Canal Cruising Guide

Casting Off

When moored, the boat is held by a rope (or 'line') at each end. The ropes are tied either to mooring spikes, which are hammered into the ground, to bollards set into the canal bank, or to special hooks - known as "safety pins" because that's what they look like - that hook round the pilings (metal reinforced sides) at the edge of the canal.

Casting off requires two people, one for each end of the boat. The first thing each person does is remove the mooring spike or safety pin (if present) and get to a position where they are holding the boat into the bank using the line.

The captain will then ask one of the people holding a line to put that line on board and get onto the boat. The remaining person will then usually be asked to put their line on board and then push their end of the boat away from the bank before getting on. BEWARE - if you are pushing the boat out don't push it out too far before trying to get on or you could get rather wet!

Mooring Up

When the time comes to moor up, the pilot will blow his or her whistle twice to indicate that a mooring crew is needed ("Whistle Two - Mooring Crew"). A mooring party consists of two people - one for each line.

When the pilot brings the boat into the bank the two people will get off the boat, usually at the front, taking the front line with them. One will walk to the back of the boat to take the back line that the pilot will throw to them. It is important to always listen to the captain. If you are on a line, you should only pull the rope when the captain asks you to - the boat may need to be moved before being pulled into the bank and once it's in and stuck on the mud it's often difficult to get out again.

Once in position, the lines must be secured. If there are bollards, or rings, use those. Otherwise, if the bank has pilings, use the safety pins. If neither of those is possible, use mooring spikes. These are hammered in, in front and behind the boat, and the lines tied to them. The spikes should be hammered in at an angle with their heads facing away from the boat and should be positioned on the canal side of the towpath, so that the lines do not cross the towpath. Then brightly-coloured mooring spike covers are placed over the mooring spikes, so people don't trip over them.

If the edge of the canal is shallow it may not be possible to pull it in all the way to the bank. In this case a plank is used to get between the bank and the boat.


There are two knots you will need to know for safely mooring a boat. The first is the round turn and two half hitches, which is used for tying boats to bollards or mooring spikes. The second is the cleat hitch, which is used for tying a line to a cleat, such as the one on the front of each boat. You will use this for rings or safety pins, where the rope passes through and then gets tied up back on the boat. Those two links lead to animated demonstrations of each knot. Why not try them at home?

Next: Locks.