Introduction to Waterway Route Planning

Choosing Your Route

If you are taking your first trip on the waterways you will need to decide where to go. Take a look at our list of main navigable waterways in the UK which include photo galleries or read our introduction to holiday hiring

Take a look at some of the waterway cruising rings which offer boaters a way of exploring part of the waterways system without necessarily having to see the same bit of a canal or river twice. Cruising rings vary in length and can take as little as an afternoon to complete, or longer routes can be navigated over a two week holiday.

It's worth reading articles in waterway publications such as IWA's Waterways Magazine.

If you've got an idea about the area you would like to visit but aren't sure what navigable waterways are nearby, then you can download a map of canals and rivers in England and Wales (PDF 7MB) - This inland waterways route map, reproduced with kind permission from Waterways World, gives you a useful overview of the inland waterways system.

There are also plenty of waterway books, maps and guides available from IWA's shop.

To decide which waterway route you want to take, you will need to consider how much time you have, how far you would like to travel, and what attractions you might want to see on the way. It's also worth bearing mind how active your crew will be and how many locks there are on the waterway. You also might want to consider whether there will be any stoppages or restrictions along your planned route.

Cruising Time & Distance

Once you have decided how many days you want your trip to last, you'll need to work out how many cruising hours you have available, being aware that the first and last days of your holiday will probably not be full days. You will need to decide how many hours you want to cruise each day. If you cruise early or late in the year you will have fewer daylight hours.

A useful way to calculate a waterway journey time is to allow 3 miles an hour and ten minutes for each lock (6 locks an hour).  The actual time taken to go through each lock will be less if there is little traffic, you have a good number of crew, and the locks are close together in a flight and slightly longer if there are other boats waiting to use the locks.  Narrow locks also tend to take less time than broad locks.

You can calculate cruising routes and times using the CanalPlan AC website.

Another useful way of working out cruising times is by using Clegg's Canal Time Map which is an A4 laminated sheet showing the connected UK waterway network, divided into ‘2 hour’ sections. Over 450 places are shown as dots 2 hours apart. To calculate the time to cruise between any given places, just count the dots and multiply by 2 hours.The map is available to buy for £4.00 (including postage) from IWA's shop