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Crinan Canal

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Courtesy Flag

Flag, Red Ensign




AC 2381Lower Loch Fyne, Ardrishaig; AC 2476 Loch Crinan; AC 2326 Loch Crinan to the Firth of Lorne; Imray C65 Crinan to Mallaig & Barra Imray C63 Firth of Clyde (plan of Ardrishaig); SC5610.14 Firth of Clyde (Ardrishaig); Canal Chartlet in the Canal Skippers Guide (issued free with licence)

Rules & Regulations

There is a raft of regulations and you should consult their Skippers Guide. The main points are the 4knot speed limit, requirement for £1million third party insurance and be prepared for a random safety inspection the basic requirement of which is that they don’t want you sinking or catching fire in the canal (you do not need a Safety Certificate for a transit licence). There are other rules regarding waste, pets, swimming, use of radar etc. Some of these are in the “Advice, Rules & Regulations” section of the Skippers Guide but others (like the speed limit!) are scattered throughout that guide.


Ardrishaig The Knows 2 miles SE of Ardrishaig and Gulnare Rock with Sgeir Sgalag and Duncuan Island half a mile SE.
Crinan Black Rock 2 cables North of the Sea Lock. Also, if they are locking down when you are approaching the Sea Locks (especially if intending to tie up to the pontoon outside the Ardrishaig sea lock) be aware of strong currents in the vicinity of the gates and the pontoon

Tidal Data Times & Range

HW Ardrishaig is HW Greenock + 6 mins. MHWS 3.4m MHWN 2.8m MLWN 1.1m MLWS 0.2m: HW Crinan is HW Oban – 45mins MHWS 2.4m MHWN 1.7M MLWN 1.1m MLWS 0.3m   (links)

This site is designed for slower, roaming broadband connections, like you would get at sea, so it needs JavaScript enabled to expand the text.

General Description

Crinan Canal Office in Ardrishaig     01546 603210
Crinan Sea Lock                 01546 830285 or VHF 74
Ardrishaig Sea Lock            01546 602458 or VHF 74

Summer 2022. There is a "capping" system in force for both the Caledonian and Crinan Canals. Book ahead on line on a first come first served basis

Probably the most important information we can give is that there is a Skippers Guide available on sale for £4.50 (used to be free) but you can download it here:-


You can find out how much the transit will cost at:- 
The Canal is only nine miles long and, with luck, can be transited in a single day but I would have a look at the tides and streams at Crinan as a first point of reference because the arrival/departure there is going to be governed by those parameters.

Operating hours from early May to mid September are 0830 to 1730 seven days a week with an extra “late opening by request” until 1930 from Thursday to Sunday. The last locking must commence half an hour before closing time and all locks/bridges cease operations for lunch from 1200 to 1230.

The minimum time for transit is given as five or six hours.  You can see from this that it may be pointless pushing to get through the Canal in a hurry only to find that you end up having to anchor off Crinan until the tide turns in the Firth of Lorne - far better to potter up and leave yourself time to get out next morning.

There are width and length restrictions – max length is 88 feet, beam 20 feet and draft 2.7 metres. If your draft is over 2.2m you should contact the Canal Office at least 24 hours before intended transit.

You may think that all these regulations and operating times are a bit bureaucratic until you take into account the fact that water supply here can be a real problem; it’s not like the Caledonian Canal which has huge, deep lochs to supply the demand; the catchment area is very small and in periods of prolonged dry weather they have to manage the supply very carefully. Thus, every time you lock down, you take a lock full of water with you so in the high season (when, hopefully, it isn’t raining too much) there is a constant movement of water out of the system into the sea.  That’s why they need to stop for the night to let the water levels replenish naturally and, if you are deep draft, they need to know you are coming as they may have to manage the water at the top more carefully (they may even have to say “No can do”)

Last Summer (2018) they were forced to restrict transits very severely due to the lack of water.

The canal, as we have said is roughly nine miles long and has 15 locks (that includes both sea locks) and 7 bridges. There are no “flights” of locks where you go straight from one lock into another though there are three main locking areas where the locks are close together but separated by short stretches of water; these are at Ardrishaig, Cairnbaan and Dunardry.

The sea locks are mechanised but the rest of the locks are “handraulic” (ie you have to operate the paddles and the gates manually) The Skippers Guide gives extensive advice on how to work the locks and your boat within them and it is not proposed to give you a lesson on how to do it in these notes; but if you are unfamiliar with canals and locks you need to give that section a good read (and even if you are familiar you still may learn something!!) The most common (and very tiring) mistake is for the crew handing the bow rope to enter into a tug-of-war with the crew on the stern; those ropes do not have to be bar-taught, a gentle tension to stop you drifting around the lock is sufficient; as a single hander you are normally able to handle both stern and bow ropes in one hand.  

How you treat the Canal is up to you; the lock keepers have seen it all and will dig out to get you through as quickly as they can, but there is a limit and you either accept that or spend a day champing at the bit. The good thing is that if your tide gate at the Crinan end is early evening and you get to Ardrishaig at the start of play the chances are that you’ll catch your tide gate and still have three hours or so of daylight to get where you are going so East Loch Tarbert to Craobh in a day is do-able but it would be an early start and a long day; far better to potter up to Ardrishaig after breakfast, get through to the Crinan basin (either above or below Lock 14) have dinner in the Hotel (if you can afford it!) and then lock out in the morning with the whole day ahead of you.

Mind you, if you are trying to get to Tobermory for West Highland week from Kip Marina you’re going to have your work cut out if you leave it until Saturday lunch time to leave Kip!!

There is the question of single handing.  It is is perfectly feasible for a skipper to manage this canal on his own but it would take ages and you'd get in the way of people in a hurry. There is a list of Private Pilots on the Scottish Canals website at


The yotspot no longer does this.


Summer 2022. There is a "capping" system in force for both the Caledonian and Crinan Canals. Book ahead on line on a first come first served basis


To the South of Ardrishaig in the entrance to Loch Gilp there are several reefs to be negotiated...

... and if you are sailing a finkeeler close to the bottom end of a spring tide you will need to be very careful.

The main reef extends out from the shore to the ESE of Ardrishaig from Rubha Buidhe, through the Duncuan Islands out to Sgeir Sgalag. The end of this reef is marked with a lit, green SHM (buoy) but have a care because, only a cable and a half to the SW of this buoy it starts to shelve again towards the other shore.  Two cables to the south of the green buoy is a red can buoy, also lit, which marks the Gulnare Rock reef. There is a sector light on the end of Ardrishaig Pier but if you are running in on this at night you need to pick up the red flashing buoy (4s) as early as possible and ease over in the white sector to leave it to port. 

Given the fact that you can’t get into the canal until 0800 in the morning and it’s light from about 0430 I shouldn’t imagine you will find it necessary to make your approach in the dead of night – far better to stop off at East Loch Tarbert or anchor north or south of Barmore island (just to the North of East Loch Tarbert) the evening before and amble up in the dawn light to Ardrishaig! Of course, these days, there is also the option of Portavadie which is not dependent on tides. 

Further South there are Big Rock, High Rock and McLarty Rock and their associated shallows; Big Rock is the one to be sure to avoid, the others have a fair bit of water over them.

Once you have negotiated the passage through the reefs just swing round the pier and look ahead for the pontoon on the starboard bow.  The pontoon is very close to the lock gate and, if they are flooding down, the current past it is quite strong – not a problem if you are entering the lock but if intending to tie up on exiting the lock you’ll need to turn round and come back at it to tie up starboard side to.


From the North, unless you are coming from Ardfern you are going to have to decide whether to pass between Craignish Point and Garbh Reisa, or go South of Eilean na h-Earne. In either case you will have been coming south on the “ebb” so should experience favourable currents at either choke point but don’t be surprised if (especially in strong Southerlies) if you encounter quite strong overfalls.

There are no isolated off shore dangers coming up the Sound of Jura but watch out for Carraig an Daimh and Skervuile at the southern end.

Once in Loch Crinan, Black Rock just to the North of the Sea Lock is very obvious and a good aid to identifying the lock.  Just give the Sea Lock a call on VHF 74 and they’ll advise you when you can expect to be locked in. There is no waiting pontoon here so if you arrive in the evening you’ll have to find somewhere to anchor (there are plenty of places in Crinan Harbour and the bays to the SW)

Berthing, Mooring & Anchoring

There are anchorages in the bays to the SW of the Crinan Sea lock and.....

.... at the Ardrishaig end you can anchor to the north of the pier (but there are a lot of moorings here and you would be wise to use a tripping line)

Once in the canal there are pontoons available for waiting/ overnight stop at pretty well all the locks and bridges and there are several pontoons at Lochgilphead near to the filling station.

You will note that there are no visitor moorings at Ballanoch Marina but there is room to anchor in that little bay if you wish.

There is normally enough room to moor alongside in the basins at either end of the Canal but you may have to raft; at Crinan you could be asked to moor above Lock 14 if the basin is crowded.  For prices go to:-



These are well signposted on the Skippers Guide but you need to plan a little. Showers and toilets are no problem as they are available at all the major stopping points apart from Millers Bridge. There are now toilets and showers at the Crinan Lock dedicated for Canal users - much better than the public toilets we used to have to use! Any major shopping is best done at Lochgilphead. 

Big Note – there is no diesel provided by the canal; you can get it by arrangement at Crinan Boatyard and in cans at the filling station at Lochgilphead. If you need petrol the only place you can get that is at Lochgilphead and, from a planning point of view, that is the last place northbound until Oban (and even there it is awkward). There is a useful pontoon North of the Oakfield (Miller's) Bridge which is quite close to the Filling Station.

Shore power is available as per the Guide at (extra cost) so that may influence your choice of overnight stop but it is not available at Lochgilphead, Dunardry or Ballanoch Bridge.

Calor Gas refills are available at the filling station in Lochgilphead but they don’t supply Gaz 907 refills; you’ll find those at the caravan park in Lochgilphead itself (the pontoon at Millers bridge is the closest place to stop for that) and there is also a laundrette there.

Eating, Drinking & Entertainment

You can eat ashore at Ardrishaig, Lochgilphead, Cairnbaan and Crinan

If you have time there’s a wee boatshed in behind the Canal Office in Ardrishaig where a chap called Jack Kay builds wooden boat tenders with an attention to detail and finish which is pure poetry (He’s also a mine of information on the conditions at the Mull of Kintyre).  That was a while ago now and he may have retired.


Your Ratings & Comments

Written by Don Thomson 3 | 29th Jul 2022
I reviewed these notes at the end of July 2022. Everything up to date. Note that because of post Covid staffing problems they have introduced a "capping" system limiting the number of boats entering the Canal on a daily basis. You have to book ahead and pay on line to get in
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Update Early Summer 2021
Written by Don Thomson 3 | 24th Jun 2021
I reviewed these notes in June 2021. New price for transit not yet uploaded to the Scottish Canals website. We have given a link to a list of skippers available to give an assisted passage.(about £60) .But if you are comfortable with the canal and can manage on your own without delaying others, single handed passage is still permitted - but it will take a wee while. They have rebuilt locks 1 to 4 at Ardrishaig and the finishing work is still in progress so expect to take a little longer getting through there (about an hour)
Ardrishaig Jun 19
Written by FrogVela | 2nd Jul 2019
There is no visitor pontoon anymore. I arrived too late to get through into the basin at5pm. I tied up in the sea lock which was noisy but sheltered. Getting into the sea lock was interesting as there area few boats moored in the basin in front of it. You have to weave your way in and I grounded once on a patch of soft mud before trying an alternative route!
Update Spring 2019
Written by Don Thomson 3 | 7th May 2019
These notes were reviewed in May 2019. A link to this year's prices and Skippers Guide has been updated. Note that, this year, they have started charging £4.50 for hard copy of the guide (at least, they say they are - I already have reports of it being issued free of charge!) If this summer turns out as dry as last year's, expect closures and restrictions on passages.
Written by Don Thomson | 6th Apr 2017
These notes were reviewed by Don in April 2017. Having transited this canal last summer I can vouch for the fact that only the price has change, downwards, and that you need a crew to do this unless you can piggyback on a willing boat with enough crew to compensate for your lack!
Crinan 2016
Written by Summer Lightning | 3rd Jul 2016
The Yotspot assistance is worth every penny of £60 if you are short handed or new to the Crinan. We transisted over 4 days and simply booked them by phone. 01546 602777. They have a website - theyotspot.com. Good restaurant at the Ardrashaig end of the canal. Cost for a licence for a 37 ft yacht 2016 was £131 Note that because of the dry Spring the water levels are low and it is taking time to fill the locks with water, no problem so long as you are not in a rush.
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Update 2016
Written by dononshytalk | 16th Jun 2016
Due to the storm of protest at the hike in prices to fund the extra manning at the locks they have had to return to the previous modus operandi and lower the prices. This means that if you require assisted passage due to short handed or disability you will have to contact a contractor called "The Yacht Spot" who will provide an assistant for not more than £60. If short handed do not prematurely opt for an assistant - you will probably be able to piggy back one of the other yachts going through. The Yacht Spot is a new venture which has a store with a selection of the more obvious chandlery bits and bobs, it also does Gas and Gaz and has a restaurant open until 10pm.
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June 2015 update
Written by Heretic | 15th Jun 2015
Good passage through on 8th June with just 2 on board and one other boat, also with 2. Staff at each lock, no need to go ashore. Facilities now excellent.
Update 2015
Written by dononshytalk | 19th Mar 2015
These notes were reviewed by Don in March 2015. The price of a transit licence has gone up by 50% to pay for the new staff manning all the locks; it will be £15.95 per metre from May.
The other main improvement is the provision of a new amenities building at the Crinan basin containing showers and toilets for the sole use of those holding a canal licence.
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No more Assisted Passage
Written by JulesHoult | 7th Aug 2014
This scheme is not operating this year although they claim to be reviewing this decision regularly and there is a survey on their website to encourage them.

I went through singlehanded earlier this month - arrived at Ardrishaig just in time to get through the sea lock and asked for a pilot for the next morning - Hugh and Jim arrived at 0830 and I was through in 5 hours!

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