Meeting oncoming “traffic”

Just when you’ve got the hang of steering a boat for the first time, you can bet your life that you will turn a corner and see some oncoming “traffic” heading your way. It can be alarming, so here’s what you need to know.

The canals around Market Harborough are very shallow: they would only reach your waist if you were to stand in the deepest point. That deepest point is almost always in the middle of the waterway, with the edges sometimes only being a few inches deep.

During most of your cruising time we advise you to steer in this deepest channel but of course all this changes when you see another boat coming towards you. Here is our advice on passing such oncoming traffic.


1. Slow down using reverse gear if necessary, but don’t slam the throttle forward to back, instead pausing briefly in neutral first.

2. Don’t stay in neutral or turn off the engine. You will lose all steering if you do so.

3. Move over to the right (starboard side) so that your left side passes the other boat’s left side. It’s the opposite to driving on a road.

4. As you pass, the boats will gently pull towards each other so keep control of your tiller to correct this.

5. If you need more control to get out of a tricky situation, briefly increase your speed up to a maximum of 3 or 4 mph.



Like all rules, you will sometimes want to ignore them, and that’s okay.

1. It’s okay to pass on the wrong side if one boat has got themselves in a pickle, postition-wise.

2. It’s okay to reverse back a short way to a wider point on the canal. In fact, this is a very good idea if you can see the edges of the canal are shallow or there’s an abundance of reeds.

3. It’s okay to hang back and wave someone through if you are already at a wide point but can see that the canal narrows ahead. Or if you are feeling a bit scared.



We are delighted that more and more narrowboat novices are enjoying the canals around Market Harborough. We are putting together a series of Beginner Guides to help you prepare for your holiday and find a few solutions to common problems en route.

It is also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the Canal and River Trust’s Boaters’ Handbook before you arrive.

We offer all kinds of narrowboats, from Day Boats to Boutique Narrowboats and boats suitable for families. All our hires involve full training and we welcome complete beginners.