Skip to main content

The charity making life better by water

Speed limits and etiquette

Boating is supposed to be one of the fastest ways to slow down, relax and unwind. Sadly, some people cause problems for other boaters and wildlife by speeding.

Explore the rural Oxford Canal

What's the speed limit?

On our network the speed limit on most canals is 4 miles per hour and on most rivers it's a bit higher at 6 miles per hour, but speed isn't the only factor you need to consider. It's highly unlikely that you would ever pass moored craft at the maximum speed limit.

To judge if you are doing an appropriate speed you need to check your 'wash', which is the waves your boat is creating as it moves through the water. How much wash you're creating will be a combination of water depth, the shape of your boat and the waterway's banks.

A hard-edged bank that's been piled will reflect your wash much more than a soft edge with reeds. Higher speeds in shallow water will create more wash and will drag the propeller closer to the bottom, increasing the chance of fouling.

Short and wide boats will create more wash than long and narrow. The shape of the swim on a boat can affect how much wash is created. Some boats are capable of higher speeds with less wash purely because of their hull design. The smaller the 'scend', the slower you need to go.

Mind your wash

You should never travel with a breaking wash, as this can erode the banks and also harm wildlife. Every year we get complaints about water fowl nests, eggs and very young chicks being destroyed by speeding boats.

When approaching moored boats, slow down and check your wash. You should aim to pass the moored boats with the minimum of water disturbance.

Check your wash some distance away from the moored craft and throttle back in good time. Some people like to pass at tick over and some find they might have to briefly put the boat into neutral, but whatever you do, make sure it's gentle and that you have some steerage.

Moor up properly

The flip side of passing moored boats gently is making sure that your boat is not going to bounce around or come adrift if you are moored up.

Using spring lines can really help reduce the amount the boat will move when another boat goes past. Take care if using mooring pins in soft ground, as they can easily be pulled out. Some people recommend double pinning or using ground anchors. Others are advocates of mud-weights, especially on rivers.

Cruising past moored boats Leicester Line Grand Union

Speeding past moored boats

The subject is debated endlessly among boaters. Should boats moor up properly or should boats slow down when cruising past moored boats?

The simple answer is both: moor up properly and travel gently past moored craft. You can read more about how to do this in our Boater's Handbook.

Cruising speed

We're not saying that everyone should travel everywhere at tick over while cruising. Just cruise at an appropriate speed for the conditions and with consideration for other canal users.

If you're the type who likes to dawdle, do keep an eye out behind you for those who like to motor a bit more quickly and let them overtake in a safe spot.

It's also not a good idea to dawdle through tunnels. Keep a steady speed going to make it easier to steer and you'll be out in the fresh air before you know it.

Last Edited: 12 October 2022

photo of a location on the canals
newsletter logo

Stay connected

Sign up to our monthly newsletter and be the first to hear about campaigns, upcoming events and fundraising inspiration