Boaters' Update 15 January 2021

Welcome to the first edition of the year. In it you'll find a summary of the impact of the national lockdown on boating, how we're progressing with our winter stoppage programme, some tips to help you be a good boaty neighbour (if you're currently on your boat) as well as a request for research participants in London. Of course, the usual roundup of news and stoppages can be found.

Shropshire Union Canal, Pendeford, West Midlands,

Welcome to the first edition of 2021. Whilst it hasn’t started the way we had all hoped and we face a national lockdown, in place until at least the middle of February, there is some hope now that a significant vaccination programme is underway.

The first article summarises the key points around coronavirus and its impact on boating. Following that there’s an update on the recent breach on the Aire & Calder Navigation, news of a £10 million programme of repairs and restoration on navigations in Yorkshire and the North East, an article asking what you want to read about in future editions of Boaters’ Update, details of a free waterway navigation app and, finally, a request from a PhD student asking London liveaboard boaters to get in touch.

As always, the routine round-up of news and stoppages can also be found below.

Stay safe,


PS Looking for something boaty to do during lockdown? Then maybe you can help us and British Marine with a survey about boating. We appreciate that you haven't been able to boat the way you normally do over the last year but it would still help us a lot if you could take the survey (and there’s a prize draw for completing it!).

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 18 Dec – The latest phase in a major £1 million programme of improvements to our waterways in Leicester is set to get under way early in the New Year.
  • 21 Dec – We are investing £10 million on a four-month programme of repairs on Yorkshire and the North East’s historic waterways. More on this below.
  • 22 Dec – We have completed a £150,000 upgrade to a vital historic canal lift bridge in the village of Wrenbury, near Nantwich in Cheshire, to give it modern safety controls.


Coronavirus and boating

You may have seen the email I sent you last week about the impact of this latest national lockdown (with lockdown already applied in Wales) on boating.

Autumn leaves on the towpathFor those of you who didn’t, the rules, and the impact on boating, are largely the same as for the first lockdown from March to June last year. All navigation in England and Wales should currently be limited to essential use only. If you are not currently occupying your boat you should not take overnight stays on it during this period.

Those living aboard are advised to limit their navigation, moving only a minimal amount to access essential facilities or services when necessary. Whilst we have increased our cleaning regimes and are working hard to keep all of our facilities open, don’t forget that there might be privately provided facilities closer to you which will reduce the distance you need to travel.

Please note that if your essential journey requires passage through a staffed structure you will need to book well in advance to ensure we have time to facilitate. 

Boat licence terms & conditions, regarding moving every 14 days, will be suspended until the restrictions come to an end. 

If you are self-isolating and don’t have any support networks then please get in touch via our online webform or contact your local boat licence support team. We will work with partners to support boaters self-isolating as best we can without adding to the risk of transmission.

If you have a question then do please read our FAQs as the answer may be there. If you do need to get in touch with our customer service team - available 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday (0303 040 4040) - please bear in mind that it may take a little longer to answer your call due to the current circumstances.


Aire & Calder Navigation breach

Stones being placed in the canalOn Sunday 20 December a bank slippage occurred downstream of Pollington Lock. As a result of the breach, adjacent farmers’ fields were flooded. Subsequently, and with the help of a helicopter (see video below), 140 or so one-tonne bags of stone were placed into the breach hole and clay added to seal the hole. The stone provides stability and the clay seals the passage of water in the gaps between the bags, and we have also spread waterproof material over the breached area.

Our project team met last week to begin work on a long-term repair. This will first require the removal of the water from a section of the canal around the breach point with the construction of a temporary piled dam either side of the breach point – for which the design works Water being pumped into canalhave commenced.

Once the cofferdams are in place, which we expect to be in the next few weeks, the water in the canal can be pumped around it in order to ensure a constant water supply to feed Goole Docks. Until the cofferdam is in place it is difficult to be precise about how long a permanent repair will take as this very much depends on what damage we find once the water is removed.

In the meantime, we’re continuing with a daily inspection of the damaged area until the cofferdams are in place to ensure public safety. Keep up to date with our progress by signing up to stoppage notices for the Aire & Calder.


Yorkshire waterways to get £10 million winter makeover

Despite the challenging conditions we’re continuing with our £45 million programme of repairs across our 2,000-mile network of canals and rivers. As part of the programme, which will continue until the end of March, our expert teams will be replacing lock gates, dredging sections of canal and carrying out a host of tasks to keep the 200-year old network working and ready for when boating can recommence. In the first of a series, this edition of Boaters’ Update looks at the £10 million worth of work being done in Yorkshire and the North East.

Figure of ThreeAside from that mentioned in the first paragraph, the projects also include flood resilience measures, in addition to repairs being carried out on the Figure of Three Lock on the Calder & Hebble near Dewsbury, and Rochdale Canal towpath, both of which were badly damaged in last February’s storms.

Due to coronavirus restrictions, we are unable to offer our usual Open Days for visitors to get a behind-the-scenes on-site view of the canal repairs and conservation work in progress. However, we have produced a Virtual Open Day of work being carried out at Lock 42 on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal in Marsden.

Above shot of workers lifting lock gateThe Virtual Open Day shows a series of short films giving a fascinating insight into how old lock gates are replaced, including drone footage of the new ones being lifted in by crane. Made at our lock gate workshop at Stanley Ferry near Wakefield, the new oak gates are five metres high and weigh 1.6 tonnes each.

The videos explore the hidden ecology of the canals, work done by volunteers and show off Standedge Tunnel, one of the Wonders of the Waterways with 2021 marking the 20th anniversary of the reopening of the Tunnel.

While there’s far too much being done to list it all here, a summary of the programme of works being undertaken this winter includes:

  • New lock gates and lock chamber repairs at Lock 42, Marsden, on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
  • New lock gates at locks 23 and 24 at Thorpe on the Chesterfield Canal.
  • Repairs to balance beams, ground paddles and fendering at Birkwood Lock on the Wakefield branch of the Aire & Calder Navigation.
  • Replacement of a sluice door and re-lining of the bywash culvert next to Salterhebble Aqueduct on the Calder & Hebble Navigation.
  • Repairs to lock chamber and wash wall to prevent leakage and structural deterioration at locks 6 and 7 at Elland on the Calder & Hebble Navigation.
  • Repairs to wall and gate heel at Bridge 3 on Misterton Station Road on the Chesterfield Canal.
  • Repairs at Bingley Five Rise including gate repairs to reduce leakage.
  • Replacement of Moss Swing Bridge at Rodley on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
  • Investigation work for Rotherham Flood Alleviation Scheme on behalf of Rotherham Council. At Forge Island, Rotherham, on the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation.

Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds & Liverpool CanalSean McGinley, regional director for the Trust, said: “This winter’s works are obviously important for boaters, and with research telling us that time spent by the water can help us all to feel happier and more relaxed, the works will also contribute to improving people’s mental and physical well-being when using the towpath too.

“Our waterways have offered a really important lifeline for so many people this year, providing the perfect spots for local recreation, exercise or just to unwind. That’s why it’s so important that we keep them open and safe for everyone to use, whether you’re out on your boat or enjoying a waterside stroll.”


Everybody needs good neighbours

With only essential boat movements now permitted (to access services etc.) it’s likely that you’ll be getting to know your neighbours – both water and land-based – better than you might have during more ‘normal’ times.

Below you’ll find a few tips to help you be the neighbour everyone wants:


  • Please remember the 8am–8pm rule and use engines and generators considerately.
  • Please turn down the volume of your TV, sound systems, radio, etc. after 8pm. Sound carries much more easily over water! There are now many boaters with young families on board.
  • Please help educate all the newbies in good boating etiquette with a kind word or two and point them in the right direction, whether it’s internet-based boating forums or our boat licence terms and conditions.
  • If they don’t get the message and keep their engines running, or are generally too loud after 8pm, please let us know about it.  Report their boat index number and details of each incident. If we don’t know about it we can’t deal with it.

Keeping warm

  • If you burn wood, you’re going to need to source a reliable supply of dry properly seasoned stuff, so not only are you going to need a wood humidity tester, but you’re going to need somewhere safe to keep your wood stack dry, and not next to the stove either, as this is a fire hazardous and can cause catastrophic fires
  • For gas, diesel and coal you’ll need to make friends with your local licensed fuel boats or merchants/chandleries. Make sure you’ve got a list of telephone numbers to cover all eventualities, as bad weather can make deliveries difficult, and there is absolutely nothing worse than running out in freezing weather.
  • If you are boating in any urban area, whether it's a small town or large city, please only purchase and burn fuels approved for use in smokeless zones. It should go without saying that you must never burn rubbish and treated woods, but a minority still do. It’s not only bad for their health but yours too, so please spread the word or point them in the direction of this handy guide of Do's and Don'ts.


Maintenance, repair and restoration work this weekend

As someone who’s out on, or by, the water more often than most, you’ll know that there are times when we need to fix things that unexpectedly break. So, below, you’ll find a list of anything that’s happening that may affect you if you’re planning to make an essential journey this weekend:

When any restrictions to navigation happen, we get them up on to our website as soon as we can – always best to have a scan before you set off. The tech savvy among you may already know that you can set up your smartphone to notify you if a notice is issued for a canal or river that you’re interested in. For those that didn’t know, check out this guide to setting it up.

We’ve also improved the stoppages mapping and resolved an issue where the historic notices appeared on the canal maps.  However, the best way to check for stoppages that might affect your cruising plans is via our stoppage notices webpage.

If you have any questions about a specific closure, or spot an error in our system, please just get in touch.


Call for research participants: Cuts, Ties and Pins: Making Home on London’s Waterways

Boating means different things to anyone who’s spent time afloat. For some it’s an escape or a dose of wellbeing, others make the water their permanent home. Laura Roberts falls into the latter category. Aside from this, Laura is also on the lookout for others, in London, who’ve done the same on the capital’s waterways:

London and South East, room to breathe“I am a PhD candidate in Human Geography at Queen Mary University London. I have also been a continuous cruiser in London for six years. As a continuous cruiser I am very aware that boaters get many requests from researchers and there is understandable resistance to being exoticised, romanticised or homogenised. This is not the intention of my work, but equally I respect many boaters may choose not to participate. I hope this call for participants does not cause offence.

“My work hopes that the unique perspectives of participants that share a similar mode of alternative dwelling can help add to understandings of home in the city. To frame this project I use literal and metaphorical definitions of ‘cuts’, ‘ties’, and ‘pins’. That is, looking at the ways continuous cruising allows or forces a cut from infrastructures or normative dwelling, how it ties (unites) or pins (restricts) boaters to people, identity, place. Through this discussion I will explore what continuous cruising as an alternative dwelling can also reveal about the cuts, ties and pins of normative (land) dwelling.

“I would be delighted to hear from continuous cruisers, (or those with experience of continuous cruising) in London who would like to know more and might like to participate.

“In line with Covid-19 guidelines, interviews will be conducted and recorded over the phone or via a platform like ‘Zoom’, or participants can be sent the questions and answer via Whatsapp voice note or email.

“The interviews consist of 15 open questions, lasting around 1 hour (as indicated by the participant and how much time they have to give). Participants will not be asked for any sensitive information, but if for any reason they feel uncomfortable, do not wish to answer a question, or wish to withdraw from the project, their wishes will be respected and not questioned.”

The research will be anonymised and any identifying features about the participant or their boat will be obscured or omitted. If you are interested in participating, or would like more information, please get in touch with Laura:


Bits and bobs

  • The Waterways Ombudsman Committee has announced that Karen McArthur will be its new Chair. Karen’s term of office starts this month when Kevin Fitzgerald steps down at the end of his three-year term.

Last date edited: 15 January 2021

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