For most people, the chance to enjoy the countryside and its flora and fauna in a peaceful and intimate way that’s one of the great appeals of boating on the canals and rivers. We’re all responsible for protecting this precious environment, and as someone in charge of a boat, there’s a lot you can do to help us.
Creating waves causes expensive damage to the waterway. Regardless of speed, if the boat is making waves or the wash is hitting the bank, you should slow down. The speed limit is four miles per hour on almost all waterways.
There are variations, particularly for rivers, which are locally signed. In shallow water, increasing the throttle won’t do much to increase speed but it will cost you a lot more in fuel consumption.
Please don’t allow anything into the waterway except unpolluted surface water that drains naturally or water from sinks or showers, washing machines and dishwashers. We ask that you use phosphate-free detergents, particularly in washing machines and dish washers as these are much kinder to the waterway’s ecology.
Look after your engine properly to avoid the risk of any seepage of oil into the water around the boat. Just one litre of oil will contaminate over one million litres of water. Oxygen levels fall and can be fatal to fish and other aquatic wildlife.
Your boat safety examiner will check the potential of your boat to cause pollution, but this happens only every four years. In the meantime, you’re responsible for ensuring that the boat is maintained and used in a way that avoids leakage of contaminants into the water.
Don’t pump oily water from your bilge into the waterway. Well-maintained engines shouldn’t leak oil. Check the drip tray under the engine and gearbox regularly. If it starts getting oily, find and mend the leak. Ideally use biodegradable oils. Avoid spilling petrol and diesel. If you do, mop it up – don’t use detergents.
The toilets on your boat mustn’t discharge sewage into the waterway. There are pump-out facilities for chemical or closed toilet systems at marinas and sanitary stations. Use the minimum amount of chemicals to avoid upsetting the sewage treatment system. If you have a closed toilet system, you may not need to use chemicals at all – so check your manual.
The wastewater from sinks, showers, washing machines and dishwashers is allowed to flow straight into the waterway. It can be very damaging to sensitive aquatic life. Most washing detergents contain phosphates which encourage rapid algal growth and eventual oxygen depletion when the algae die.
This can cause fish and other aquatic life to suffocate. On top of this, the degreasers found in washing up liquids and soaps strip the natural oils from fish gills making it difficult for them to breathe. So to help keep the water as healthy as possible, put your cooking waste in the bin, and use phosphate-free detergents.
Please don’t throw any waste overboard – even apple cores take a long time to rot. Litter can kill wildlife, and it can cause problems for other boaters by getting tangled in their propellers. There are plenty of waste disposal points at marinas and along the waterway.
When you go too fast, your waves can damage banks and sensitive plants. If you see your wash hitting the bank, please slow down. Cut your speed and keep your distance when passing nesting water birds too.
The side of the channel opposite the towpath is often especially rich in wildlife, so take special care not to disturb plants or animals there. Don’t moor on this side unless there are proper mooring facilities.
Invasive (alien) species are a threat to biodiversity. Many thrive in our waterways and are spread on boat hulls and propellers, in bilges or engine cooling systems.
Avoid spreading invasive species by thoroughly scrubbing your waterline regularly as well as other possibly contaminated items such as anchors. Remove any visible plant, fish, animal matter and mud and put it in the bin.
Report any pollution or fly-tipping to the Environment Agency incident hotline on 0800 80 70 60 (freephone 24 hours).
The Green Blue, a joint venture by the British Marine Federation and Royal Yachting Association, provides practical advice and information on how to maintain, equip and operate your boat in an environmentally friendly manner.
Last date edited: 9 July 2015