claims on the waterways. Even the most experienced boater can run into trouble at locks – especially as so many of them are different from each other.

The most important safety tip when you’re navigating a lock is to take your time. You want to open and close each lock in a slow and controlled manner, all the while keeping your eye on your vessel as you do so. This will enable the driver who’s still on board to rectify anything that starts to go wrong.

The mechanics of a lot of locks means that often when you let go of their windlass, it can suddenly spin-off very rapidly, either injuring your hand or dragging you with it and sending you flying into the canal. To reduce the risk of this, keep a soft grip of the handle..

While you should always try and keep walking down the side of the boat to a minimum, nobody should be walking down the side when you’re entering or leaving a lock. As you can imagine, doing this can turn very dangerous very quickly.

Also, watch out for any loose clothing or hair that can get caught up in the lock mechanism because that’ll hurt. A lot.

Watch out for crushing

Although the waterways don’t allow for quick cruising, never underestimate the momentum of a moving narrowboat. You definitely don’t want to be caught between your narrowboat and anything else, as it’ll have the power to crush and seriously injure you.

To avoid this, never use your hands or feet to push away from a mooring – use your barge pole to push away instead. Plus, although it can be tempting to reduce the impact of your boat with the side of the canal with your hands or feet, let your fenders take the impact because it could turn into a nasty accident otherwise!

Protect your pets 

Narrowboating is an idyllic way to see the UK, so why should your dog miss out on all the fun? You just need to make sure their safety is taken care of as much as the people on the boat.

This goes beyond just making sure that they’re tied up while they’re on the deck – if the lead is long enough to allow them to move around freely, the chances are that it’s long enough for them to fall overboard. If you’re not able to give your full attention to supervising your dog, it’s a good idea to keep them inside the boat, and always keep them inside when negotiating a lock.

Man overboard!

You can take all the precautions in the world, but things can still go wrong. If someone falls overboard, don’t panic and calmly assess the situation. If the person that’s in the water is at risk of being hit by your propeller, quickly put your engine into neutral to avoid this happening.

Next, make sure no-one jumps into the cold water after them – you’ll have two people who are in the water to save! On narrow and shallow canals or rivers, you’ll be able to throw them a rope or lifebelt and get them to try and stand up. Then steer the boat carefully to the bank and get one of your passengers to step off and help the person out of the water.

If the waterway is too deep for the person to stand, carefully and slowly (still in neutral gear) bring the boat to the side of them and get them back aboard with a rope or ladder. Then put the kettle on and get them some dry clothes – they’ll need warming up!

Finally, one of our biggest tips for protecting yourself on the waterways is to take out Specialist Narrowboat Insurance. Taking it out will give you extra reassurance that you’ll be protected if your boat gets lost, damaged or stolen or if you or someone else gets injured whilst using your narrowboat. You can never be too careful, right?