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Double mooring etiquette

Here are some top tips for considerate double mooring.

Cruising past moored boats Leicester Line Grand Union

Some areas of our canal and river network are very popular and can get congested.

This is particularly true at major boating destinations during the summer holidays such as the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. However, in other places, particularly in central London and the western end of the Kennet & Avon Canal it can be congested all year round.

To make the most of all usable and available mooring spaces it makes sense to share the space and double up where possible, but we're increasingly being told by boaters that some people are being inconsiderate or even downright difficult about sharing that space.

So just what is good double mooring etiquette? Here's a few ideas to get you started.

Check local signage

Is double mooring prohibited in the location where you want to moor? If there are signs saying no double mooring please don't do it. The signs wouldn't be there if there wasn't a good reason not to double moor.

Double mooring means no more than double

Two narrowboats moored abreast, no more than that. Triple mooring is generally a big 'no' as it blocks the room available for safe navigation by reducing passing room and blocking sight lines.

Also a big 'no' is a widebeam plus narrowboat combination which is in reality triple mooring. Most canals aren't that wide and the main navigation channel tends to be slightly closer to the towpath than the absolute middle. Pushing passing boats out onto the offside increases the risk of boats running aground.

Inside or outside

Who has priority to be moored on the inside? Boaters with mobility issues or who have small children and need to get pushchairs or buggies on and off the boat or boaters with dogs that need to access the bank easily to do their business ashore instead onboard should be moored on the inside.

If none of the above apply then the boater leaving the mooring site last should be moored on the inside to make it easier for the one leaving first to depart.

Finally, if the boats are different lengths you need to work out if access for both parties is safer with either the longer or the shorter boat on the inside.

Bank not boat

Tie to the bank not the boat. Use your own pins or tie to rings or bollards if available but never tie up with your centre line and try not to tie yourself to the inside boat. You are both less likely to come adrift if you are properly secured independently.

Also in the event of an emergency such as flood, fire or sinking it's much easier to move boats to safety if they aren't all tied together into one large raft.

Smoke & fumes

When mooring up consider where your engine and/or generator exhausts are positioned relative to the other boats as you don't want to fill them up with toxic fumes. Be very careful also about fumes from your solid fuel stove entering other boats.

Use your stove wisely and efficiently. Every year boaters die or become seriously ill as a result of carbon-monoxide poisoning.

Privacy matters

Boaters are generally an open, friendly and welcoming community but most people also like a bit of privacy.

Double moored you are going to be window to window and maybe there's some things that we don't necessarily want to see.

Some people feel it's good manners to close curtains on the side facing the other boat and if it's not sweltering hot to also close windows too to reduce noise.

Sun shines on the canal with boats moored on both sides leading to a tunnel

Double vs triple mooring

It's a big issue in central London as the number of boats has increased so dramatically. Also adding possibly to congestion on towpath moorings where it is possible to double up is the enormous popularity of large wide beam craft for cruising in recent years.

Not every wide beam craft is the width of two narrowboats together. The most popular width (or beam) is around 10 to 12 foot (3m – 3.6m) so a wide beam craft moored on a narrowboat would only extend an extra 4 or 5 foot out in the navigation. So is double mooring of a wide beam with a narrowboat ever acceptable?

Complaints about obstruction

Our waterway teams receive complaints every week regarding moored boats obstructing the safe navigation of other vessels - the main cause being triple mooring of narrow beam craft, wide beams on narrowboats and boats moored too close to bridge holes and on lock landings, especially in London.

Having more than 14 feet (4.3m or two narrowboats) worth of boats (in width) moored side by side on the towpath side of the waterway can be a real nuisance to other boaters. It impacts on the space available for craft to pass each other.

It can also affect sightlines for safe navigation, particularly on bends in the canal and on approaching bridges, locks and tunnels. On narrow canals in many places even the double mooring of narrowboats can be problematic due to the width of the canal.

Mooring appropriate to canal design

In terms of the waterways' history and design, canals were built for navigation and boats rarely tied up anywhere other than docks and wharfs to load and unload.

Broad canals such as the Regents Canal & River Lee Navigation were designed so that two pairs of narrowboats or single wide beam craft could pass each other unimpeded.

The actual shape of the canal is usually a dish shape with the edges being significantly shallower than the central channel. The main channel of deeper water is normally slightly closer to the towpath side bank. This is why it's important not to have too many boats moored up on the towpath side extending out into the deeper water.

On canals such as the Grand Union above Berkhamsted which were originally designed as narrow beam, the main navigable channel is significantly smaller so that pairs of narrowboats would run with the motor boat towing the butty behind it otherwise they would run aground passing another pair, for instance on the Tring Summit.

What do we do about badly moored boats?

We have options as to how we may deal with boats that are doubled tripled up and causing an obstruction or danger. These include:

As you can imagine with so many badly moored craft the resource implications for us to move every boat causing an obstruction every day in accordance with section 8(5) would be enormous and would have a knock on effect to the other work we can do to keep the canals open for navigation.

In addition, we would prefer to educate customers about the importance of not causing an obstruction through doubling and tripling up, as opposed to relying on its byelaws where possible. Although there may be circumstances where we will have to rely on Byelaws.

Think before you stop

We're asking boaters to be considerate and to ensure that casual towpath mooring does not extend any further out a canal than the width of two narrowboats.

There will be occasional exceptions to ‘the no doubling/tripling up rule' for properly organised boat festivals sanctioned by us and also for certain hire fleets on busy turn around days.

In these two instances we ask that other boaters navigate with care and to be patient and wait their turn to pass. There are also some moorings, such as Treaty Street on the Regents canal where we do expressly permit wide beams to moor up to a narrowboat after taking into consideration the character of the waterway and safety factors.

Are you causing an obstruction?

A simple check as to whether or not it's ok to double up if you are a wide beam boat is to use your eyes and common sense so that you don't end up with your boat's photograph on one of the popular boating Facebook groups.

Check the width, check the sightlines, check how far from any bridge, lock landing, tunnel etc. and if it looks like you could cause an obstruction, don't double moor up.

Narrowboat owners should also use their common sense and not moor on the apex of a bend, a lock landing, right up against a bridge hole, on a lock landing or service mooring either, only the use the latter two whilst locking or using the services.

Top tips from boaters

  • No triple mooring
  • Display welcome to moor alongside stickers or sign in boat window
  • Tie to pins or rings, not the inside boat
  • Look out for boaters with a need for easy shore access (dogs, disability, small children)
  • Be considerate over fumes/exhaust and noise
  • Don't step on the roof of the other boat & only walk along the gunwales of your own boat
  • Close curtains to maintain privacy
  • Make sure movement between boats is limited and make sure you use fenders to prevent damage to both boats and use a spare line/centre line to reduce movement between boats
  • Make it clear if you don't want to be double moored (but be nice about it). If you don't want to be double moored and are in a heavily congested area such as London, then do not moor in a double mooring area as boats should be double mooring to make the best use of the available space
  • Always make contact with your double moored neighbour/swop contact details and plans for moving on
  • Check local signage (is double mooring prohibited?)
  • Check boater signs on boat (dog, baby, welcome to moor alongside)
  • Plastic boat outside, steel boat inside
  • Big boat vs little boat on inside - check which is safest for both of you
  • Don't use your centre line to moor up
  • Don't move a boat that isn't yours without permission
  • Tie to the other boat in way that allows you to leave without stepping on their boat

Last Edited: 28 March 2024

photo of a location on the canals
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