Going with the flow

Let’s help keep our canals flowing by being careful not to waste water while boating.

Save Water in Locks infographic Save Water Infographic

Competing demands for water or a lack of water have dogged the canals from the very beginning of the canal age. One early canal commentator wrote, “Most canals are distressed for want of water, because either they are above the springs, or they are not permitted to derive a supply from mill streams.” 

Whether it was millers arguing with the proprietors of the canals over routes and water back in the 18th and 19th centuries, the lawyers who drafted the Canal Bylaws regarding the operation of locks, or the engineers who developed ingenious water saving side-ponds, everyone associated with the canal and river network has been concerned to avoid a lack of water in the cut.

Just add water

From the earliest days of the canal age, the number of boats using the canal increased beyond what had initially been envisaged by many of the canal’s engineers. This required improvements to be made to cope with demand, until commercial traffic reached its terminal decline after the Second World War.

Examples of water supply improvements include the building of more reservoirs to cope with traffic over the Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal and the installation of back-pumping at lock flights during the drought of 1934. 

A precious resource

With more boats on the network than during the height of the industrial revolution, all boaters need to work together to save water.

You might already be aware of the THRIFT code, which sets out some simple steps that boaters should follow for everyone’s benefit.


  • Two in a lock? Share locks
  • Help keep it in. Make sure gates and paddles are shut
  • Report any leaks to us
  • Invite oncoming boats through. Don’t empty or fill locks if someone else can make use of the water
  • Find another favourite. Explore less busy parts of our network
  • Think ahead. Plan cruises to minimise use of locks

The THRIFT code is now in place across our entire network of canals and rivers. Let’s keep our canals flowing for everyone to enjoy.

To find out more about how we manage our water and the status of our reservoirs, visit our dedicated water management pages.

Last date edited: 28 January 2021

About this blog

The boating team blog

Our boating team bring you news of their work across our network, as well as the stories of boaters they meet

See more blogs from this author