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Personal security in winter

The winter months make the towpaths very dark in the evenings, so this is a good time to think about personal safety and the security of your most precious things, like your boat.

Winter on the canal

It's a sad fact of life that there are some people out there, who if given the opportunity, will take things from you and your boat, and might even try and steal your boat itself. So what can you do to minimise the risk, and what should you do if the worst happens?

If your boat is your home, you probably already take security pretty seriously and will have invested in decent locking systems and possibly even an alarm and GPS tracking system in case someone steals the boat itself. If you haven't, it's time to do it, there's loads of good advice and systems out there if you surf the net.

Manchester & Pennines at night

Easy in, easy out?

Padlocks on hatches are always a dead giveaway to a potential thief that there's no-one on board and it's the work of seconds with a battery powered angle-grinder or a crowbar to open these. Try and replace padlocks with key, bolt and bar type systems that can be easily opened from inside the boat, but are much harder to break into from the outside.

"Beware of the Dog" stickers and alarm/tracker system stickers in the windows can also help as a deterrent, even if you haven't got a dog or an alarm. If you do have a padlock system try to get the sort used on commercial vehicles and remember never, ever, ever have any padlocks on exterior doors or hatches if you are inside the boat. How would you get out in a fire?

Is it safe? Is it secure?

When you moor up somewhere new have a good look around at the surroundings in daylight. Are there places between the boat and any exit points from the canal towpath where someone can lurk and potentially creep up on you? What's the lighting like, if any? Does it look like a safe place to moor? Are there houses close by or not? Do you know the postcode or nearest street name in case of an emergency? There's some good advice on the Metropolitan Police website here.

Before leaving your boat always lock valuables out of sight. Some people recommend leaving all curtains closed so that the contents of the boat can't been seen and others say the opposite (if there's absolutely nothing of value on board).

Never leave your boat key in the ignition and never have your boat keys on the same keyring as your ignition key as you are giving a potential thief access and the ability to sail your boat away at the same time.

Buddy up

If you must walk down a dark towpath by yourself, try and buddy up with a friend by telephone. Let them know when you are going onto the towpath, and roughly how long you are going to be. Once you are safely onboard inside your boat, call them back to let them know that a search and rescue party isn't required.

It's probably best not to be seen talking on the telephone whilst you actually walk down the towpath, especially in areas such as central London where unfortunately some boaters have been mugged for their telephones and other possessions.

If you don't have a friend to buddy up with on the telephone it's worth carrying either a whistle or loud personal attack alarm. The ability to scream or shout can evaporate in a crisis so it's good to be able to attract attention by making a lot of noise if you need to.

Slips and trips

Be careful getting on and off your boat in the dark, especially in slippery conditions such as rain and ice. Take extra care if you've been drinking alcohol or if it's foggy too. It can be hard to see where the bank ends and the water begins.

Take care not to trip over your mooring ropes. Make sure they are visible both for your own sake, and the sake of other towpath users. If you haven't got fluorescent or white mooring pin covers you can improvise by tying either light coloured plastic bags or fabric to your pins.

Every year people sadly drown on our network of canals and rivers. Don't let it be you. Do have a read of our water safety advice.

Stay safe out there and if the worst happens please make sure you report any incident to the police and also let us know too.

Back it up

It's a good idea to ensure that all technology like phones, tablets and laptops are backed up regularly to a cloud storage system. You can even upload copies of essential documents such as passports, birth, marriage and divorce certifcates, insurance, pensions and more to cloud storage. At least if the worst happens you can recover your essential data.

Boats morred in the city at night

What to do if the worst happens?

If the worst happens call the Police first – 999 if emergency in progress and 101 after the event. Always report it and always get a crime number and ask them to forward the information to Project Kraken. If the Police don't know there's a problem on the towpath, they won't be able to put resources into protecting us.

Your next call should be to your insurance company, depending on what and how much was stolen. They'll need the crime reference number to process a claim which is why you should call the Police first.

Third point of contact should be the Canal & River Trust via our contact us form. Just like the Police, we can't put resources into making things better if we don't know there's a problem. If your boat has actually been stolen we can even help you find it by checking our boat sighting data.

Use the power of internet

Finally use the power of social media and the internet to try and get your things back. There are lots of useful boating groups on the most popular social media channels.

On Facebook there are groups such as London Boaters, Canals and Rivers UK and many more.

On Twitter use the hashtag #boatsthattweet, #narrowboat, #boatlife to get your plea for help out. Many boaters are happy to share the message to help you search.

Don't forget to use internet boating forums too such as Canal World Forum.

Use the internet to search Gumtree, Ebay, and local classified sales type websites to see if anyone is selling items nearby that look like your stolen items, quite a few stolen goods have been found this way. If your boat's been stolen try not to panic too much. To the best of my knowledge there's only been one narrowboat stolen on the canal network that disappeared completely and wasn't found via the power of the internet and help from other boaters.

Things that go bump in the night ….

Take a few minutes next time you are on your boat to review your security and put in place an action plan if you find things that need attention. Then hopefully the only things that go bump in the night will be the water fowl nibbling weed from your hull.

Last Edited: 08 September 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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