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Eight tips when winter cruising

Ice on the canal, freezing pipes and slippery surfaces - boating in winter is a whole new ball game. Stay safe with these eight tips for boating in colder weather.

A boat moored in the snow on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

1. Be aware of icy surfaces

Take extra care around and crossing over locks, when you're getting on and off the boat and using lock ladders.

Watch out for ice around the spindle when using a windless. Don't let it slip off – and never leave it unattended.

Don't rely on anti-slip surfaces.

2. Use gloves for better grip

Wear gloves when handling ropes and frozen metal work. However, remember to take extra care if your hands or feet are cold or if you're wearing very thick gloves, you lose some of the sensitivity you need to judge safe moves.

3. Be alert to obstructions

Keep a look out for obstructions across the canal – either from maintenance operations or fallen trees. Check for any planned stoppages before your journey.

4. Avoid cruising in thick ice

Don't cruise if the ice is thick. It's hard work for your engine and may damage the hull of your craft and others. And of course, never be tempted to walk on the canal when it's frozen.

A snow-laden canal boat at Fenny Stratford

5. Prepare your facilities

Freezing pipes may disrupt supply, so don't leave topping up and emptying out jobs to the last minute – you might have to cruise on to the next service block or marina.

Please report any problems – don't assume someone else already has (call 0303 040 4040).

Make sure you turn the tap off properly after use to avoid creating a mini ice rink around the water point.

6. Be aware of changing water levels

Thawing snow upstream will quickly raise water levels. Remember this especially when mooring up and navigating low bridges.

7. Keep yourself warm

Don't push yourself with ambitious cruising targets. Your body chills rapidly standing at the tiller in cold weather. Wrap up warm, insulate your feet against the cold deck and take shorter turns at the helm. Ensure hot drinks are at the ready.

8. Keep your boat warm

Make sure you have enough fuel in your diesel tanks to maintain the craft and remember to order enough fuel for your stoves to sustain you through the worst of the winter. Check any delays with coal boats particularly if the canal is frozen over.

Please don't use your gas stoves/cookers as space heaters due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Don't be tempted to block up ventilation grilles for the same reason – ventilation is essential.

Last Edited: 08 September 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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