Boaters' Update 15 Nov 2019

Welcome to the latest edition packed full of advice for boating through the winter. You can also find out about our Open Days and why you should consider a cruise on the Pocklington Canal. Of course, the regular news roundup, latest stoppages and events also feature.

Boating through leaves on the Chesterfield Canal

With politicians scrambling for column inches ahead of the General Election, you’d be forgiven for missing that parts of the country are in flood having received a month’s worth of rain in just a single day.

The first article offers guidance on what you should do if you’re on your boat and such biblical levels of rain fall. Elsewhere you can read about our series of winter Open Days, where you get the chance to see up close examples of the type of work we do at this time of year to ensure the network remains open and available for you to cruise. And, if you’re wondering where to cruise in 2020, the series of articles championing lesser known waterways continues, this time shining a light on the Pocklington Canal.

Finally, with the long cold winter nights bearing down on us, there’s also a rundown of the help and support we offer to vulnerable boaters, along with the regular roundup of news, upcoming events, and the latest stoppages.

If there’s an article you’d like to read in a future edition then please drop me a line.

Happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up and upcoming events

Over the last few weeks you may have heard, or seen, that:

  • 6 Nov – We've begun work to dredge Titford Pools in Oldbury as part of a £3.1 million project to increase the depth for boating, improve water quality, and encourage wildlife back to the area.
  • 6 Nov – A touring photo exhibition showing off the beauty of the Montgomery Canal is now show at Welshpool Library and runs to 17 December.
  • 7 Nov – The prospect of an inland freight port at Leeds is one step closer after we secured full planning permission from Leeds City Council.

Below I’ve picked out some events that you might be interested in over the next month. There are plenty of other activities and volunteering opportunities if none of the below take your fancy. Just visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you.

  • Until 1 Dec – Go on a captivating journey of ordinary people's otherworldly experiences on the Puppet Theatre Barge as the puppetry moves from delicate marionette to table top and from object theatre to shadows.
  • 22 Nov – Fancy getting a head start on your New Year resolution to be healthier? If you do then make your way to Fradley Junction to join a guided towpath walk.
  • 30 Nov & Dec – Now that we’re reminded with every ad break that Christmas isn’t far away (40 days) perhaps you’ve started looking for festive things to do? If so, you might consider breakfast or a story with Santa (Anderton Boat Lift and National Waterways Museum Gloucester)?

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Coping with rising water levels

As mentioned in the introduction, the country continues to experience severe and unprecedented rainfall and if you’ve ever been caught in a deluge you’ll appreciate just how dicey things can get.

At the end of October, River Canal Rescue (RCR) was called to assist six stranded or precariously positioned boats at risk of capsizing across the country; one of which was passed onto the emergency services to recover, due to the boat being inaccessible and the owner at risk if he remained onboard. 

RCR managing director, Stephanie Horton, says that there are things boaters can do to mitigate some of the risk: “The key to dealing with our increasingly extreme weather conditions is timing and balancing health and safety. To stop a vessel drifting onto land when water levels rise, position a boarding plank, between the boat and the river/canalside edge and fix it into position on the side of your boat. This acts as a stop, potentially preventing flood waters from floating the boat onto land.

“Alternatively use the engine to keep the vessel in position, so when the water rises, the power of the boat keeps it in deeper water. However, be mindful that as the propeller is at its lowest point, it can easily be damaged if the boat does drift. These options are not advisable other than in emergencies and, if you have the opportunity, moor in a lock as it provides some protection from flood waters.

“If the boat has drifted, it’s all about timing; when the water levels start to go down, try to push the boat back into the water or off the land before they drop too far. But be cautious as this can be dangerous, particularly if you’re unable to see under the water.

Boat left stranded on land after a flood“We usually dispatch two engineers in dry suits to undertake this manoeuvre because although it sounds and looks easy, knowing the best way to re-launch a boat and where to push depends on the severity of the grounding, depth of the water, its flow and accessibility.

“In cases like this timing is everything and too much or too little water can make the difference to the outcome.”

Looking ahead to winter, scientists from University College London warn the UK is likely to experience the coldest period in a decade with only a 20% chance temperatures will rise above five degrees in January/February. 

Stephanie also suggests, for those who don’t live on their boat permanently, that winter damage to boats can be reduced: “Get into a routine of visiting your vessel regularly and check the batteries are fully charged. With a bilge pump in continuous operation even a fully charged battery will only last a few days.

“Check the bilge pumps are fully operational and left on ‘automatic’ setting. If there’s no bilge pump or only a manual one, install an automatic bilge pump. It needs reviewing because it relies on battery power, so unless the boat’s shore powered, there isn’t an unlimited supply.

“Check drain holes and clear debris - keeping these clear will stop water running into the engine room, and make sure canopies are secure to prevent rips developing and water getting into the boat. Also check ropes and anchoring points, if the mooring’s at risk of flooding, run a rope to locations that can still be accessed even in a flood situation and make sure that other ropes are loose enough to deal with the potential scenario of the pontoon going under.

Flood water being run off through the lock“In windy conditions, check ropes for chafing and ensure they’re well positioned and adjusted to the conditions, and before moving a boat in ice – consider the importance of your journey – it’s easy to believe you’re impregnable when surrounded by steel but even a couple of inches of ice can pierce a hull.

“Check river/canal conditions, and again consider whether the journey is really necessary; they can change quickly and easily catch you unaware. Get updates from the Environment Agency. Never head out when a river has red boards.

“Finally, be aware of the wind direction before manoeuvring. When coupled with difficult river conditions, the windage of a boat can be easily underestimated and your vessel will become uncontrollable.”

Even if the weather is not extreme, spending your first winter afloat can be daunting. If you’re in this boat (pun intended) then, to help you get prepared, have a read of our guide on how to deal with everything from a frozen canal through to condensation.

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Come and see us at a winter Open Day

This winter we’re hosting a series of free open days to showcase the work and attention that goes into keeping our network of canals and rivers open and available for boaters to cruise and enjoy.

Between now and the arrival of spring we’re replacing 118 lock gate leaves and carrying out important repairs and inspections to 200-year-old canal structures including Scheduled Ancient Monuments and a World Heritage Site. 

The open days will give you access into drained lock chambers on the Grand Union Canal and Trent & Mersey Canal, while repairs to the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ – aka the Anderton Boat Lift – and the draining for inspection of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct both provide an amazing opportunity to get a rarely-seen view of two of the ‘wonders of the waterways’. 

A number of the events, including at Sharpness Dock where the canal network connects with the sea, will highlight our #plasticschallenge which invites people to get involved in helping to stop the flow of plastic litter into the world’s oceans.

Open DayRichard Parry, chief executive, comments: “Millions of people visit our canals and rivers each year. They are places to relax and take time out, they are places for leisure, boating, and recreation and are often places in our towns and cities to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

“But many people may not realise the work and attention that our charity and our volunteers put into caring for the waterways or indeed how getting involved, simply by visiting their local canal, can improve their health and wellbeing.

“We look forward to seeing lots of new faces as well as many old friends at this winter’s open days.”

Because the open days, fully listed here, are often linked to winter construction and maintenance work, many of the precise dates will be confirmed on our website nearer the time.

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Supporting boaters

Boating is a great lifestyle, but it can get tough at times – more so as the days get shorter and colder. In this article, we’ll explain what you should do if you’re struggling or you’re worried about another boater.

The first piece of advice is obvious but vital – talk to us. If you’re in need of help, or you’re concerned about a boater who you think might be vulnerable and in need of help, please contact your local boat licence customer support officer directly or call 0303 040 4040.

If you are in financial difficulty or need advice on how you might pay a debt, consider contacting a debt advisor. The following organisations offer free, impartial and non-judgemental advice:

Are you struggling in other ways?

We work with support partners such as local health services, council departments, or specialist charities to point boaters to the help and advice available to them if they have a vulnerability such as suffering from poor mental health.

Our boat licence customer support team (BLCS) can work with you to help you find and get the support available from local authorities, who have a duty of care to provide adequate services (housing, social services, benefit advice etc), and/or other support agencies.

Snow viewed from the bow of a narrowboatWe want every boater to have a happy time afloat and support is available to help stop boaters going through enforcement action purely because of vulnerability. Ultimately, we want all our customers to stay safe and enjoy our waterways so if you are struggling, or know a boater who is struggling, please do get in touch with our team. You can also download our seeking advice factsheet.

There’re plenty of other useful websites out there. You can check if you’re eligible for benefits at Turn2us.org or Entitledto.co.uk   

If you are homeless or facing homelessness contact your local authority – use this checker to find your local authority. You can also call a local directory enquiry service to find your local authority.

Other free help or advice:

Are you a disabled boater?

We want everyone to benefit from the improved health, wellbeing and happiness that comes from being by the water and boating. Our equality policy sets out our commitment to promote equality for people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and our approach to making sure everyone can access and use our waterways.

If you're a boater with a disability that makes it difficult to move your boat in line with our boat licence terms and conditions please contact your local licence support officer directly or call 0303 040 4040. 

We've a specific process for making reasonable adjustments to our normal cruising regulations for disabled boaters. Please read our disabled boaters' FAQs before downloading our equality questionnaire. If you have any non-urgent questions about disabled boating then why not join us on 16 December for a Facebook Q&A session between 4pm and 6pm. This will be held on the Inland Waterways Accessibility Forum page, which you’ll have to join if you want to take part.

Oh, and if you regularly cruise in the Oxford area, then Healthwatch Oxfordshire, an independent watchdog for patients using NHS services, wants to hear from you about your experience of using NHS Services.

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Perfectly pretty Pocklington

Some of you may recall that back in July I asked for you to send in your favourite lesser known waterways. As a result we covered the Lancaster Canal and the Caldon Canal. No prizes for guessing which one we’re doing next!

Pocklington CanalBefore looking at why it’s been suggested as “…the perfect place to cruise and relax” by one correspondent, let’s have a quick trot through its history.

Although initial proposals for the Canal were made in 1765, it was a relative late-comer when work started in 1815 and completed three years later at a cost of £32,695 – approximately £1.9m in today’s money. Short, running for 9.5 miles, and broad, it ran from near Pocklington to the River Derwent.

Mainly used to carry coal and agricultural produce the Canal was never a great financial success, partly because goods had to be transferred to horse-drawn carts at the terminus of the canal, adjacent to the Hull-York turnpike road, to continue their journey. Much like many of its Pocklington Canal Heritage Open Day 20th May 2018 (2)peers, the Canal became a victim of the emerging rail network and was sold to the York and North Midland Railway in 1848.

For the next 100 years it remained in the hands of railway companies and was under-maintained to the extent that, even though greatly reduced levels of trade continued until 1932, it became impassable in 1934.

With nationalisation of the railway network in 1948, responsibility for the Canal moved to the British Transport Commission and, in 1962, the British Waterways Board. This, however, presented new challenges and, at one point, proposals were put forward to fill it with ‘inoffensive sludge’ from a nearby water treatment plant.

Thanks to lobbying from the local community, and amid much press coverage, the canal was saved and the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society (PCAS) was formed. Restoration began in earnest in 1971.

Fast forward 44 years to 2015 and the restoration continued in the Canal’s bicentenary year. Working with our partners at PCAS, Natural England and the East and North Yorkshire Waterways Partnership, and supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Pocklington Canal embarked on a three-year project called ‘A Gem in the Landscape’.

The project finished just a couple of months ago and, in the process, we restored Church Bridge and Swing Bridge No 7, the special wildlife 3 Mile Guided Walk on the Pocklington Canal in winterhabitats along the canal and ran a series of community events and activities to showcase the rich heritage of this idyllic rural East Yorkshire canal. A series of blogs, from the project team, illustrate just how apt the name of the project was and why you should add it to your list of canals to visit (if you can’t wait to cruise there, via the Tidal River Ouse and then the River Derwent Navigation, then you could even join a free guided walk).

Thanks to the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society.

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Get Involved

Many boaters go the extra mile in helping to keep canals and rivers in good condition by volunteering,  donating, or just picking up the odd piece of discarded plastic. As you’re such an integral part of what makes waterways so wonderful, and life better by water, I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • As mentioned in a previous edition our Council elections are underway. Time is running out though – just a few days left – if you’d like to be one of four private boater representatives to join our Council. The nomination process runs until 18 November.
  • As you may have seen, the UK Government has announced plans for the UK to be "zero emission" by 2050, and this includes inland waterways. Achieving a zero-emissions waterway sector will take some time and has many challenges. The Government is currently consulting to obtain background information to help decide what actions, if any, they need to take to assist in meeting that target. To help us prepare our response we would be grateful if you could spare a few minutes to complete this short survey. We would like to reassure you that all responses are anonymous and will be used only to inform our consultation response.
  • In 10 days’ time, the East Midlands region is hosting its first ever Boaters’ Conference on 25 November 2019, replacing this year’s waterway forum with a conference aimed specifically at boaters. The full agenda is still being worked on, but I do know that chief exec Richard Parry, and others, will be giving presentations. Some of the topics being covered, as well as a Q&A are; how to improve services for boaters, facilities most desired and moorings to name just a few. You’ll find more information online along with how to register your interest!

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Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising 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 on a cruise this weekend.

Below you’ll find, by canal or river, those that may affect your plans this weekend. It’s a long list due to the combined effects of the atrocious weather we’ve had and the winter stoppage programme, where we carry out major projects when it’s quieter out on the cut:

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 for a cruise. 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.

If you have any questions about a specific closure then just get in touch.

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Bits and bobs

  • As a boater you’ll likely be familiar with our facilities key that you can buy from our online shop. Please beware though, there are some unscrupulous people out there selling knock-offs! Don’t be deceived by the cost – it’s a false economy. The key is likely to be inferior quality and may not work. And because the keys are often of inferior quality they can damage our locks causing a nuisance to both us and you!

Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 15 November 2019

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The boaters' update

Think of this blog as your one-stop shop for up-to-date boating news. It's packed full of useful information about boating on canals and rivers, as well as important safety announcements and upcoming events.

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