The charity making life better by water

Boating through tunnels

If it’s a one-way tunnel, make sure there’s no boat inside. If you have to wait your turn, stay well clear of the entrance.

Switch on your headlight and some interior lights. Some stern lighting will help a following boat to see you, but if it's a single bright spot or rear navigation light, it might be confused with a headlight by the helmsman of a following boat.

Tunnel light correct position:

Tunnel light correct position

Tunnel light dazzle:

Tunnel light dazzle

It can be damp in there, so put on your waterproofs and have a waterproof torch to hand.

As you go in, sound one long blast on your horn. Now steer by looking at one side of the tunnel only and keep to a moderate speed. Move the tiller or wheel as little as possible – it's a common illusion to feel the boat's being pulled to the side. Watch out for the changing profile, though – tunnels are rarely straight.

Keep at least two minutes (at normal cruising speed) or about 500ft (160m) away from any boat in front of you. If it's two-way traffic, keep a look-out for oncoming boats and pass slowly on the right.

Standedge Tunnel

Special tunnel safety tips

  • Keep your crew and passengers inside the profile of the boat in tunnels and aqueducts
  • Make sure you have enough fuel to get you through
  • If you break down in a tunnel, switch off the engine
  • Don't smoke or use cookers and heaters. Turn off the gas except pilot lights
  • Help the captain by stopping inside lights from shining on the back of the boat
  • Wear a lifejacket, especially if you are boating single handed.

Canoes and other small unpowered boats

Some of our tunnels allow canoes and other unpowered craft to paddle through them. But please stay safe and follow our guidance on how to paddling through tunnels:

  • See which tunnels canoes can go through on the canoeing through tunnels page
  • Make sure your craft is suitable for the waterway you're on and that you are competent to use it
  • Always check before paddling through a tunnel. There may be an oncoming narrowboat
  • Larger craft need deeper water and room to manoeuvre, so keep to the side of the channel other craft can see you
  • You must carry a light (such as a head torch) and whistle to warn other craft that you're there
  • Where possible, travel through in groups
  • Please check for local restrictions because of potential smoke and fumes or a towpath or grab chains are in use

We don't allow passage through other tunnels unless it's part of a managed event which we have given permission for.

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Last Edited: 28 March 2023

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