How safe are your passengers from these 6 boating dangers?

Sail4Cancer Thames

NCBA Sail4Cancer trip on The Thames.

If you take passengers out on a canal boat trip you won’t want to gamble with safety. The Boaters Handbook is a useful guide which alerts skippers to these six main potential dangers on the waterways. These valuable canal boating tips should help to protect both your crew and your passengers on the waterways.

1) Falls

On a trad narrowboat make sure that your passengers stand clear of the tiller – be aware of how it can swing around! The safest place for the steerer to stand is inside the hatch. Think ahead well in advance when approaching locks and bridges and consider whether all of your passengers are sitting or standing in safe positions. Children and non-swimmers should wear a life jacket. Keep ropes tidy, especially when mooring up – they are a common cause of trips and falls.

2) Collisions

To avoid colliding with another boat in a lock take your time, and enter slowly. Stay alert and be aware of what your crew and the crew of the other boat are doing. If another boat is using the lock when you arrive, wait until they leave before entering the lock yourself.  Away from the locks, watch your speed when cruising and remain alert at all times. You may like to sound a horn before going round a blind bend.

3) Crushing

Strong water currents and wet gunwales in locks can lead to losing your footing, and a risk of crushing a limb. Watch out also for wet surfaces when using a swing bridge. Keep passengers inside the profile of the boat at tunnels and aqueducts. Don’t let anyone use their hands or feet to fend off a collision – they may be unaware of the speed, weight and momentum of a steel narrowboat!

4) Operating injuries

Ensure that anyone in your crew using a windlass knows how to do so safely. Explain that they should slot the windlass carefully onto the spindle, and maintain a firm grip as they wind the paddles. Most importantly – don’t let go! At best you may lose a windlass into the Cut, but at worst a flying windlass can cause serious injury. Make sure that fingers, hair and clothing are kept clear of the gears.

5) Fire, explosion and fumes

When approaching a tunnel, ensure your passengers and crew are not smoking. Don’t use cookers or heaters and turn off the gas except pilot lights.

6) Vandalism and aggression

In urban areas watch out for trouble-makers who enjoy pelting missiles at passing boats from the bank or from bridges. Plan your journey in advance so that you know the safer places to moor, and keep valuables out of sight, the way you would do in a car. Know your location in case you need to call for help and keep a mobile phone with you.

This list of dangers is by no means exhaustive; someone new to narrowboating should at the very least read The Boater’s Handbook and at best undertake some professional training.

Don’t gamble with safety: Protect yourself with training

Our boat handling course is designed to minimise the potential risks when carrying passengers and is available nationwide at a choice of locations. If you’d like to use your existing boating knowledge and skills to provide positive experiences for your local community check out the many different courses provided by the National Community Boating Association.

Meet the community boaters in real life: Free event in Walsall in March 2014.

About the Author:



  1. Chris William Brand 10th February 2014 at 02:26 - Reply

    Wow, this is a great blog. Safety of everyone while boating is so important that these tips are a must to consider by any boat operators and owners.

    • Narrowboat Wife 11th February 2014 at 13:27 - Reply

      Thanks Chris, glad you like it: More safety tips are coming up on the blog! 🙂

Leave A Comment