We have retired from the business but over the years, we have found a number of tips and hints that have helped people. We have picked out the best ones.
If you are new to boating then there is lots here for you. If you are a seasoned boater then you probably know it already but we often use a phrase with experienced boaters: "You don't know what you don't know". If you find all this a bit patronising then this advice isn't for you.
These are the kind of things we teach to willing learners on Helmsman Courses. Read the tips in with reference to the Video Tutorials. We also direct our customers who are new to boating to have a look at Considerate Boating.
For limited time, here are our Top Tips:
You must have the propeller turning AND rudder movement COMBINED to steer the boat. The rudder might steer a little bit without the propeller turning but not very well and not for long.
If you meet another boat on a blind bend, then many beginners' immediate reaction is to stop the engine/propeller and/or to select reverse drive. Don't do that if you need to steer out of trouble. With the propeller still turning, point the boat in a safe direction THEN cut the power and select reverse.
If you are experienced, you will know which way the stern of the boat moves when in reverse gear and you will have allowed for that. Try it on a straight part of the canal when no-one is watching, it all depends on which way your propeller turns.
There should rarely be a need to run anywhere. The bank or towpath has hidden hazards that can be awkward when walking but positively dangerous when running. Similarly, you can slip a lot further when running than you do when walking.
Believe it or not, getting on and off a boat is one of the most dangerous things to do when boating. If you can’t get on or off with a step then DON’T do it. Ask many people who have fallen in and they will say it started with a jump!
When you do STEP on or off. Always keep three points of contact. I.e. both hands holding on and only one foot in the air or both feet on the ground and only one hand moving.
New boaters often struggle to learn if you want the front, (Bow), to go left then the front of the tiller needs to move Right. Remember, full tiller, (which is connected to the rudder), does not always mean full steering. Many boats get their best steering at less than full movement.
Beginners learn to steer in different ways, here are three:
1. Think of it as pointing the front of the tiller, i.e. your hand, toward the thing you DON'T want to hit. Or
2. Point the tiller in the direction you want the stern to go. Or
3. Say to yourself, (or out loud), “I want to go left so the tiller goes right” and vice versa.
When a boat turns, it pivots around the middle of the boat. If the bow goes to the right, (Starboard), then the stern will move to the left, (Port). In tight places you need to leave room for both ends to move where they need to.
If you can't remember which is Port and Starboard then note that the word Port and Left both have four letters. Or, the phrase: “The Port was Left behind”.
Follow this process for trouble free mooring.
1. Slow down almost to a stop using reverse gear, mid-stream, just short of the mooring.
2. Use the rudder and forward gear at tickover to point the bow in a straight line to the point just short of where you want it to be.
3. Slow down so the bow just touches and the boat stops moving forward at the same time so the crew member can step off with the bow line in hand. (Make sure the other end is still connected to the boat).
4. Use equal length short bursts of forward and reverse whilst pointing the front of the tiller to the bank to bring in the stern whilst your crew loosely holds the bow line. Don’t let them pull on the line or you will not be able to bring in the stern. See the videos.
Most of the time when manoeuvring, engine tickover, or just over tickover is plenty. Our guests have learnt that whilst there is the occasional need for more power, usually, “doing less is doing more”. No need to make more noise or use more fuel than you have to.
When winding, (so called because experienced boaters use the wind to help the turn when they can), try to plan to keep your propeller in deep water as it works better. It is usually better to go into the winding hole, or arm, bow first not stern first. It will be shallower in the winding point or arm and the propeller won’t work as well and you may run aground.
With practise, winding can be made with very little forward and back movement. The professionals know this as turning "Short Round". Use short bursts of forward and reverse and alternate the direction of the tiller each time you change gear. See the Winding Video.
You don't just have to rely on the rudder and propeller to manoeuvre, especially on windy days. Get off the boat and use lines tied from the boat to fixed objects such as bollards or rings to get the boat to move how you want it to move or to stop it moving where you don’t want it to move to. The experienced do it all the time. See the Videos showing Springing On/Off.
Anyone can tie a knot that will never come undone but an experienced boater will resort to hitches that are secure but can be released easily when needed. The Boatman's or Canalman's or Lighterman's Hitch plus T Stud Hitch achieve both. See the Hitch Tying Videos.
The Round Turn and Two Half-Hitches also works as does the Clove Hitch but the former can pull tight and the latter can come loose when you don’t want it to.
When coiling up three-strand lines, (rope), use whichever hand suits you but always coil it in a Clockwise direction facing you. There is much less chance of it twisting into figures of eight and if you have to throw the line then it will fly better if coiled properly.
Narrowboats WILL steer in reverse, if you know how. When you are in reverse gear, the steering is also reversed so point the front of the tiller, (i.e. your hand), where you want the bow to go. Keep looking around all the time but when looking forward, concentrate on one small spot on the front cabin roof and look at its relative movement to the background. As soon as you see it move off course then point the front of the tiller the opposite way.
Practise reversing in a straight line and try different propeller speeds. Engine tickover is normally fine but there are a few variables, such as water depth, and making small changes to the propeller speed often helps. See the Reversing Video.