5 boating rules you don’t even know you’re breaking

Peggy steering smallI’ve been a narrowboat owner for 13 years and I taught myself how to steer a boat. However, the self-taught method is certainly not without accidents, and in my early days on the Cut my hull suffered one or two knocks and bumps from various bridge holes, lock sides and lock gates.


I was a carefree twenty-something back then without the responsibility of passengers on board. If you do carry passengers, either professionally or for leisure it’s your responsibility to make sure that all on board know how to stay safe.

When you’ve been boating for a while it’s tempting to break some of the original basic safety rules that you thought you knew. How many of these guidelines can you admit to breaking?

The Rules

Rule 1: Don’t cruise in the dark or in poor visibility

Imagine steering a heavy vessel with a lengthy stopping distance when you suddenly notice another boat or other obstacle is in your path, and it’s too late to stop in time. Cruising is best done in good visibility. Plan cruises using the lock miles system so that you are able to moor up before dark if possible. Schedule some spare time into your journey for unpredictable eventualities!

Rule 2: Crew should step ashore not jump ashore

When you’ve been boating a while it’s very tempting to do this, rather than wait until the boat draws slowly closer to the bank. However, it can be a common cause of trips and falls.

Rule 3: Wear non-slip deck shoes

This is one that’s easily overlooked by holiday makers and liveaboards alike. It’s tempting to neglect this simple rule, but you may be glad of it on a slippery gunwale some day!

Rule 4: Don’t fend off with an arm or a leg

You’re entering a lock or mooring up on the towpath and you see the angle of approach is a little wrong. What harm is there in fending off with an arm or a leg? It’s difficult to judge the weight and speed of a steel narrowboat and injuries caused by this kind of misjudgement can include a broken arm or a broken ankle.

Rule 5: Don’t run beside a lock

I am ashamed to admit that I have done this. It’s a ridiculous mistake to make. Surfaces can be wet and slippery, and bollards and ropes can be tripped over. Locks can be deep, undercurrents can be strong and spinning propellers can maim or kill. I always tell my children to never run beside a lock. Are you guilty of giving good advice to kids and young people, which you occasionally ignore yourself?

There are many rules to remember when working a lock, and they are all incredibly important as one false move could result in an injured person or a sinking boat.


If your passengers are new to boating make sure everyone is clear about their role on board, then you will all benefit from working as a team. Steering the boat, operating the engine, mooring safely and navigating the locks all require a basic level of experience in order to cruise safely. Even passengers who aren’t involved in working the boat should be made aware of the basic safety rules.

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.

I admit that I’ve broken all five of these rules. Now go on, ‘fess up. What rules have you broken?!


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

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