Exeter City Council


AINA Representative: Steve Carnell, Waterways and Parking Manager

Civic Centre
Paris Street

Telephone: 01392 274306
Fax: 01392 250234

Email: river_canal@exeter.gov.uk
Website: www.exeter.gov.uk 

Constitutional status 

Local authority (municipal), Harbour authority. Exeter Canal Acts 1564 and 1829 and Harbour Acts 1633.

Description of navigation

A broad ship canal, mainly rural but urban towards Exeter City itself.

A brief history of the navigation

The canal was opened in 1566 and was the first canal in Britain with pound locks. It was extended twice, finally to Turf Lock in 1829 with 15 ft. draft and 350-ton ships taking goods into Exeter. The decline started in 1844 when the railway reached Exeter. In 1998 the last regular user of the canal, the M.V. Countess Wear, sludge vessel had to cease disposal at sea.

Current situation and use


The canal provides facilities for both commercial and leisure boating use, with winter and summer lay up facilities along with rowing and canoeing. Passage in and out and along the canal is primarily in the weekday with special convoys at some weekends.

Walking, cycling, fishing, bird watching and other leisure pursuitsalso take place on the canal banks. Pleasure boat trips are available daily from April – September, with a linked up ferry service from Turf to Exeter Quay.

The Canal Basin boating facilities provide in water and on quay berths for lay up and repairs. The Turf Basin has pontoons for summer visitors and winter lay ups, whilst quays elsewhere can accommodate larger commercial vessels.Water and electricity is available in most locations.

There is access for general public use throughout the canal both on and off the water. Car parks for walkers are spaced throughout the length of canal.

Plans for the future

All structures are in good condition with all locks and bridges renewed in the past 40 years. The infrastructure is being upgraded and the Basin area is to receive pontoons and visitor facilities in the next few years along with building regeneration of the area. New hard standing boat storage area will also be available thus more winter lay-ups and summer visiting will be accommodated.

Topsham side lock has been closed off for 45 years due to leaks under the pit that have now been stopped so a restoration of the old wooden gates would reinstate use of this smaller lock potentially by customers.

How we consult with our users

  1. River and Canal User Group -- a council run representative body of all clubs, associations and businesses that use and river Exe in the vicinity of Exeter Quay and the canal. Meetings are twice a year with the 16 reps.
  2. Exeter Boat Owners Association-- and self appointed group that represent their membership to the council giving assistance and advice on the canal use and needs as well as input into the planning process for the Canal Basin regeneration.
  3. Environmental – overseen and carried out by the council’s leisure services Countryside section within the Leisure department who enhance and promote waterway environmental use.
  4. Exe Estuary Management Partnership - the Council is one of a number of stakeholders represented on this group who hold an annual forum for all estuary/canal users and interested parties.

How we are structured

Waterways Services, responsible for the Harbour Authority functions within the estuary and the canal navigation duties, falls within the Public Realm Service of the Council.  Steve Carnell manages day to day issues under the line management of Assistant Director Roger Coombes.

Navigation statistics

Length/area of waterway

River and broad canal 5.2 miles, 8km
Tidal estuary 15km

Number of locks

3 incl 1 sea lock



37m (122ft )


8m (26’3")


3m (9’10”)


10m (32’10”)

Requirements for boating

Boat Safety Scheme        YES

Third Party Insurance      YES