River Clyde Navigation

Boats can be craned in at either Clydebank or Dumbarton to access the Forth & Clyde Canal via the sealock at Bowling. This involves a 5-mile tidal passage – either up or down the River Clyde. 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 Dumbarton 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 even hiring in a mobile crane (expensive) you will have to commission various SC ‘statements’ which are in themselves very costly to complete.

Cranage costs at both Clydebank and Dumbarton are currently (2021 prices) between £300 and £600 dependant on size of vessel. Clydebank tends to be marginally cheaper.

Until recently cranage was also regularly available on the River Carron, at the eastern end of the Forth & Clyde Canal, just down river from the Kelpies, but I understand that Steve Kelvin (01324 471535) is now limiting his craning activities to two distinct times of the year: at the beginning and end of the boating season. With the spreader attached his 22 ton-lift crane can in reality lift up to 20 tons.

From this location there is a ¾-mile run up the river to the sealock at the end of the newly-constructed 1 Km Queen Elizabeth II Canal.

By way of a checklist I’ve detailed some of the key points to bear in mind when navigating the Rivers Clyde and Carron below:

  • 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.
  • For general info on navigating the Clyde study: https://www.peelports.com/media/1370/8-clyde-leisure-navigation-guide-5th-edition.pdf
  • For entering Bowling Harbour, from the Clyde, study the relevant page in the Scottish Canals Skippers Guide to the Forth & Clyde Canal: uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Scottish-Canals-Lowlands-Skippers-Guide-WEB-May-16.pdf.
  • 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 Nav lights & horn are operational.
  • Contact harbourmaster at Bowling several days in advance of the trip – to discuss passage/arrival times/general advice: either Alex or Charlie 01389 877969. They are extremely helpful and, if you are staying at Bowling, could become your friends for life. You won’t find better ones!
  • 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. The weather is the boss here, with your plans and intentions very much taking second place!
  • 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 (tide times on Internet)
  • Life jackets are essential. 
  • Notify insurance company re tidal passage (and comply with their requirements). Your trip is outwith 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. Salvage, if in the River’s navigable channel, could become a six-figure sum!

Anchor, chain and warp

You should usually work on a minimum of 4x channel depth which, at high tide, 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 be a minimum of 10mm and the warp a minimum of 16mm.

I suggest obtaining 28m of rope which 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 sealock the harbourmaster will drop you down two 20m 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. I use a large floppy builder’s bucket with the rope coiled round the outside of the bucket’s interior and the chain in the middle.

However, I’ve got the chain you’ll need at Bowling, plus at least half the warp you’ll require, coiled up in a bin and ready to go after a recent trip. You’re welcome to borrow that (and a Danforth anchor if you want) and together with what you have/purchase you should end up with more than you need!).

I’m usually a residential moorer at Helenslea, Bowling – just above Lock 38. For further information or to borrow an anchor etc check first on 07788 974164! My job and family commitments take me away from time to time.

Indeed, right now I’m lurking at Narrowboat Farm EH49 6QY, so collection of the above tideway essentials would be from that location for the time being.

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. Mine are all 19mm – largely for that reason, although I’ve spent time moored on a tideway in a drying harbour – but my boat does weight 22½ tons!