89 Facts About Canals

Canal Boat Facts

When someone says ‘canal’ it’s pretty obvious you’re going to think about Amsterdam, Venice, and maybe even Britain. Once serving as the water-filled conduits of industry, canals now offer people of all ages a chance to live a slower peaceful way of life away from the traditional hustle of city living. We see the canals as calming stretches of water, a haven for tranquillity. But are the canals really like this? Hop aboard and find out for yourself as we explore some of the best facts about canals and canal boats. 

Fact 1: A canal is an artificial waterway.

Fact 2: Canals are also called ‘channels’. A ‘channel’ is a strip of water that follows a certain path, and the water is typically shallow. 

Fact 3: There are two kinds of canal: waterway and aqueduct. 

Fact 4: Canal boats can often be seen going under viaducts (a bridge-like structure). Viaducts are in place to help canal boats traverse of the top of obstacles such as valleys or rivers.  

Fact 5: Canals can help with local irrigation. Irrigation is when set amounts of water are artificially fed to plants over a wide area over a period of time. 

Fact 6: Some believe that canals are like fake rivers. However, this is false. A river will carve its way toward the sea using the path of least resistance. Whereas a canal’s path is designed to offer the highest economic output for the cost of construction. And canals often never meet the sea.


Fact 7: Dams and locks are used on canals so that boaters can climb/descend canals that run over elevated topographic obstacles that run along the canal’s course. They can also be used to control water levels.

Fact 8: Canals were used during the Industrial Revolution to transport heavy goods that would have been too heavy or too expensive to transport on the road. 

Fact 9: Locks are walled water-filled chambers that canal boats enter to move vertically up/down the canal. There are big gates at either end of a lock, that must be locked/unlocked, and the water level equalized before a boat can pass through to the other side.

Fact 10: You cannot open both gates in a lock at the same time. This is due to the hydrostatic pressure of the water exerted on the lock gates. 

Fact 11: To open a lock on a canal you must use a Windlass which is a kind of lever that turns the mechanism for opening the floodgates built into canal locks.

Fact 12: If the water level on your side of a lock matches the water level inside the lock you can just open the gate at your end and steer your boat straight in.

Fact 13: When leaving a lock, you must ensure that the water level in the lock matches the water level on the exiting side of the lock – if there is an imbalance in the water level you won’t be able to push the gate open.

Fact 14: If another canal boat is about to bump into you, you should never try and push the boat away with your bare hands.  

Fact 15: Caen Hill Locks system, along the Kennet & Avon Canal in England, has the most number of locks of any canal in the UK. The Caen Hill Locks system includes 29 individual locks over two miles. Passing through all these locks equals a change in elevation of 237 feet. 

Fact 16: The Caen Hill Locks in England connects London and Bristol near Wiltshire, England. It’s an 87-mile canal.

Fact 17: At 1,640 feet long and 223 feet wide, the world’s largest lock system is Kieldrecht Lock, Antwerp, Belgium. 

Fact 18: Kieldrecht Lock, Antwerp, is 58 feet deep.

Fact 19: Canal boats have bumpers to stop them from crashing into locks. They’re often called ‘fenders’. 

Fact 20: In the UK, when boating on a canal, you should keep your boat to the right-hand side of the waterway when passing oncoming boats. This can be confusing for many in the UK since we drive cars on the left-hand side. 

Fact 21: Tuel Lane Lock, on the Rochdale Canal in Sowerby Bridge, is the deepest lock in the UK with a fall of 6 meters.

Fact 22: The Grand Canal in China is 1,110 miles long.

Fact 23: China’s Grand Canal includes 24 locks. 

Fact 24: Construction on the Grand Canal in china began in 486 B.C. But the world’s oldest lock came along in 984 AD thanks to the work of the Song Dynasty.

Fact 25: The most used locks in the USA are the Ballard Locks, Seattle.

Fact 26: Oskemen Lock is the world’s deepest lock. It has an incredible rise of 138 ft (42m). 

Mike Fascione – CC BY-SA 2.0

Fact 27: ‘Fenders’ on a canal boat are there to help you if you bump into another boat. You should never put your hands out to try and stop the boat from crashing into something.

Fact 28: You should always stick to the speed limit when using the waterway as higher speeds erode the banks of canals very quickly. 

Fact 29: The Three Gorges lock in China includes a 370-foot change in water level as ships manage the system of five stair step-style locks.

Fact 30: An average-sized boat will take about 2 hours to navigate the Three Gorges lock system.

Fact 31: When in a lock you should not push your boat up and onto the cill. The cill in a lock, is the bottom of the upper canal which sticks out a little beyond the lock gate.

Weir On The Move ‘#62 – Taking The Boat To King’s Landing’ (2019).

Fact 32: You can sink your Canal boat by tying it with a short rope to the side of a lock as the water drains out. As the water drains out, the boat lowers, increasing the distance the rope has to cover. As a consequence, the short rope becomes taught lifting the front or back end of the boat out of the water. When this happens the opposite end of the boat won’t stay afloat and will sink. 

Fact 33: In Britain, large stretches of canal’s banks are private property and you are not permitted to moor without a permit.

Fact 34: The Romans brought the first canals to the UK, their purpose was to transport goods and for irrigation purposes. 

Fact 35: Canal water can become stagnant which can sometimes be problematic if they are left unused and unattended.  

Fact 36: Some of the biggest issues facing canals at this time include: 

  • People defacing the structures 
  • Plants overgrowing 
  • Trees falling into the water 
  • General rubbish being thrown directly into the canal 
  • Problems with water levels

Fact 37: Wildlife on and around the canal is varied. You can often spot voles and otters near the watercourse. And there are often plenty of birds to see, like Herons and Mallards. 

Fact 38: It’s not uncommon to see badgers, hares, foxes, and farm animals when traveling along the canal.

Fact 39: The Falkirk Wheel, a rotating boat lift in central Scotland, opened in 2002.

Sean Mack – Own work (Thanks Sean!) CC BY 2.5

Fact 40: A narrow Boat can only be considered a narrow boat if it’s under 7 feet wide. This is so the boat will fit in many of the narrow locks found throughout the UK. 

Fact 41: The path next to a canal is called a ‘towpath’. 

Fact 42: Cape Coral, in southwest Florida, has the most canals in the world.

Fact 43: If you use a wide beam canal boat, anything wider than 7 feet, you must choose to put your boat either on the Sothern canal system, or the Northern canal system, as the canal connected both systems through the heart of England is not wide enough for wide-beam boats. 

Fact 44: ‘Maria’ is the UK’s oldest narrowboat. She’s made of wood and was built by Jinks Boatyard in 1854. 

Fact 45: Narrowboats are “Category D” boats which are intended only for navigating rivers, canals, and small lakes.

Fact 46: A good blast of your boat’s horn is a requirement when entering a dark tunnel. This alerts any oncoming boaters of your presence.

Fact 47: The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift in the world.

Fact 48: It wasn’t until the ‘canal lock’ was created that canals became a viable form of industrial transport. This was during the 14 century. 

Fact 49: In UK locks there is usually a ladder so that a boater can climb out of the lock.

Fact 50: Usually, canal boats are manned in pares. However, it is possible to boat on the canals as a single. Though it is considerably more difficult and time-consuming to operate the lock systems. 

Fact 51: ‘Blackwater’ is the term used to describe any sort of human waste that comes off the boat. 

Fact 52: Traditionally, horses pulled narrowboats via a rope while walking along the towpath.

Fact 53: In the UK it is not unusual to see volunteers and workers helping out near canal locks. 

Fact 54: In the village of Anderton in Cheshire, North West England, there is canal Lift called The Anderton Boat Lift which is a two caisson lift lock.

Fact 55: When canal boating in the UK you must be aware that it is an offence to throw ‘black water’ into the canal.

Fact 56: During the 17th century, a lot of the better-known canals in the UK were created including Colne, Itchin, Wye, and Avon. 

Weir On The Move ‘Episode 37 – What’s It Like Living On A Narrowboat Widebeam?’ (2019).

Fact 57: The Anderton Boat Lift provides a vertical change to the canal of 15.2 meters.

Fact 58: Bow waves can be harmful to the wildlife living along the canal. 

Fact 59: The Anderton Canal Boat Lift was built in 1875.

Fact 60: The canals in England and Wales have been split up into 6 groups: Mersey, Thames, Humber, Wash, Severn, and Birmingham. 

Fact 61: When mooring and pegging your boat, you should be mindful of hammering your pegs into the ground. Hammering too hard has been known to cause some parts of the canal’s bank to fall into the water.

Fact 62: The oldest canal in the UK is the Fossdyke Navigation, which was built by the Romans in 120 AD.

Fact 63: During the 18th century the big canals like the Derwent, Kennett, Mersey, and Irwell were built. 

Fact 64: A towpath can be used by walkers, dogs, and cyclists.

Fact 65: The Appalachian Mountains is home to the Erie Canal. This canal is 363 miles (584 km) long and was the first canal in the United States to connect western waterways with the Atlantic Ocean. 

Norman Rogers – Own work – Public Domain

Fact 66: Construction on the Erie Canal began in 1817. It connected the Great Lakes to New York City via the Hudson River.

Fact 67: According to writings by Herodotus, Aristotle, and Pliny, there is reason to believe that canals existed in ancient Egypt. But, finding actual plans, routes, and maps to support these claims has been difficult for researchers.

Fact 68: The Anderton Lift connects two navigable waterways: the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Fact 69: Interestingly, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries when canals were being built, they were built privately, and the state contributed little to their construction.

Fact 70: Francis, Duke of Bridgewater, Brindley, and Telford, are the engineers behind a large proportion of UK waterways. 

Fact 71: Standedge Tunnel is Britain’s longest and deepest canal tunnel.

Fact 72: The fact that goods could be transported far cheaper along canals, in comparison to roads, is what made canals so popular during the 18th century. 

Fact 73: The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift in central Scotland, connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.

Pjt56 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Fact 74: Between the years 1845-48, railway companies were permitted, even encouraged, to purchase nearly 1,264 miles of waterway. This meant that the railway’s competition was largely gone, and it paved the way for trains to take over the transportation of goods.

Fact 75: The Longest Canal in World is Suez Canal. 

Fact 76: The Suez Canal, located in Egypt, is 101 miles (163 km) long and it connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez.

Fact 77: Birmingham is the city with the most canals in the UK.

Fact 78: In Europe, Venice is the city with the most canals.

Fact 79:  Way back in 1482, Leonardo da Vinci helped built six locks during the reconstruction of the Naviglio Grande canal.

Fact 80: Canals in the UK rarely flood because there are extensive water management systems through all UK canal watercourses. 

Fact 81: The Falkirk wheel raises or lowers boats by a massive 24 meters.

Fact 82: You can still have a ride on a canal boat that’s pulled by a horse. If you fancy a trip on a canal boat that’s pulled by a horse, visit Tiverton Canal and enquire about their horse-drawn barge experience. 

Weir On The Move ‘Caen Hill Flight-Scary but fun-9’ (2018).

Fact 83: As of 2018, 10,000 people were living on canal boats around London. 

Fact 84: Types of canal boats include: 

  • Cruiser 
  • Trad
  • Semi-Trad
  • Narrow Beam
  • Dutch Barge 
  • Wide Beam

Fact 85: Canal boats travel at around 4mph.

Fact 86: You can take a Canal Boat out onto the open sea. But you shouldn’t do this too often for safety reasons, and because of the general wear and tear on the boat. 

Fact 87: The longest narrowboat available is 72 feet (21.95 m) long. A canal boat can’t be longer because they wouldn’t fit into the locks. 

Fact 88: The Canal and River Trust in the UK estimates that there are roughly 34,000 boats on British canals.

Fact 89: Canal boats run on diesel. 

“Every Fact Ever would like to thank Mark and Julie Weir from ‘Weir On The Move’ for the use of their videos. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the channel, Weir On The Move documents the lives of Mark and Julie as they journey around the southern canals of the UK onboard their wide beam canal boat. As fabulous as this sounds, (and they really do make it look like so much fun!), it’s not just about living the dream on a canal boat for them, they also run successful careers from here too. Mark is a freelance writer and author (Randall Crane and the Whitechapel Horror (2014); Annie of the Point (2018)), and Julie is an artist, and an online art teacher – you can see her work and take her classes here. We highly recommend that you check out their YouTube channel and connect with them on social media!”

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Title image courtesy of RHaworth – Own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

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