Forth & Clyde Canal

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AC 2007-1 for Bowling and 0741-3 for Grangemouth

Rules & Regulations

Numerous: consult the Skippers Handbook


Wrecks and obstructions in the western part of Bowling Harbour and mud banks and shallows in the River Carron at the Grangemouth end

Tidal Data Times & Range

HW Grangemouth is approx +30 on HW Leith. HW Bowling is approx +15 on Greenock


Scottish Canals       0141 332 6936
Bowling Sea Lock   01369 877969
Carron Sea Lock     01324 483034 or 07810 794468

The Forth Clyde Canal is a canal which was original opened in 1790 to connect the East Coast of Scotland with the West Coast and runs from Grangemouth in the East to Bowling in the West. It is run by Scottish Canals which is also responsible for the other two Scottish Canals, the Crinan and the Caledonian.  The Forth Clyde has, as well as the main canal, two spurs, one into Edinburgh (the Union Canal) which is accessed via the Falkirk Wheel and the other into Glasgow at the Stockingfield junction.

The Canal has finite dimensions which will make it inaccessible for some craft. It will take vessels with a 19.2 m length, 6m beam, 1.83m draft and a 3m air draft. Remember that this is fresh water so your draft will be about 10cm more than in sea water.  It is probably the draft which will cause more problems than the mast which can be lowered.

In recent years Scottish Canals have installed cranes at either end of the Canal to facilitate the lowering of masts and the lock keepers there are proficient in their use. The one at the Bowling end is within the first basin after the sea lock and that at the Carron end is within the sea lock itself but at the moment there are not so many yachts using the Canal as to cause a bottleneck for mast lowering.

Summer 2022.  The crane at the Grangemouth end isbeing worked on and is not expected to be back in use until mid August 2022. If planning a transit be prepared to have to lower/rig mast at Port Edgar. - and make early enquiries.

As well as the installation of cranes there is a new “cut” at the Grangemouth end of the Canal. Previously one entered and left the Canal at a sea lock just to the West of the M8 motorway; that is no longer the case as they have built an extension to the Canal eastwards taking it parallel to the River Carron and coming out between the Overhead Pipe and Jarvie’s Quay.  This cut means that it is no longer necessary to include air draft calculations under the Kerse Bridge in the approach to the East end of the Canal.

Both sea locks are hydraulically operated whilst all the others are purely manual but in all cases the locks are operated by Canal staff.  Transits through the system  will take two full days to complete a transit so you would be wise to lock in on the evening tide of the day before your transit which will enable you to lower your mast in preparation for a breakfast time start the next day.  It is essential that you inform the Canal of your intentions so that they can co-ordinate your requirements with those of other skippers.  THere was a time when they would only take you through from coast to coast at the weekends; this is no longer the case.  They are restricted by boat movements vs manpower but if you book your movement with them it's a case of those that's keenest get fell in foremost ie, once you have arranged your transit then others will have to fit themselves to your plans rather then you to theirs.

It should be noted that you will find that this Canal is, at the moment, nowhere near as busy as the Crinan or Caledonian Canals so most requirements can be met.

Because there are so many locks it is not practical to man each lock with dedicated staff; what generally happens is that a four-man team is allocated to each convoy and they leapfrog each other in pairs so that as you leave one lock the other is being made ready to accept you. (This means that in the basins between locks you will have to ready your warps for the next lock) You may think this an expensive solution but, in fact, it is the best way to utilise the manpower.

The Canal has a reputation for being weedy.  They have several weeding machines and when we went through they were in operation (even on the Sunday) but, it has to be said, they are fighting an uphill battle.  We experienced several occasions when the outboard had to fight through entanglements and also needed to clear the prop of a plastic bag at the halfway mark and again after we had cleared the Canal.

Those of you who are used to the Crinan and Caledonian Canal will find this Canal a completely different experience; the layout of the lock flights is similar to the Crinan in that, in the lock flights, there is a basin between the locks; but there the similarity ends because there are forty locks in this Canal and with a seven mile lock and bridge free transit along the top of the Canal these are compressed into 24 miles of canal; it’s lock after lock after lock and hard work.

We describe below a transit from West to East with the sole purpose of getting from the Clyde to the Forth but there is nothing against you taking your time, arrange a suitable licence and just daunder through, stopping overnight at various places that suit you, or even taking the trip along the Union Canal to Edinburgh. There is a big “but;” you must ensure that the staff know of your intentions so that they can co-ordinate it with other canal movements; you are not allowed to operate the locks and bridges on your own. 

Skippers Canal Guide


Bowling tides click HERE

When passing up river past Greenock you should report to Glasgow Port Control on #12 before passing the No1 SHM near the Port Control tower at Greenock. If you are in James Watt Dock marina you should request departure before sallying out into the river.  The sea lock operates for two hours either side of HW and it is about ten miles up river from the No1 SHM at Greenock.

The entrance to the Canal is in the old Bowling harbour about two and a half miles up river from Dumbarton Rock. The western end of Bowling harbour (behind the long harbour breakwater) is littered with hulks and is also shallow and you should stay in the main river channel until abeam the lead in marks on the far side of the harbour (see the photo in the Navigation Gallery).  Remain on that transit until the lead in marks on the South side of the sea lock come into line before turning towards the lock itself.  Obviously you will have contacted the Sea Lock on #74 to make sure they are expecting you and you switch to their control on leaving the shipping channel in the main river.

The basin inside the sea lock is exposed to winds from the South through to the North West and there is not a lot of room to manoeuvre once you exit the lock so getting alongside under the crane could be tricky. You are unlikely to be able to exit the lock and turn immediately to port to achieve this but how you do it will depend on your boat; some sort of tear drop approach in the middle of the basin will probably be the answer. Remember that you will have just locked in so your warps will need to be remade up for coming alongside, possibly downwind and being blown off; have fun.


Grangemouth tides click HERE

There is a longish transit up the River Carron from the Firth (about 2.5 miles) which you will be covering on a rising tide.  There are no figures in the almanacs for HW Grangemouth but you can find the Easytide page on the link above.

There are two halves to the approach to this end of the Canal; the first is in the Firth itself and the second, up the River.

You should remain clear of the shipping channel in the Firth, either to the North or South as convenient but if coming from Port Edgar should aim to cross the channel to the North side opposite Crombie Pier (Carriden Beacon Fl.Y.5s to the Torry SHM Q.G. is the recommended track)
Thereafter you should remain to the North of the shipping channel until the Grangemouth West SHM (Q.G) when you can turn towards the River Carron entrance. Be aware that the occasional cargo vessel ties up at the West Jetty outside Grangemouth Dock and has to make its approach to that from the West, across the entrance to the River.

The second part is the passage up river to the Canal entrance.  Now, this used to be particularly critical because there are a couple of bridges between the new entrance to the Canal and the old sea lock beyond the M8 bridge; with the new entrance the problem of air draft under these bridges no longer exists and you merely have to time your transit so that there is enough water in the river to accept your draft. The lock can operate from 4 hours before HW to 2.5 hours after HW

The new extension to the Canal (known as the Helix cut) is restricted in its width to 5m, otherwise it’s dimensions conform to the rest of the Canal. If your beam is between 5m and 6m you will have to use the old sea lock (Sea Lock 2) which means you have the problem of the air draft under the bridges, especially the Kerse Road bridge. To transit up river from the new Sea lock (Sea lock 1) you will have to un-step your mast before proceeding past Sea Lock 1; this can be done by locking into Sea Lock 1 and then locking out again or (probably the better option) getting it done at Port Edgar.

Cautionary note.  Since the opening of Sea Lock 1 the outflow from the lock has dredged its own channel into the river. That channel is NOT in line with the Canal itself but turns virtually 90° and directly into the river. There is a mud bank just down river from the pontoon which extends outwards towards the main channel.
This means that as you pass Jarvie’s Quay and the lock entrance come into view you should not make a bee line for the entrance but continue in the river channel until it is virtually abeam the pontoon and turn in from there. 

There is a further matter to be considered.  There are no services whatsoever (no toilets, nothing) in the basin just after Sea Lock 1 so you need to leave enough time to lower your mast and stow everything so that you can move up the Helix cut into the Kelpies basin before the lockkeeper has to secure for the day.

So, if intending to cross Scotland using this Canal, there is a fair amount of planning required and boat preparation so that you get the timings right.

You will have been given a copy of the Skippers Guide to the Canal at the beginning of your transit.

You can download a pdf copy of the guide at the URL shown above but it can be a bit blurred in places, so get a hard copy.  The locks are shown in blue in this guide and the bridges which have to be moved to accommodate your passage are shown with a red bar across the canal (other bridges have their names appended but if they do not have a red bar they are over 3m high)

A sailor by the name of John Rushworth produced a google map of the Canal back in 2006 and you can follow this link to find that Forth Clyde Canal

The ideal time to enter the canal is late afternoon so that the mast can be lowered and one can move up into the canal from the sea basins in preparation for a morning departure.  The lockkeeper at the Sea lock will advise you on your departure time in the morning (usually about 0900)

If, at this stage you right click on our picture Gallery up on the right side of this article, then “open in a new window” you will find that the gallery is laid out in the order in which encounter the locks when transiting west to east

From the Bowling end the first obstacle you meet is a small, double leafed, hand operated bascule bridge, the Ferrydyke bridge(Image 4)
It will take about ten minutes to get here. There will be a couple of Canal Staff there who will raise the bridge on your approach and explain what they intend doing for the rest of the day and that pair will overtake you on the way to the next obstacle which is Lock 38 and the Ferry Road Bridge (Image 5).

From here it is a short run to the Farm Road bascule bridge (Image 6) which is another small, double leafed, hand operated, bascule bridge

The next excitement is the Dalmuir Drop Lock (Image7).  This is a wonderful piece of engineering which passes you under the main multi-laned Dumbarton Road without stopping the traffic.  The lock has a single basin underneath the road; you enter the lock and they close the gate behind you and then drain the basin down so that you can pass through under the road and once on the other side they reflood the basin back to the canal level and you pass back into the canal, albeit, slightly higher than you were. In this lock you do not pass lines ashore but around vertical stainless steel bars in the side of the lock.

Having left the excitement (?) of the Dalmuir Drop Lock about a mile later you come round a corner and find the way blocked by the Sylvia Way footbridge (Image 8) at Clydebank. This has its own umbrella and will in all probability be closed. This is because the lock-keepers have to clear the bridge of pedestrians and will not start this until you heave into sight.  You will be puzzled at this stage because nothing seems to be happening until you notice that the whole bridge is imperceptibly lifting vertically and when there is enough height you can proceed into the next part of the Canal and you have reached Clydebank.  Here the Canal passes through about quarter of a mile of pedestrianised shopping malls and retail outlets and the lock-keepers vanish for breakfast!!  You may do the same thing, or go into the mall and do some shopping yourself - but do not leave the boat unattended because there will a stream of people interested in your boat (and possibly its contents) At the end of this short stretch there is, believe it or not, a drive-in fish and chip boat.

The lock-keepers will reappear about an hour later and off you go again passing through the Linnvale Bascule bridge(Image 9) about a mile further on and, shortly after that, under a fixed road bridge and into the first lock of a flight of four locks with basins in between known as the Boghouse Locks (Image 10). This is your first taste of things to come.  Having entered the first lock and passed your warps up, they close the gates behind you, wind the paddles down and then start to wind the sluice paddles up on the gates in front of you. The water coming into the lock will cause turbulence and you will need to keep a close eye on your warps. They will normally wind the paddles up in stages to reduce the amount of turbulence.  They then open the gates and you proceed out into the basin towards the next lock. Whilst passing through this basin you, and your crew will have to re-coil your warps in readiness for heaving ashore in the next lock so the helm must adjust the speed to allow time for this. And so into the next lock, and the next, and the next. Lots of activity and you have only covered half a mile and you leave there and half a mile later pass through the Bard Avenue bridge (Image 11),another double leaved, hand operated, bascule bridge.

Another short stretch brings you to the Great West Road bridge, which you, thankfully, pass under without interruption and continue around a couple of bends and come upon two more locks with a basin in between and a footbridge before them. These are the start of the Cloberhill Locks (Image 12) At this stage you may notice that the lock number is displayed on the pushing arms of the locks and realise that this is Lock No 32 (numbered from the Grangemouth end); so, lots of locks to go.
After these two locks there is a short, quarter of a mile stretch to a hard starboard into the next basin before the rest of the Cloberhill locks, three more locks with basins in between. By the time you leave the third lock the skipper will have become adept at adjusting the speed, steering with his knees and making up the heaving line ready for the next lock and he won’t have to remind the crew up forward to ready their warps as well!!

You will then have a gentle fifteen minutes passing under the Westerton footbridge and through the Netherton Swingbridge (No Image)towards the two Temple Locks (26 & 27)(Image 13)  Having dealt with those it’s another shortish hop under the Clevedon Road bridge after which you come to a long pontoon on the starboards side where you will discover that the Canal Staff are vanishing into a hut with their “piece” bags after indicating the toilets on the shore!  You have arrived at the dreaded Maryhill Locks (Image 14); a flight of five (yes, five Nos 21 to 25) locks with very short basins in between. You will also realise that it is now early afternoon (about 1400) and you have been on the go since 0900!

It will probably take a good hour and a half to work your way through this flight of locks and it is it continuous work for both you and the staff and, by the time you get out of the top lock (No 25) you will be read for a cuppa.

The pressure is then off for the rest of the day. The only thing to watch out for is half a mile after you leave the Maryhill flight you come across a T-junction and it looks as though the main canal is straight ahead; it’s not, you have to turn hard to port and go up that way. There is a sign but it may be obscured with undergrowth. The Canal then winds its way through countryside and the occasional urban sprawl, under bridges that have enough room for you to pass under until, 7 miles (just under two hours) later you arrive at Kirkintilloch.  About a mile after passing under the Glasgow Road Bridge you will come round a gentle left hand bend and see the futuristic Kirkintilloch footbridge ahead (Image 15). It would be a good idea to ready mooring lines and fenders on both sides in this little stretch because, directly after that bridge ie where its feet meet the ground there is a narrow entrance (Image 16) to the Southbank Marina on the starboard side. It is not wide enough for two boats to pass in it and, once inside, you will have to choose your mooring place and come alongside in short order. Do not turn to port in the basin and moor there because that berth is reserved - there are normally a few berths dead ahead which are convenient. (Image 17)

Southbank Marina.
There is water and shore power available on the pontoons and the main building has showers and toilets. Read this it will save you a lot of time. The entrance to the main building (where the toilets and showers are) is through the double glass doors at the Eastern end of the basin. Ignore the two doors to its right with toilet signs, the canal key doesn’t fit them; you will notice a green lit keyhole to the left of the glass doors which is marked “Canal” and that’s where you insert the key. That lets you through the glass doors into a corridor to a foyer with plush chairs and various doors off; None of these doors is marked “Toilets” or some other informative sign - your door is the second on the right with “Fire Door Keep Closed” markings. When you open this door you find a “black hole” until the lights come on automatically and reveal what you have been searching for.  Just an added note here, wear the minimum amount of clothing if going for a shower - there is absolutely nothing upon which to hang clothes or towels - just a single hook behind the door which is 8 feet from the shower which has no shower curtain. You may think that this long description is superfluous unless you have jumped ashore with the key and then spent a desperate 20 minutes searching for the “amenities”
There are several nice places for an evening meal after a short walk along the canal into the town.

If you are West bound from here you can leave at about 0700 to be at the Maryhill flight for 0900 but Eastbound you can have a lie in and leave at just gone nine to meet your next team of canal Staff at the Hillhead swing bridge (Image 18) after the rush hour.

After that it is a gentle hour or so to the Twechar bascule bridge (Image 19) followed by another couple of miles to the Auchinstarry “Marina.” (Image 20)  This is a fully serviced marina occupied mainly by live aboard narrow boats but if you want to stay here overnight there should be room and it is included in the cost of the Canal Licence. You can also obtain diesel here if you are running low.

From here it is another four miles to the Winford lock(Lock 20) and bridge (Image 21); and you are now on your way down as opposed to up which you spent the whole of the previous day doing. This means that you will come alongside in a lock which is full of water and merely have to pass your lines ashore instead of having to heave them up. Just one point here; if there has been a wet period before your transit some of the “down” locks will be very full and you need your fenders lowered to the waterline to avoid scratches and you will have to watch the fenders for the tendency to “ride up”  There is also the relief of the lack of turbulence as the lock drains down; all that is on the downside of the lock gate!
A further mile on you come to a double lock with a long basin in between. These are the Castlecary Locks (Nos 18 &19) (Image 22) shortly after which is the single Underwood lock (No 17).(Image 23) Having passed through this lock, about another mile and a half along the Canal, you come to the Bonnybridge Lifting Bridge (Image 24) which another of those bridges which lifts vertically to let you through.

After another two miles you run in to the basin below the Falkirk Wheel (Image 25). You will want to stop here to take in the views and perhaps even go “up” to the Union Canal (which leads to Edinburgh). Your licence will cover a trip up and then back down if you should wish to do so or even divert from the main canal and go into Edinburgh; obviously you will need to appraise the Canal Staff who have been accompanying you of your intentions.  Do not be lulled into a sense of timelessness by this section of the canal which has been mainly “cruising” as opposed to locking; if you intend getting through to the end of the Canal by the end of the day, you still have another sixteen locks to cover.
You may find that the basin in the main canal below the lock into the Falkirk Wheel basin is fairly crowded and is not all that big for loitering in if there is any wind. There is a footbridge at the eastern end (Image 26)  of that basin and you have to summon staff to operate it and that can take a good ten to fifteen minutes.
Once through that little bridge it is a short mile hop to Lock 16 (Image 27) which is the first in the Falkirk flight, a flight of ten locks in the space of a mile. What can we say? - just grin and bear it.  It will be difficult to work out just where you are because Lock 6 (the last of the Falkirk flight) (Image 28)  leads straight on to lock 5 (Image 29) which is combined with the Bainsford Road bridge and it is just a short hop to the Abbotshaugh Lock (No 4) and Bridge (Image 30).

But, from here you can see the hard port turn in to Lock 3 into the Carron cut (Image 31)  and from there the Kelpies will be very obvious.

From there you motor into the Kelpies basin (Image 33) and take stock.  To get to Sea Lock 1 (where the crane is) (Image 34) you will have to lock under the M8; there you will erect your mast and depart. Obviously you will have to take into account the tide and the weather outside along with the fact that there are no facilities ashore after the Kelpies basin and it will be fairly near six o’clock when you arrive there. It may be better to stay in the Kelpies basin until tide and weather are favourable for departure.  This is also true of the departure from the Bowling end though there is not the lack of facilities in the crane basin to worry about.

If you have struggled through all that, cross-checking between the text and the chartlet in the Skippers Guide, and maybe even having a look at Google Earth you will realise that this is no “walk in the park.”  If you are transiting from East to West, by the time you’ve gotten to the top of the Falkirk flight at Lock 16 you will be very tired - it was bad enough going down, goodness knows what it is like going up as your introduction to the Canal; don’t despair, once you’ve cracked that the journey becomes a lot less compressed and the Glasgow side, going down from Maryhill is not such hard work.

To put a time scale on it. We locked in to Bowling at tea time on the Friday and arrived at the Kelpies at tea time on the Sunday. We could have continued to Sea Lock 1 and stepped the mast that evening in preparation for sea at HW the next day. But you have to add to that a day spent at James Watt Dock preparing the mast for lowering (built a tabernacle, disconnected the electrics and the small stays, and removed the mainsail) and at the other end stepped the mast and then spent the afternoon tuning it, rigging the mainsail etc - this was because of the tides; had I been able to leave as soon as I had stepped the mast I would have gone down to Limekilns or Port Edgar to tune the mast and do all the other stuff.
You’re talking a minimum of three days but more probably four days to lower the mast, transit the Canal and then re-step the mast and continuing with your cruise.

The Skippers Guide has a handy guide to the facilities but basically there is everything you need at both ends of the Canal, at the two marinas and the Falkirk wheel. In between there are several places you can pull up for the night and have water, shore-power, toilets and showers.

One thing; there is a dearth of is places to restock the galley. There is nothing at Bowling or the Kelpie basin; about the only place is the Clydebank precinct where you are spoiled for choice but perhaps constrained by time.

There are restaurants at both marinas and the Falkirk Wheel; we found a pleasant Italian bistro close to the Canal at Kirkintilloch.  There are several “canal-side” establishments along the rest of the canal.

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