How to Plan Canal Boat Trips (What You Need to Know)
Canal boating is the most fun you can have at the slowest speed possible! No other form of boating moves this slowly. You could walk quicker! But that's the point. The passage is slow, sedate, and beguiling. It hypnotizes as you slip quietly between green and pleasant lands. But relaxing canal boat trips need a carefully crafted plan.
Forward Planning: The Key Things to Do Ahead of TimeHere's what you need for the perfect canal boat trip:
Decide on the Canal You Want to TravelWhether it's the country where you live or a country you're visiting, there are fabulous canals across the world. New York has 524 miles of waterways between Albany and Buffalo (go on, admit that you're surprised to hear that). Amsterdam is famous for its canals, and Germany has unspoiled waterways running through Brandenberg. The UK has 2000 miles to explore, and France has some of the most beautiful waterways waiting to be discovered. Because I'm UK based, I thought I'd focus on the network here.
Use a Guide BookIn the UK, there are two main guides widely used by canal boat enthusiasts:
Using the InternetThe internet offers the most in-depth and updated information. You can find boating apps for almost anything, and canal boat travel is no exception. It's instant! Some websites and apps act like sat-navs, plotting your progress along canal maps. All modern 21st-century for a mode of transport steeped in tradition and history. I do not doubt as the younger generation discover canal boating, the internet will become the norm (ah, the marching boots of progress). Using the internet, however, somehow lacks a guidebook's charm. I can hear you all scream at your computers that I'm living in the past, but a canal boat trip is meant to connect with the history and atmosphere of the ancient canal network. Try and remember that you're traveling along canals that were dug by hand, in some cases, two, or three hundred years ago. Staring at a phone screen, as in other walks of life, diverts our attention away from the beauty around us. Plus, it relies on good cell service at all times (often unreliable in remote countrysides). Because canal boating is a traditional form of transport, I prefer physical guidebooks as they fit the old-fashioned style of travel. The only website I fully-endorse is the Canal and River Trust. As the charity who runs the canal system, they provide updates on network stoppages.
Boat SafetyNever leave the safety on the waters to chance, even when traveling at four miles an hour. Canal boat travel lulls you into thinking danger doesn't exist at such a leisurely pace, but accidents happen in the most unexpected places. Locks are extremely dangerous, especially with the strong flow of water entering the lock chamber. And remember, canal boats can weigh between 15 and 35 tons, so you'll want to avoid falling overboard while in a lock. Embarking and disembarking the vessel is also dangerous. And more so in wet weather or in at night. Keep a bright torch handy to light your way. It's also a good idea to keep a boat emergency kit. Some basic items should include a well-stocked first aid kit (Check Price on Amazon), along with life jackets and a water ring (especially if you're traveling on tidal rivers). Lastly, always keep up-to-date charts and always keep your cell phone charged. It could be a lifesaver. So, now you've decided where you want to go, there are some basic housekeeping rules to follow:
An Essential Step: Engine ChecksConducting engine checks before you set off is vital for a hassle-free canal boat trip journey.
- Check for correct coolant levels
- Make sure the alternator belts are tensioned correctly
- Check for sufficient oil levels
- Tighten hose connectors if necessary
- Let the engine warm up before setting off
Some Basic Tools You'll Need
- Windlass (Check Price on Amazon) An L-shaped tool with a square bracket at the end to wind the lock paddle mechanism. You won't be going anywhere without it. The design is so simple it's perfect, and as locks, and most swing bridges are manually operated, the windlass is a must.
- British Waterways Key This is a universal key that gives you access to waste facilities, electric swing bridges, and water points.
- Mooring pins and mallet Not all canal banks make it easy to moor. So having mooring pins is essential, especially if you're in the middle of nowhere, looking for a mooring.