Waterway jargon buster
Chances are you'll hear utterings of some strange words if you spend long enough on the towpath, but what do they mean? Our 200 year old network has its own language developed over the years. Our glossary of waterway terms is here to help.
Aqueduct: noun. A man made structure to carry the canal over an obstacle or water course.
Arm: noun. A short length of canal directly off the main canal.
Bank protection: noun. Measures to prevent bank erosion from water washing the canal bank. Various materials are used to stop this including, masonry walling, concrete filled bags, propagation of vegetation, metal sheet piling, stone or rubble.
Beam: noun. Width of a narrowboat, determined by its widest cross section.
Breach: noun. An escape of water from the canal through the failure of an embankment, wall or pipe beneath the canal.
Butty: noun. Short for butty-boat. An unpowered freight narrowboat towed behind a narrowboat with an engine.
Cut: noun. Boaters' term for canals because they were literally cut out of the land.
Cutting: noun. Where the canal has been dug out of, or through a hill, or higher land, there will be a cutting slope or wall rising above canal level.
Dewater: verb. To remove water from a section of canal to allow repairs or maintenance of the channel, embankment or cutting.
Dingle: noun. A tree-lined hollow through which a canal proceeds.
Embankment: noun. The canal has been built above surrounding land. An embankment supports the canal side.
Embankment foot/toe: noun. The point at which the embankment slope surface meets the natural ground level of the surrounding land.
Feeder channel: noun. A man-made channel or natural watercourse to bring water to the canal from a nearby natural water source.
Gongoozler: noun. A person who enjoys watching activities on the canal, particularly at locks.
Junction: noun. The point at which two canals, or a canal and a river, meet.
Lay-by: noun. A widening of the navigation.
To leg (legging): verb. The act of propelling a narrowboat through a tunnel (without a towpath) by lying on the vessel and 'walking' along the roof of the tunnel.
Lengthsman: noun. A person employed to maintain a section of the canal, especially the water levels.
Lock (flight of locks): noun. A gated chamber that allows the canal to change levels. The term flight refers to a number of locks in proximity to each other.
Linear: adjective. Adjacent to one of the banks of the navigation.
Marina: noun. A mooring site which is separate from the main waterway track. Usually has ancillary facilities.
Mooring: noun. Please see our Moorings FAQ page.
Narrows: noun. A short length of canal with width room for only one narrowboat.
Navvies: noun. Short for navigators - the workforce that built our canals in the 1700s.
Offline: adjective. An area of water space adjacent and connected to the navigation. May be purpose built, a natural lake or backwater.
Offside: adjective. The opposite side to the towpath.
Piling: noun. A watertight canal wall, historically formed of timber and now commonly made with vertical sheets of steel, plastic or concrete, although timber is still also used.
Pound: noun. The stretch of water between two canal locks.
Puddle/Puddling: noun. A clay and water mixture used to line and seal the canal bed and sides.
Sluice: noun. An adjustable door/gate which enables water flow to be controlled.
Stank: noun. A dam, usually composed of puddle clay, built across a canal to isolate a drained section of the waterway.
Stilling/stillage test: noun. A test of the water-tightness of a waterspace.
Stoppage: noun. A temporary closure to the navigation, usually to allow for works to the waterway infrastructure. May involve de-watering a section.
Towpath: noun. The pathway along the bank of the navigation, originally used by horses to pull boats along, which is accessible to the public.
Turnover: noun. A bridge built across a canal to take the towpath from one side to the other.
Weir: noun. A man made structure that allows excess water to leave the canal system (overflow), while maintaining a constant operational level.
Winding: noun. Pronounced 'win-ding'; the process of turning a boat around, usually in a specified location where a canal has been widened, such as a winding hole.
Winding hole:, noun. A widening of the canal where a boat can turn around.
Last date edited: 19 November 2020