A Guide to Narrowboat Etiquette: Making the Most of Your Fox Narrowboats Experience

cruising on fox narrowboat fens river

Ah, the quieter waterways of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, where narrowboats glide gracefully along wide picturesque rivers, under big skies, offering a unique way to explore the county’s hidden gems. Whether you’re a seasoned skipper or a first-time boater, mastering the art of narrowboat etiquette will ensure a smooth and enjoyable cruise. From sharing the space, to respecting the environment, there are a few written and unwritten rules that ensure harmony on the water. Here at Fox Narrowboats we have qualified instructors that will give you full training during the boat handover, but in the meantime these tips and insights will help you to navigate the Fenland waterways with confidence and courtesy. So, grab a windlass, mind your manners, and let’s embark on a voyage of discovery!

  1. Share the Space: When passing other canal boats in the Fens, slow down, smile, nod and wave, and keep your distance. Stay on the right side of the waterway unless there’s a sign saying otherwise.
  2. Beep the Horn: In narrow stretches of the waterways, especially around blind corners, and at bridges, you can give a brief toot on your horn as a precaution, alerting any approaching boats from the opposite direction. Despite the slower pace, narrowboats can still get into accidents if you’re not careful. If you need to do an “emergency stop” it takes ages – as if in slow motion! Put the engine into reverse if you need to stop suddenly.
  3. Easy Does It: Keep your speed down to under four miles per hour; more like walking pace. It’s enjoyable to travel slowly and take in the sights, but it’s also expected, as it causes less disturbance to other users of the waterways. Travelling too fast produces a breaking wash that can disturb moored boats and birds’ nests, and wear away the riverbank. It’s good etiquette to pass moored boats at tickover.
  4. Teamwork at Locks: When you arrive at a lock, offer a hand to anyone already using it. Wait your turn, be patient, and make sure you leave the lock ready for the next boaters. This means wind down the paddles and close the gates behind you, unless you can see another boat approaching: Then you can leave the gates open for them to easily enter the lock. Locks can be a social place where you get to chat to other boaters and find out where they’ve been and where they’re headed. If the lock is wide enough for two boats, it’s good etiquette to save water by sharing the lock with another boat that is going in the same direction as you. Wasting water can lead to low water levels, which may even ground boats.

Don’t moor overnight on the bollards at a lock; these are just for those waiting to use the lock. Use the mooring pins provided with the boat, or a designated visitor mooring. You don’t need to learn any fancy mooring knots, we’ll teach you an easy one!

  1. Keep It Quiet: Keep the tunes and your voices down low, especially after dark. Remember, sound travels over water, so keep things peaceful for everyone nearby. Some boats are homes and families could be sleeping. The waterways are known for their serenity!
  2. Trash Talk: Put your domestic rubbish in the designated bins at the proper canal-side disposal points. You shouldn’t need to empty the toilet tank, this will be done at our boatyard, or you can use a facility with an appropriate sewage disposal point, and never into the canal or river. Using recycling facilities helps the environment. If you leave bags of food waste on deck overnight the local wildlife may think you are offering them a free buffet!

These six canal etiquette tips can keep you and your crew safe and stop you from making some simple mistakes on your first narrowboat holiday. But before you arrive at our marina, you could also check out these basic boating tips on our blog. Do You Make These Three Boating Mistakes?

Feeling ready to take the plunge? Choose the boat that suits the size of your crew here: Fox holiday fleet.

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