Briefing Note: Navigating Canal Tunnels Safely
This briefing note sets out our advice for the safe navigation of canal tunnels on the inland waterways of the UK by various types of craft and is aimed at both waterway users and navigation authorities.
Taking a boat through a tunnel can be an exciting element of any canal journey but it comes with inherent dangers that people need to be aware of.
Due to the history of the canal network that we have today, most currently navigable canal tunnels come under the jurisdiction of Canal & River Trust, although there are exceptions such as on the Grand Western Canal, the Monmouthshire Canal and in Scotland.
Canal tunnels vary in length and width. Some can be very short, such as Dunsley on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal which is just 23 metres, or they can be very long indeed such as Standedge and Dudley tunnels, at 5000 metres and 2900 metres respectively, where special arrangements are in place to allow passage. Some longer canal tunnels have one-way working systems, where passing two boats isn’t possible, but others, where they are wide enough, allow two-way passage at any time.
Single way working
With tunnels such as Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, with its traffic light system, or Preston Brook and Saltersford tunnels on the Trent & Mersey Canal, which have timed periods for boats entering at either end, you are unlikely to encounter oncoming boats unless one of you has ignored the lights or signs!
On waterways where wide beam boats are common, for example in London, one-way working will need to be in place even if the tunnels are wide enough for two narrowboats to pass each other, as the boat coming the other way may be wider than 7ft.
[The photo shows a boat entering Foulridge Tunnel on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal – by Jacqui Hatcher]