Water safety during flooding

We manage the water levels on our canals all year round. After a lot of rain, the canals sometimes can’t contain the amount of water even with our management. The message is - if the towpath has flooded, please find another route.

Flooded London towpath


Rain and puddles often come hand in hand with life in Britain. When we have funding to make towpath improvements along certain stretches, we  make sure the new surfaces are weather proof so you can enjoy the towpaths all year. 

It’s rare for our canals and towpaths to flood because we manage the water levels across our network all year. If a canal and towpath does flood, it’s usually where the canal is near a river and the river has flooded over into the canal. However, sometimes we can’t predict Mother Nature and water levels can rise even with our management of them.

Here's what to remember if there is a flood:

  • If the towpath has flooded, please find another route
  • Do not walk, run or cycle on a surface you can’t see

During a flood, the towpath edge can disappear under the rising water so it’s not clear where the towpath ends and water begins. If you have to walk along a towpath that is flooded, stick to the edge of the path furthest from the canal.

Flood waters can break up the surface of the towpath, loosening stones and even the utility cables running underneath so please tread very carefully.

The flood water is likely to be very cold and could be faster flowing than you imagine, even in a canal. Please do not get in the water for any reason.

Boat on towpath after flooding


Boaters, you are likely to be acutely aware of changes in water levels, particularly if you live on a boat! Just a reminder:

  • The first thing you can do is keep an eye on the weather - sounds simple but better to know what weather is coming, particularly if you are moored in a less urban part of a canal or river where there aren’t many people around
  • Keep up to date with information on our Canal & River Trust website about flood related closures and keep an eye on any safety messages in the Boaters Update
  • The new Strong Stream Warnings page will let you know conditions that may affect navigation in certain areas
  • Read through your Boater’s Handbook section on fast flowing water and strong stream conditions (pages 46-49)

  • Don’t cruise in strong stream conditions – tie up securely, watch for changes in water level and adjust your mooring ropes as necessary

  • Take extra care when getting on and off your boat in high water levels as the verge may be submerged
  • If you find yourself in difficulty when on your boat and can't get off, please call 999 and ask for the fire service
  • If the area where you are moored starts to flood, make sure your mooring ropes allows for movement. 

If you tie your boat too tight to a mooring that is being affected by rising flood levels the first thing that’s going to happen is the boat will tilt and the tilt will get worse (probably large quantities of broken glass and crockery in the kitchen too). If it’s tilting to the side of the boat with water outlets (sink, basin, shower etc) you run the risk of the boat filling up with water as the flood waters rush in), same also applies to engine air vents. The outcome is inevitably sinking. Alternatively, if your ropes are in poor condition or the mooring they are affixed to is in a poor condition they can break and your boat disappear with the flow of the flood waters downstream and all the potential hazards that brings.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution are experts in flood rescue and have been a core part of the emergency response to flood affected areas in the UK since 2000, including the Cockermouth floods in 2009 and Somerset floods in 2014.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution



The RNLI Flood Rescue Team have a few top tips for staying safe near flood waters:

  • Try to avoid walking on flooded footpaths or roads, even if you know the path, there could be unseen hazards under the water like debris or potholes
  • Fast flowing water is more powerful than you think, at just ankle depth it can knock you off your feet and in high risk areas the depth of water can increase rapidly
  • River banks can be quickly eroded by flood water, washing away previously safe paths
  • If your dog jumps or falls into flood water under no circumstances attempt to rescue them by going in after them.  The best way to save them is to stand on the bank in an easy place for them to get out and call them; they will swim to you

For more information on how to stay safe near flood water please visit the Environment Agency and ROSPA websites.

Flooded towpath

Last date edited: 29 November 2017