New guidance has been issued by Scottish Canals (a public corporation of the Scottish Government which is responsible for managing Scotland's inland waterways). The guidance is titled 'Boats, Bikes, Boots and Beyond: A guide to using Scotland's canals responsibly' and details the responsibilities of recreational users on Scotland's canals. Whilst unlikely to make waves, the guidance is a useful indication of the standard of conduct expected of individuals using Scotland's waterways.

Scotland has five canals, namely:

1. The Caledonian Canal

2.The Crinan Canal

3.The Forth and Clyde Canal

4.The Monkland Canal

5.The Union Canal

The rights of access established in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 include a right to be on and to cross canals. The access rights can only be exercised for recreational purposes, for educational activities and for carrying out certain commercial activities if the activity could be carried out on a non-commercial or not for profit basis. Individuals must exercise such access rights responsibly and are presumed to be acting responsibly if they do not cause unreasonable interference with the rights of another person.

The new guidance sets out the responsible actions expected by individuals on Scottish canals. It targets boaters, walkers, cyclists, anglers, kayakers, rowers and horse riders who enjoy the canals and their towpaths.


The guidance is built on three principles:

1. Share the space

Each individual has a responsibility to respect and to be aware of others on the canal.

2. Drop your pace

Some may not have the same experience as others on the canal and so patience is key. Pedestrians are given priority on towpaths and so other user groups are reminded to slow down and give way. Due to potential difficulties with manoeuvring in confined spaces, water users must give way to motorised craft.

3. It's a special place

Waterways are of historical importance with many still containing working locks and bridges. As a result waterway users are given right of way.

Further key points included in the guidance are:

4. Take responsibility for your own actions

5. Respect the interests of other users

6. Care for the environment and the structure itself

7. Have appropriate insurance, if required, for the activity you are undertaking

Access on the water

Most of the guidance is dictated by common sense, such as avoiding close proximity to water intakes, abstraction points, or slipways. Rights of access do not apply to locks and lifts but access may be possible with prior permission.

Individuals are asked to respect the needs of anglers by avoiding nets and fishing tackles and keeping noise and disturbance to a minimum. Users must be alert to others and where appropriate make their presence known. The goal is for all user groups to enjoy the canals without disrupting other activities. A special mention is given to domestic barges individuals are expected to respect the privacy of those who call barges 'home'.


In the first place, anglers are reminded to be aware of other individuals in the water and on the land. Casting a line and catching a bike instead of a pike is not in keeping with the spirit of the new guidance. Anglers are encouraged to indicate a preferred route to other canal users but are reminded that it may not be possible for them to follow the route suggested.

And remember, access rights do not extend to fishing. This is one of the activities that the Land Reform (Scotland) Act has excluded from its remit. This means that, if an individual wants to fish on a canal (or anywhere else) they should first seek out the appropriate approvals and permits, if needed.


Unauthorised vehicles, motorcycles, quad bikes and scrambles are prohibited from using towpaths. For guidance on responsible use of towpaths, please see the Towpath Code of Conductavailable at