First stop should be the website of Peel Ports who own the Mancheser Ship Canal, to download the welcome pack for pleasure craft. This tells you everything you need to know.
Importantly, pleasure craft using the Ship Canal have to submit a Seaworthiness Certificate, signed by one of their approved surveyors. A list of surveyors is included in the pack, but the vast majority are in the Cheshire/Manchester/Liverpool areas. The surveyor will check that you have all the necessary equipment, including two 50ft ropes (or at least enough shorter ropes to make up two of 50ft), fire extinguishers, life jackets, horn, an anchor, and a copy of the by laws (they're in the pack, so print it out). A narrowboat's navigation lights will never be high enough to comply, but they are an advantage.
VHF isn't strictly necessary, but I was pleased we had it, and wouldn't like to do the trip without it. It means that it's much easier to talk to the Eastham Control Room, and, importantly, ships can talk to you direct.
As well as your application form and seaworthiness certificate, you'll need to submit a copy of your insurance certificate, and the appropriate fee. The cost of the transit between the Weaver and Ellesmere Port is £29.00
A good person to talk to at Peel Ports is the Deputy Harbour Master, Alan Feast, on 0151 949 6114 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org
Next you need to book with the Canal and River Trust. They need to unlock the lock at Ellesmere Port, and work you through Weston Marsh Lock on the River. Phone the CRT national number, 03030 404040 and ask to speak to Admin at Northwich. We found the staff there excellent, especially when we asked if we could rearrange at short notice.
The third organisation you need to contact is Cheshire West and Chester Council, who own the swing bridge over the bottom lock at Ellesmere Port. Again we found them very helpful, and eager to be of assistance. You need to know when you want the bridge swung, but their office is only ten minutes away, so they are reasonably flexible. However, it appears that they're available for bridge duties only during office hours. The contact is Rob Taylor on 07799 658814