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Manchester Ship Canal

Manchester Ship Canal links Manchester with the coast and provides access to the city for large ocean-going vessels. It is not considered a leisure waterway.

Map of the Manchester Ship Canal

Facts & Stats

37.4 miles


The length of the Manchester Ship Canal.

5 locks


Year Opened

From Manchester to the Coast

The Manchester Ship Canal is not considered a leisure waterway and the incompatibility of large ships and small boats means that hired vessels are not usually permitted. Boat owners must seek permission to use the Canal from the Manchester Ship Canal Company (the navigation authority – part of Peel Port), proving that their boat is seaworthy, insured and has the required safety equipment on board. Information about the requirements is on the Peel Ports Group website. As commercial traffic has decreased, the regulations have become less onerous. 

There are links to the River Mersey at Eastham, the Shropshire Union Canal at Ellesmere Port, the River Weaver and Weaver Navigation at Western Point and the Bridgewater Canal via the lock in Pomona No 3 Dock.

[The photo shows Salford Docks – by Harry Arnold (c) Waterway Images]

Guide for Small Craft using the Manchester Ship Canal

IWA North West Region has published a guide for small craft planning to use the Canal.

[The photo right shows the approach to Weston Marsh Lock, taken in April 2024, with the new wind farm in view – by John Fletcher]

Waterway notes

Maximum boat sizes

Woden Street Footbridge

  • Length: 600′ (182.8 metres)
  • Beam: 65′ (19.8 metres)
  • Height: 70′ (21.3 metres)
  • Draught: 28′ (8.5 metres)

Above Woden Street footbridge and into the upper reaches of the river Irwell (the inland most 1.4 miles – 2.2 km of navigation), craft are restricted to:

  • Beam: 25′ (7.6 metres)
  • Height: 15′ (4.5 metres)
  • Draught: 4′ 6″ (1.3 metres)

Navigation authority


Waterway underfunding

Hundreds of miles of waterways – along with their unique heritage and habitats – are currently starved of funding and rely on constant lobbying by us to safeguard their future.

Sustainable Boating

We want boating on canals and rivers to be more sustainable and – even though the current overall contribution to UK carbon emissions is very small – we want to help reduce emissions on the waterways.

Waterways Heritage at Risk

Britain’s canals and rivers are a unique, living heritage. But that heritage is at risk – from urban development, lack of protection, loss of skills and knowledge and climate change.

You can help Save Waterways Heritage.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.

Local activities