News article created on 28 July 2017

Avoiding that sinking feeling

We want everyone to stay safe this summer, so here are some of the common causes of sinking boats on our canals and rivers, together with a few pointers about how to prevent it happening to you.

Two boats in Deep Lock in Bath Deep Lock, Bath

There has been much comment and speculation across the internet this year after two narrowboats sank after being rented out by their owners, one in London and one in Lancashire. As neither craft had been let with the correct type of boat licence or safety certificates, both the renters and boat owners have been left massively out of pocket as their insurance hasn't covered the damage.

Sadly, it’s not just rented boats that sink, but any boat if you are not careful about what you are doing while on the water.

Cause and effect

One of the most common causes of sinking boats on the inland waterways is a problem with the weed hatch, usually omitting to secure it properly to prevent ingress of water into the engine bay. When water comes through your weed hatch your boat can sink remarkably quickly.

Another really common cause is getting hung up in a lock, either by cilling the boat or getting something trapped in the gate such as the rudder as happened in the Droitwich tragedy

A less common cause of hang-ups has been navigating locks with fenders dangling down the side or forward and aft fenders either being in poor condition or not suitable for the purpose.

More sinking hazards

Other hazards which could lead to sinking include navigating in flood conditions (red boards), which is never recommended, and ignoring danger signs, especially 'Don’t moor here' danger signs, which are usually placed in front of underwater obstructions, ledges and sluice intakes.

In a collision, either with another boat or waterway infrastructure, plastic and wooden craft are more prone to sinking, but some metal boats may have very thin hulls too. Old Springer Engineering built narrowboats have been known to spring a leak or two. 

Prevention is better than the cure

Constant vigilance and making sure your crew is properly briefed is key to preventing your boat from sinking:

  • check the weed hatch is properly closed every time you go boating and every time you clear the propeller
  • keep your boat well away from the cill when working through a lock and keep an eye out for fenders or anything else getting wedged as you ascend or descend. Make sure your crew are ready to jump into action, closing paddles quickly if things start to go wrong
  • don’t navigate in dangerous conditions or at high speeds as both are likely to end up in a collision with either another boat or something hard and immoveable
  • never ignore warning signs about weirs and underwater obstructions

Lock Cill Safety Sign

What happens if my boat sinks?

Should your boat unfortunately sink, it’s your responsibility to salvage it, not ours. Your first priority should be making sure everyone in your crew is safe. The second thing to do is to contact your insurance company and then to contact us.

Our local teams will go out to the boat’s location to ensure that any pollution is contained and that the boat is secured in a way that isn’t causing a hazard to navigation. Your insurance company will arrange with a specialist recovery company to salvage your boat, if that is included in your insurance. If it’s not included, or for any reason (such as renting your boat out without the correct type of licence) you have invalidated your policy, we have two pre-approved contractors who can salvage your craft but you will need to arrange that directly with them and pay for the recovery yourself. If you’re not going to use one of our pre-approved contractors to salvage your boat, the company undertaking the work will need our authorisation first before starting work to rescue your boat.

Check your insurance policy carefully

It’s always worth paying for the most comprehensive insurance cover you can afford as salvage costs can be very expensive. Always read the small print of your policy carefully, and be aware that if you only Third Party, Fire and Theft, the cover is normally just that and won’t cover salvage if your boat sinks.

Stay safe, be careful out there and hopefully a sinking will be something that never happens to you.

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The boating team

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