How to Safely Navigate a Narrow Channel While Boating

February 9, 2023

Narrow channel navigation

Navigating a narrow channel can be a perilous endeavour, even for a seasoned skipper. Reduced visibility makes narrow channels particularly delicate to navigate. This is especially true for larger vessels.

Due to dramatically reduced manoeuverability, navigating a narrow channel can represent a danger for both the navigator and for the pleasure craft. It is important to be aware of the rules of navigation before you attempt this tricky procedure.

What are the rules of navigation in a narrow channel?

As a mariner, you must ensure that both your own vessel and others’ remain safe.

When a captain navigates into a traffic-lane, they must remember that the visibility and manoeuverability from the bridge of a vessel is limited. Depending on the size of the boat, they may also be invisible to other boats and should therefore be cautious.

In general, boat operators passing through a narrow channel should, if possible:

  1. Navigate as closely as possible to the right outer limit of the channel
  2. Avoid anchoring their vessel in the middle of a narrow channel
  3. Avoid vessels that are not in full control of their manoeuvers
  4. Sound a warning when approaching obstacles that may obstruct visibility or vision

Other rules apply for more specific vessels:

  1. Sailboats and vessels less than 2 meters in length must not block bigger boats that need to cross the channel. It is also advisable to avoid larger vessels because they are more difficult to manoeuver.
  2. Fishing boats should never obstruct the passage of other vessels.

Specific cases: groups of small boats and tugs

Ideally, when there are several smaller boats in a narrow channel, they should navigate in a group to increase their visibility. They should also avoid anchored, moving or towed ferries.

It is important to look out for the cables behind tugs, which can extend below the surface of the water. A small boat that collides with one could capsize or be run aground.

What are the rules concerning right of way in a narrow channel?

There are established rules for overtaking within a narrow channel, which were created to help avoid accidents. A vessel passing another vessel must indicate its intentions clearly by making a sound with a bell, whistle or horn according to established signaling rules:

  • Two long blasts followed by one short one means that it is overtaking the vessel on the starboard side.
  • Two long blasts followed by two short ones means that it is overtaking the vessel on the port side.

To signal agreement, the overtaken vessel should make a long blast followed by a short blast, then repeat.


Navigate safely with the National Boating Safety Institute

Manoeuvering a boat can be difficult in certain situations. Navigating a narrow channel requires concentration and a knowledge of various safety procedures. Staying informed will help you safely navigate a channel.

With the National Boating Safety School, you can earn your boating license our online boating safety course. Contact us today and navigate Canadian waters with confidence!

Get your card today