Important Safety Advice

Scotland's canals are an excellent place to learn and develop paddling skills or simply exercise, relax and enjoy some of Scotland's most beautiful scenery.

To help ensure you have a safe and enjoyable paddle, we ask you to respect the canals as you would do any body of water and to familiarise yourself with the following safety advice.

10 steps to a safe, fun paddle trip!

  1. Be Prepared – ensure your craft is safe and appropriate for the waterway you plan to visit, and that you and your party members have suitable paddling experience and safety skills. Beginners should be accompanied by a more experienced paddler. Remember to take a map, mobile phone and first aid kit, and may be useful to take a change of clothes, towel and group shelter. The open waters of Loch Ness and Loch Lochy can be very challenging and paddlers should get training or choose a guided trip if they are not experienced open water paddlers.
  2. Wear A Buoyancy Aid – always wear a suitable buoyancy aid when on or near the water.
  3. Canal Waters – be aware that canal depth can vary from water you can stand up in to very deep water. Changes in weather, boat movements and lock operations can also cause the water depth to change and create strong currents below the surface.
  4. Take Care When Entering or Leaving the Canal – check maps beforehand for suitable access and egress points.
  5. Other Canal Users – be courteous to other canal users. Remain alert and give way to motorised craft by moving to the side of the channel when you can be seen. Keep the towpaths clear for walkers, cyclists and works access.
  6. Be Vigilant – weirs and sluices open and close routinely to regulate the flow of water through the canal. Be aware that larger vessel may be gathered at beds, bridges and locks.
  7. Locks – canoes and kayaks must portage around locks, except in certain circumstances where prior approval from Scottish canals has been granted.  We recommend you bring your own portage trolley. A Canal Licence must be purchased if using the canal locks, and no sailing is allowed in the canal reaches – dinghies must be under power or rowed.
  8. Tunnels – paddlers on the Glasgow to Edinburgh Canoe Trail should keep in contact with Canals Staff/Boat Helpline for any updates on canal operations and boat movements. Please follow these basic instructions to safely navigate tunnels along the route.
    • All paddling groups using the tunnel must be led by a responsible, competent adult
    • All paddlers must be wearing appropriate flotation devices with whistles
    • It’s highly recommended that a paddler walks through the tunnel ahead of the group to inform of any potential oncoming craft
    • For all paddling groups going through the tunnel, waterproof head torches, hi-viz vests, glow sticks and a rear light (red light) be placed at the stern of the last craft is advised
    • If you feel you don’t have the appropriate skills to paddle through the tunnel, please portage your craft using the towpath walkway.
    • Click here for more safety advice for the Glasgow to Edinburgh Canoe Trail.
  9. Keep in Contact – it’s always advisable to paddle with a group so you have assistance if needed. Don’t forget to tell someone where you are going and how long you’ll be! Report any general observations which could assist in the management and maintenance of the canals to the local waterway office. If you encounter, or are involved in an emergency, call 999.
  10. Register Your Trip! – We highly recommend that all paddlers register their visit in advance. Registration is voluntary, but does mean we are able to let you know of anything which may impact upon your trip.

Join a Canoeing Organisation

You may want to think about becoming a member of a national or regional canoeing organisation. These organisations are a great source of general information as well as training courses for paddlers of all levels. Membership also includes third party insurance cover – highly recommended for all paddlers.