Forth & Clyde Canal Navigation Tips


Boats can be craned in either at Grangemouth, into the River Carron (contact Steve Kelvin SK3 8UB 01324 471535) whose crane has an effective lift of 20 tons or at the Bowling end, into the River Clyde. Launching at Grangemouth involves a ¾-mile tidal passage, while launching at Bowling involves a 5-mile tidal passage – either up or down the River. The two boatyards with travelling hoists on the Clyde are Clyde Boatyard (Rothesay Dock) Clydebank which can be contacted at G81 1LX 0141 941 3366 and who have a 75-tonne travelling hoist or Sandpoint Marina Ltd G82 4BG 01389 762396 who have a 40-tonne travelling hoist and an 85-tonne launching trailer.

There are Scottish Canals (SC) craning pads on both the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals but the cost of using them is generally prohibitive. Before hiring in a mobile crane (expensive) you will have to commission various SC ‘statements’ which are in themselves very costly to complete.

Cranage costs are currently (2018 prices) between £300 and £600 dependant on size of vessel.

Things to bear in mind

  • Have an understanding of the appropriate Colregs pertaining to the trip. e.g. understand what the cardinal buoy at the confluence of the Rivers Leven and Clyde (should you launch at Sandpoint Marina) is instructing you to do.
  • See general info on navigating the Clyde (PDF).
  • For entering Bowling Harbour, from the Clyde, study the relevant page in the Scottish Canals Skippers Guide to the Forth & Clyde Canal.
  • Make sure you understand how to use the leading lines to allow you to make a safe entry from the river into the old Harbour at Bowling. Ask one of the harbourmasters (see below) before setting out if you don’t understand the diagrams in the Skippers Guide (above) as there is a large submerged breakwater, capable of sinking you, which you won’t be able to see at or around high tide.
  • Anchor, chain and warp (see advice below).
  • Ensure that your navigation lights & horn are operational.
  • Contact the harbourmaster at Bowling several days in advance of the trip – to discuss passage/arrival times/general advice: either Alex or Charlie 01389 877969.
  • Contact Clydeport (by phone if no VHF – see item 2 above for contact details) before and after passage. They will advise as to what commercial shipping is on the river and therefore when best to transit.
  • Study tides and weather forecasts for several days before making passage and be prepared to stay put if a suitable weather envelope doesn’t present itself.
  • Remember that a narrowboat (and similarly constructed wide-beams) are classed as Category D craft and as such should only navigate open water when conditions are Beaufort scale 3 or less: maximum wave height 300mm and average wind speed 10 mph.
  • On spring tides you will be able to access the sea lock at Bowling two hours either side of high tide which is approx. 15 mins after high tide Greenock (see tide times online).
  • Life jackets are essential.
  • Notify your insurance company regarding tidal passage (and comply with their requirements). Your trip is usually outside their normal cover on an inland craft but often simply notifying them is sufficient. If you don’t, the chances are that if anything goes wrong they will (quite legitimately) void your cover.

Anchor, chain and warp

You should usually work on a minimum of 4x channel depth which is 8.2m on the Clyde. So total minimum length of warp and chain would need to be 33m + 1m or so to reach the water from the boat deck and to tie it off. There should be a minimum of 5m chain.

For a 20-ton vessel the chain should a minimum of 10mm and the warp a minimum of 16mm.

28 metres of rope can be cut to form 2 x 14m mooring ropes once you're on the canal (nothing shorter than 10m is any use in the Forth & Clyde locks). If you've already got mooring lines of this length then tie them together for an anchor warp while you're on the river. At Bowling sea lock the harbourmaster will drop you down two 20 metre mooring lines for you to make fast with (so at that point you'll not need anything).

Ensure that the rope and chain is coiled neatly at the bow of the boat and attached to the anchor and T stud. A large floppy builder’s bucket can be useful here with the rope coiled round the outside of the bucket’s interior and the chain in the middle.

If you are purchasing rope for mooring lines the thicker the better – not because your boat necessarily needs anything more than 16mm, but because the thicker the rope, the more pleasant it is to handle and the easier it is on the hands.


These notes are provided by Jonathan Mosse, an IWA Scotland representative and a residential moorer at Helenslea, Bowling – just above Lock 38. For further information or to see if you can borrow an anchor etc. you can contact Jonathan on 07788 974164.

Navigation Authority

Scottish Canals
Canal House, Applecross Street, Glasgow, G4 9SP
T: 0141 332 6936
Scottish Canals website