Autumn on the waterways

5 tips to enjoy the inland waterways this autumn

Autumn on the inland waterways

Autumn is a wonderful time for cruising the waterways.

The summer crowds have receded, temperatures are still comfortable with unexpected balmy days, and nature's colours are arguably at their most stunning. All in all, it's a pretty great time to be on the water.

Whether you're a boat owner or thinking about hiring one for a day, a week or even a long weekend, here are our top tips to make the most of your time afloat this autumn... 

1. Check your speed

While the foliage framing the waterways may be at its most beautiful, it is also at its most fragile. The waterways provide one of nature's dumping grounds for trees and bushes shedding their leaves and as your boat moves through, it will inevitably collect some of this debris in the propeller.

Check your water pattern and propeller wash is clear. If not, a quick reverse will get any leaves off and speed you back up.

2. Feed the power

Even if the daytimes are pleasantly warm, cruising hours are still shorter and nights are cooler, meaning the drain on your domestic battery is greater.

Recharging the batteries requires engine power so try to get enough cruising hours in the day to make sure your battery is sufficiently topped up for when you stop.

Common sense housekeeping, such as turning lights off or switching to LEDs, all prolong battery life.

3. Breathe easy

This is the time of year people start to fire up solid fuel stoves, but with that comes an additional carbon monoxide danger. Check your stove and flue joints for gas leaks and make sure the chimney is clear. You should also make sure all ventilation around the boat is clear, especially fly screens, which can get very bunged up after a summer of cruising.

Make sure you know where your carbon monoxide alarm is and test it frequently. Should a leak occur, you will be alerted to the presence of the silent killer gas in the cabin.

Portable generators MUST be used outside of any cabin space - the bank is the best place. Do-it-yourself exhaust systems can be killers.

4. Dress for success

Even the warmest days get cooler much quicker during the autumn months and where a t-shirt might have been adequate at the height of midday, by mid-afternoon it won't be.

Don't forget the helm needs to be kept warm even when everyone else has retreated to the sheltered comfort of the cabin. It isn't unheard of for helms to suffer the first degrees of hypothermia at this time of year, so keep checking they have enough layers to stay warm.

A solid stream of hot drinks will help!

5. Take it steady

It might feel warm during the day but autumn inevitably brings more moisture, whether in the form of rain or dew. The closer we get to winter, the moisture will become frozen as frost and even ice.

Take extra care moving around the boat, towpaths and locks. As deck surfaces get slippery, paths get muddy giving you less grip underfoot.

If very chilly, lock mechanisms can freeze and the metal can become extremely cold to touch making gloves with good grip a must.

Getting started

Most hire companies won’t require any previous experience or training, however the prospect of taking responsibility of a boat, especially for the first time or after a long break, can be a daunting prospect.

The RYA Inland Waterways Crew and Helmsman courses will teach both beginners and seasoned boaters everything you need to know in just a couple of days. Find out what it takes to be in charge of your own boat, operate the locks and remain safe and confident on the canals at any time of year. 

For more information about RYA courses and to find a training centre near you, or in your ideal holiday location, visit