To help ensure you have a safe and enjoyable paddle on the
Scottish canals, we ask you to respect the canals as you would do
any body of water and to familiarise yourself with the following
If you are considering or planning a canoe trip on the Caledonian Canal, we highly recommend you read
the detailed safety advice available on the Great
Glen Canoe Trail website. The Caledonian Canal is deeper than
the other Scottish canals and includes Loch Ness and Loch Lochy
which are both classed as Open Water (Class C) by HM Coastguard.
This website is an excellent resource for both general information
and specific local advice for the sixty mile long waterway.
We also recommend that all paddlers visiting the Scottish canals
register with us in advance so we
can keep them up to date with information which may impact on their
trip or regular usage.
In addition to our safety advice below, you may also like to
Safety Advice for Paddlers
1. Come properly prepared
Ensure that your craft will be safe on the waterway you plan to
visit, you are competent to use it and you and any other members of
your party are, at the very least, water confident and, ideally,
able to swim. Beginners should be accompanied by a canoeist with at
least more experience than they have. You can find more detailed
local information on the Forth & Clyde Canal, the
Union Canal, the Crinan Canal and the Caledonian Canal here.
2. Ensure that all members of your party wear a life
jacket or buoyancy aid
If necessary, please seek professional advice regarding which
will be appropriate for your skill level and requirements.
3. Remember, the canal depth varies
The channel can change from relatively shallow water, where you
may be able to stand up, to very deep water.
4. Remember, canal water is not static
Changes to the weather, boat movements and the operation of the
locks on the canal cause the water depth to change and creates
currents below the surface which can vary in strength in different
5. Take great care when choosing safe points to enter and
leave the canal
The canal edge, for example, may be deceptive with planting at
the edge and soft mud.
6. Remain alert to other craft using the canal and give
way to motorised craft
Many craft use the canals from yachts, motor cruisers, fishing
boats and passenger trip boats through to traditional barges. There
are also an increasing number of hire cruisers travelling on the
canals, many of them hired by people operating a boat for the first
time. To ensure your own personal safety and that of other waterway
users, you should always give way to motorised craft. Move to the
side of the channel and ensure that the helmsman is able to see
you. This is particularly important when approaching larger
vessels, which need deeper water and room to manoeuvre.
7. Be vigilant when approaching bends, bridges and locks
and take care when approaching weirs and sluices
Weirs and sluices are opened and closed routinely to regulate
the level and flow of water through the canal. Larger vessels may
be gathered at bends, bridges and locks waiting to transit
8. Remember, for safety reasons, access rights do not
apply to locks
Canoes and kayaks must be carried along the towpath except in
certain circumstances on the Caledonian Canal and through prior
approval from Scottish Canals. (Similarly, canoes and kayaks cannot
be taken through the 600 metre long Falkirk Tunnel on the Union
Canal without safety light and prior agreement.)
9. Take a note of key contact numbers that you may
During your visit, you may wish to share information or
observations which would assist us in the management and
maintenance of the canals. You can do this by reporting general
observations to the local boat movement team (calling 0845 676 6000
for the Forth & Clyde and Union canals, 01463 725500 for the
Caledonian Canal or 01546 603210 for the Crinan Canal) and by
reporting any impediment affecting navigation on the canals to our
Emergency Hotline 0800 072 9900. If you encounter or are involved
in an emergency, you should, of course, call 999 as usual if you
10. Finally, please register with us, especially if your
trip extends to a full day or over a number of days
As noted above, we advise all paddlers to register their visit
with us. Registration is voluntary but highly recommended as it
means that we will be able to let you know in advance about any
maintenance work in and around the water which might affect your
trip but also about any events or paddling activities which you
might be interested in.
Please register your trip.
You will also find it helpful to stay in touch by telephone or in
person with our lock keepers and bankside staff during your visit.
They will be able to keep you posted on any activity arising which
you might want to take heed of during your journey such as the
unexpected arrival of large craft.
Whatever the duration of your visit, stay alert, stay
safe and enjoy your paddle on the Scottish canals.