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Online tools and advice for planning a canal boat trip

Whether you’re an experienced liveaboard boater or a new leisure boater, we’ve put together these handy tips and resources to help you plan your next canal boat trip.

Canal boat approaching a bridge near Hungerford

The anticipation and planning can be half the fun of a trip and there are lots of things to consider before you set off.

The resources we've added below are all online. However, it's wise to take a good quality printed map with you when you travel. There are many places on our network where you can't get a strong mobile phone signal, so don't rely solely on internet resources unless you've downloaded them beforehand.

Pearson's maps and guides and Collins Nicholson Waterways Guides are both very well-known and well-respected printed reference sources for boaters, and there are other guides available too.

Where can your boat go?

Each of our waterways has specific boat size restrictions, because of the way the locks, bridges, aqueducts and tunnels were originally built more than 200 years ago. There might also be planned or emergency maintenance work happening in an area, affecting boat traffic. If you're cruising through a busy area, remember to shuffle up and share the space so everyone can enjoy their holiday.

Always check your route well in advance, bearing in mind the specific dates that you're travelling, and then check it again before you leave in case anything has changed.

Our information on planning your boat trip should be your first port of call. You'll find links to waterway dimensions, warnings about water levels and strong conditions, and our all-important stoppages page that lists canal and towpath closures.

Family sitting on a lock gate watching canal boats

How long have you got?

Choosing the right route for you depends on whether you have a few days or a few weeks, and also on how much you want to travel each day.

Some people prefer to cover a shorter distance and have the opportunity to stop more often to explore the local area. Whereas others prefer to keep moving and make the most of their time on the water.

Thinking about what you want from this specific trip and what your chosen area is like will help you plan accordingly. Do you want to see a local attraction? Do you want to spend more time with your loved ones? Do you want to work on your wildlife photography skills?

Who's in your crew?

If you or anyone you're travelling with has a mobility issue then you might be looking for a route that isn't physically challenging. Consider our top lock-free cruising locations.

You might also want to consider how easy it will be to get around when you're off your boat. Our towpath accessibility map shows where towpaths have gradients, steps, gates, restricted widths and access points to the water.

Moored boats at Little Venice on the Regent's Canal

Route planners

There are a variety of free online route planners to help you plot the technical details of your journey, such as how far you're travelling and how many locks you'll need to navigate. They can also estimate how much time each section of the route will take you, or tell you how far to boat each day in order to reach your finish point by a certain date.

Some of these route planners include directories of nearby marinas, pubs, restaurants and other amenities and activities.

See your route in advance

There are lots of ways to see what it will be like on your chosen route before you commit to going there. Searching for online videos and blogs is a great place to start. However, you could also ask people from the boating community directly, either by striking up conversation in person at a lock or marina, or by joining an online forum.

You might get some useful tips about good mooring points or places to see. And when you've finished your trip, don't forget to pass on your new-found knowledge to others too.

Last Edited: 23 May 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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