A guide to cruising speeds and passing moored boats

Experienced boaters will know that the amount of wash you create depends on more than just your speed.

If you're new to boating or thinking of a life on the water, and you aren't clued up on this yet, this is the guide for you. 'Wash' refers to the waves created by your boat's movement, and too much of it can disturb your fellow boaters, harm wildlife and erode banks. Let's talk about wash and how to be mindful of it to protect our canals and respect our fellow boaters.

How is wash created?


The speed limit on most of the UK's network of canals is 4 miles per hour and on most rivers it’s 6 miles per hour, but you shouldn't always aim to reach this speed especially when passing moored boats.

Speed isn’t the only factor you need to think about when passing your fellow boaters. How much wash you're creating will be a combination of the water's depth, the shape of your boat and the waterway's banks.

A hard edged bank that’s been piled will reflect your wash much more than a soft edge with reeds. This means you should be mindful of your speed in areas with hard banks because they will increase the impact of your wash.

You'll create more wash when you travel at higher speeds in shallow water. By doing this you'll also drag your boat's propeller closer to the bottom of the canal or river, which increases your chance of fouling. Be cautious of your speeds in shallow depths to prevent this.

Short and wide boats will create more wash than long and narrow boats. The shape of the swim on a boat can also affect how much wash is created, although some boats' hulls are specially designed to be capable of reaching higher speeds with less wash.

What should I do?

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You should never travel with a breaking wash (this means the wave your boat is creating in the water is breaking) as this can erode the banks and cause harm to local wildlife. If your wash is breaking, you need to slow down.

When approaching moored boats, you'll want to pass with as little water disturbance as possible. Slow down and check your wash a good distance away from the moored boats to give yourself plenty of time to throttle back.

Some people like to pass with the engine on tickover, while others will briefly put their boat into neutral. Whichever you do, make sure you pass gently and with control.

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