We love and care for your canals and rivers, because everyone deserves a place to escape.

Tunnels can be narrow with only room for one-way traffic, or they can be wide enough for two boats to pass. Check for instructions, entry times or traffic lights at the tunnel entrance.

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.

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.

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

Canoes and other small unpowered boats

For your own safety, you should think very carefully before deciding to navigate through a tunnel.  These are our criteria for permitting canoes and other small unpowered boats to pass through a tunnel:

  • The tunnel is less than 400 metres long, and there are good sight lines through the tunnel
  • If the tunnel is between 400 and 650 metres long, and there are good site lines, AND a single way traffic system is in place. 
  • We don’t allow passage through other tunnels unless it’s part of a managed event which we have given permission for.
  • Exceptions may be made on the basis of local risk assessments taking account of factors such as potential smoke and fumes, existence of towpath/grab chains etc.

Download a list of tunnels open to small unpowered boats.  

Stay safe in your canoe

  • Make sure your craft is suitable for the waterway you are using and that you are competent to use it.
  • Larger craft need deeper water and room to manoeuvre, so keep to the side of the channel in a place where the helmsman can see you.
  • In tunnels, you must use a forward facing bright light (such as a head torch).  Travel through in groups of at least three.
  • You must wear a personal flotation device with attached whistle, and be water confident.
  • Locks, weirs and sluices require great care. Don’t stay on board your craft in a filling or emptying lock – carry it around or if it’s too heavy, use lines to keep control.


Last date edited: 17 August 2015