Crinan Canal Skipper's Guide
Our Skipper’s Guide tells you everything you need to know about boating on the Crinan Canal. In addition to important safety advice and tips on how to transit the canal, you’ll find details of local facilities and more.
Welcome to the Crinan Canal
The Crinan Canal stretches nine miles from Ardrishaig on Loch Fyne to Crinan, on the Sound of Jura.
The canal was originally designed to offer mariners an alternative route from the west coast and islands at one end and the Clyde Estuary at the other, enabling them to avoid the arduous voyage around 'the Mull.'
The minimum time you should allow for passage is about 6 hours if there aren’t delays or heavy traffic. But why rush? Relax and enjoy the superb scenery and hospitality. Your licence allows you up to four nights and five days to complete your journey, take it easy.
Check with our sea lock staff for information on where to overnight and what berthing is available on the day.
To transit the canal, you need to buy a Transit Licence. Various licence types/terms are available, ranging from single transit to annual. Short-term licences include all lock-ins, passages and berthing at designated overnight spots. It also includes use of customer facilities such as toilets and showers, laundry room etc.
Long-term berth holders also require a mooring permit.
Our licence fee is calculated according to the length of your vessel.
Transiting the Canal
Despite covering just nine miles, the Crinan Canal can prove challenging for inexperienced boaters or those unused to operating canal infrastructure.
There are 15 locks and 7 bridges on the Crinan Canal.
The Sea Locks at Crinan and Ardrishaig and at Lock 14 are mechanised and will be operated for you by Scottish Canals' staff.
The seven bridges along the canal are also operated for you by Scottish Canals' staff.
At peak times, such as summer season, we aim to provide assistance to boaters moving through the inland locks from Lock 5 to 13 as these are manually operated, requiring physical effort to push lock gates and wind sluices. It can take at least two people to open and close lock gates and sluices from Lock 5 to Lock 13.
Boaters should have sufficient crew on board to handle ropes on the bow and stern, as well as operating the lock gates and sluices in the event that Scottish Canals' staff are delayed or unavailable at a specific location..
Customers may wish to consider the use of additional support crew if they are short-handed, are in a rush to transit or have never transited the canal before.
There are several operators locally who offer 'assisted passage' to boaters - their details can be found via web search or on boater forums.
Please note that use of external individuals is not mandatory on the Crinan Canal.
Please note that it is the boat owner / operator’s responsibility to ensure that your chosen individual is appropriately qualified and that your insurance covers you adequately.
Locks and bridges
The Crinan Canal can be divided into three sections: upstream, summit, and downstream.
When you approach a lock, the gates ahead of you will be closed. This is because users are expected to close everything behind them – gates and sluices – and to fill the lock. The exception is when another boat travelling in the opposite direction has just left the lock, spotted you and left it open for you as a courtesy. Other than that, or from a specific instruction by canal staff, you always close gates behind you, with locks full and sluices closed.
When locking in an upstream lock
- Check that the top (opposite) gates and sluices are indeed closed.
- If the lock is full, first check if another boat isn’t approaching the lock from the opposite direction. If one is approaching, it has preference and should be allowed to enter the lock first. This will save a lock full of water. If there’s no one else approaching, drain the lock by raising the bottom sluices.
- Once the lock is empty, open the gates by pushing on the swing bar. The gate will only open if the lock is completely empty, so don’t attempt to force it by bouncing the beam. Apply steady pressure until you feel the gate move. Once both gates are open you may enter the lock. Up to four boats can fit into one lock, depending on their size. If you are on your own in the lock, stay as far back as the gate behind you will allow, to minimise the effect of the turbulence.
- Secure your craft by both bow and stern lines, to the cleats on the lock. Use a bowline over the cleat on shore and control the other end by wrapping it around a cleat on your boat. Avoid using a running line back to the boat. This could jam and cause damage to your boat. Shore crews should not hold the warp as loads are considerable. You will be shown the correct technique by staff at the locks.
- Now close the bottom gates and sluices.
- Once you are satisfied that all craft in the lock are secure and ready, you can flood the lock by raising the top sluices. Start slowly and only partially raise it until everyone has settled and gotten used to the turbulence. If there is only one boat at the top gate, open the sluice on the same side as the boat so that the incoming water flows past that boat and does not hit it head on. Continue to raise the sluices a little at a time as the water rises. If the turbulence is too great, lower the sluice a little. Once the lock is full, leave the sluices open to make it easier to move the gates.
- Open the gates and exit.
- Leave a crew member behind to close the gates and sluices. This ensures that the lock chamber is ready for the next customer. As a courtesy you may leave it open for an approaching craft.
- Ensure that the bottom gates and sluices are closed. If the lock is empty, fill it by opening the top sluices. If there is a craft approaching which will use the lock in an upward direction, allow it to do so. Again, this saves water and time.
- When the lock chamber is full, open the gates by pushing on the swing bar. The gate will only move once the water pressure has equalised. Leaving the sluices open, apply a steady pressure until you feel the gate move.
- You may now enter the lock.
- Secure your craft by both bow and stern warps using the cleats provided. Use a bowline on the shore cleats and not a running line back to your boat.
- Close the top gates and lower the sluices.
- Open the bottom sluices only after you are sure the boats are secure and crews are alert and ready. The sluices should be raised slowly to maximum, keeping an eye on the boat/s in the lock. If they are experiencing any difficulties, or are distracted, close the sluices.
- Open the bottom gates and exit the lock.
- Please remember to close the gates and sluices behind you and flood the lock.
The downward locking is much less turbulent than the upward, however, it is vital to have crew positioned bow and stern to pay off the warps as the craft descends. Failure to do so could result in the boat being hung up by its warps. If this happens, get the shore crew to close the sluices immediately and seek the assistance of the lock keeper.
Learn more about ongoing disruptionsOngoing work
Important contact numbers
In the event of immediate threat to a person, the environment or wildlife please call:
0800 072 9900
To report an issue that is not an emergency, please use the guide: