Water safety during flooding

Here's our safety advice for walkers and boaters on what to do or think about if your local canal or river has flooded.

Royal National Lifeboat Institution

The following tips have been put together with advice from RNLI Flood Rescue Team.


Walking or cycling on flooded towpaths

It’s rare for our canals and towpaths to flood because we manage the water levels 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, water levels can rise so here's what to remember if there is a flood:

  • Before you set off on your journey, check our stoppages section for closure updates on your local canal or river
  • If the towpath has flooded, please find another route
  • Don't walk, run or cycle on a surface you can’t see
  • If you must walk along a towpath that's flooded, stick to the edge of the path furthest from the canal
  • Flood water can break up the surface of the towpath, loosening stones and surfaces so please tread very carefully
  • 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
  • If your dog jumps or falls into flood water do not 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.
  • 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.

Boating on flooded waterways

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

  • Keep an eye on the weather, particularly if you're moored in a rural part of a canal or river 
  • Check our stoppages section for flood related closures and keep an eye on any safety messages in our Boaters Update
  • Sign up to get alerts emailed to you from our stoppages section
  • Our Strong Stream Warnings page will let you know conditions that may affect navigation in certain areas
  • Don’t cruise in strong stream conditions. Tie up securely, watch for changes in water level and adjust your mooring ropes as necessary
  • Read through your Boater’s Handbook section on fast flowing water and strong stream conditions (pages 46-49)
  • Take extra care when getting on and off your boat as the verge may be submerged
  • If you find yourself in difficulty and can't get off your boat, please call 999 and ask for the fire service
  • If the area where you're moored starts to flood, make sure your mooring ropes allows for movement 

If you tie your boat too tight to a mooring that's affected by rising levels the first thing that’s going to happen is the boat will tilt. 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.

If your ropes are in poor condition or the mooring they are fixed to is in a poor condition they can break and your boat can disappear with the flow of the flood waters downstream and all the potential hazards that brings.

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

Last date edited: 19 January 2021