Passage through the Union Canal

The Union Canal is 51km long (28 nautical miles, 31 statute miles) from Lochrin Basin in Edinburgh to just above The Falkirk Wheel. It’s a contour canal with only one moving structure (Leamington Lift Bridge in Edinburgh), which can be negotiated by prior arrangement with our Waterway Office.

Skippers should allow a minimum of 12 hours underway, broken down roughly as follows:

  • Lochrin Basin to Ratho Bridge (15) – 2 hours
  • Ratho Bridge to Almond Aqueduct (18) – 1/2 hour
  • Almond Aqueduct to Craigton Bridge (35) – 2 hours
  • Craigton Bridge to Linlithgow – 2 hours
  • Linlithgow to Brightons Bridge (54) – 2 hours
  • Brightons Bridge to The Falkirk Wheel – 2 hours.

The Union Canal connects directly with the Forth & Clyde Canal and you can boat through both in one go. If you’re planning to boat through the Forth & Clyde Canal, please allow at least 12 hours for this part of the waterway. For more detailed information about how to navigate the Forth & Clyde Canal, see the Forth & Clyde skipper's guide.


Maximum channel dimensions

All measured from the water surface. Add 10cm (4in) to your sea water draught to compensate for reduced buoyancy in fresh water and allow for the weight of extra equipment, fuel and water.

Leave a safety margin for underkeel clearance and for fluctuating water levels, which may affect channel depth and headroom. The headroom at the railway bridge below Lock 9, and at Merer’s Bridge between Locks 7 and 8, may be reduced due to increases in water flows from locks in operation upstream.

Helix Cut and Sealock:

  • Maximum boat length: 20.47m (67ft)
  • Width/Beam: 5m (16ft 4in)
  • Channel depth: 1.8m (6ft)
  • Maximum headroom: 3m (9ft 10in)

Union Canal and The Falkirk Wheel:

  • Lock length: 21.3m (70ft)
  • Width: 3.5m (11ft 6in)
  • Channel depth: 1.06m (3ft 6in)
  • Maximum headroom: 2.7m (8ft 10in)

The Falkirk Wheel Locks:

  • Channel depth: 1.5m (5ft)
  • Maximum headroom: 2.7m (8ft 10in)

Forth & Clyde:

  • Maximum boat length: 19.2m (63ft)*
  • Width/Beam: 6m (19ft 6in)
  • Channel depth: 1.83m (6ft)
  • Maximum headroom: 3m (9ft 10in)

*Depending on their hull shape, slightly longer vessels may be accommodated. Call 07810 794 467 when planning passage.

Forth & Clyde Canal, Glasgow branch:

  • Maximum boat length: 19.2m (63ft)
  • Width/Beam: 5.02m (16ft 6in)
  • Channel depth: 1.4m (4ft 6in)
  • Maximum headroom: 3m (9ft 10in)

Golden Jubilee Lock: (Lock 3: Forth & Clyde Canal into basin)

  • Length: 21.30m (70ft)
  • Width/Beam: 3.83m (12ft 6in)
  • Channel depth: 1.5m (5ft)
  • Maximum headroom: 2.74m (9ft)


Locks and bridges

Scottish Canals staff will be on hand to assist at all locks and bridges on the Union Canal, but craft must have sufficient crew to assist staff with lockings. Faster progress will be made if each craft has more than one spare person available to work ashore.

We are unable to guarantee assistance to single-handed boaters, so please ensure you have sufficient crew onboard to handle your ropes. Single-handed boaters are likely to experience delays.

Scottish Canals staff operate the two locks above The Falkirk Wheel. Mooring ropes must be used in both locks. Call 01324 676912.

Scottish Canals staff also operate Leamington Lift Bridge, near Lochrin Basin in Edinburgh, by prior arrangement. Call 07795 827712 to arrange bridge operation.

If you require further information on the working and manning of locks, please contact the Waterway Office.

Use of locks by portable craft

Portable craft, including canoes and kayaks, must portage round locks for safety and water economy reasons. Where unpowered and portable craft are considered too large to portage round locks, they may transit through the locks. They must be warped through on ropes with no-one on board.

Using locks



Aquatic weed on the canal takes a number of forms - from small floating leaves which can interfere with “raw” water cooling systems or long flowing weeds which tangle around propellers.  Aquatic weed is seasonal and is mechanically harvested from the canal to keep the channel clear. 

Canal boats by design have skegs and cutting propellers which protect the propeller and provide a cutting action to avoid weed entanglement.  

They are also generally fitted with hatches in the engine bay which give access to propellers to remove any entanglement. Canal boats also have closed cooling systems, i.e. onboard cooling which does not draw water from the canal so avoiding uptake of weed or floating sediment.

Any vessel transiting the Forth & Clyde Canal should consider the capability of it propeller, skeg or driveline to manage aquatic weed entanglement and consideration should also be given to resilience of “raw” water cooling systems and heat exchangers to manage uptake of aquatic weed.  

Advice on navigation and aquatic weed burden should always be sought from the Boat Movement Team in advance of each transit as aquatic weeds bloom at different periods over the summer season. 

Download skippers guide

It’s a good idea to download this leaflet with all the maps and important contact details you’ll need, and keep it with you:

3000723 BW Scottish Canals A4 Web Version of Lowland Skippers Guide WEB compressed [10225 kb]
Opening hours
Season: 1 April - 31 October 2023
7 days
08:30 – 18:00
First locking will be at 09:00 and last locking at 17:30.

See all the moorings options for the Union Canal

Long term moorings

Get a licence

For prices and information on licenses and purchasing them please refer to our moorings and licences section.

Licences & moorings

Learn more about ongoing disruptions

Ongoing work

Important contact numbers

Scottish Canals Headquarters

Canal House
Applecross Street
G4 9SP

T: 0141 332 6936


Lowland Canals Customer Service

4 Strathkelvin Place
G66 1XT

Customer Service: 07920 802628

Boat Movements

To arrange your passage through the canal please contact our boat movements team on: 07810 794 467

Please note that 24hr advanced booking is required in summer / in winter 48hr advanced booking is required. 

Bowling Sea Lock

T: 01389 877969

Carron Sea Locks 1 and 2

T: 01324 483034
or 07810 794468

Falkirk Wheel Basin Controller

T: 01324 676912

Emergency contact

In the event of an emergency summon assistance by whatever means is available – such as mobile phone, public telephone, or by enlisting the help of others.

Please do not call this number for boat movements

Emergency Number (inc Coastguard) 999 Emergency Out of Hours Contact 0800 072 9900

To report an issue that is not an emergency, please use this guide