Boaters' Update 16 July 2021

In this latest edition you can read about; the work we've been doing on navigations in London & the South East, the stats showing a boom in boating, a robot (really!) and how you're improving your mental health and wellbeing by going boating. There's also a roundup of the latest news and this weekend's stoppages.

Summer boating Summer boating

Welcome to the latest edition. Now that the wall-to-wall coverage of the football has subsided, and schools are just about to close for the summer, we can all look forward to getting on, or by, the water as the weather starts to match the season.

Before you do though take a few minutes to find out why this weekend’s cruise can boost your mental health and wellbeing. But first, this edition shines the spotlight on the London & South East’s region, where you’ll find out what we’ve been doing to fix the things you’ve been telling us are important along with what we’ll be working on over the next couple of months, upcoming events and volunteering, as well as how to book passages and facilities.

After that read how we’ve recorded a big increase in lock usage over the last month (in some cases even more than in 2019, the last ‘normal’ year) and finally how, via a trial, we’ve pioneered a way to use a robot to carry out reservoir maintenance without having to drain it, causing less disruption to boaters.

As always, a round-up of news, stoppages and ways to get involved can also be found below.

Stay safe, happy boating,

Damian

PS Oh, and while you’re making preparations for getting out on the water in this lovely weather, why not listen to the latest edition of CanalCast which is dedicated to the subject of boating!

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 2 July – We're set to improve the towpath along the Shropshire Union Canal at Market Drayton for the thousands of boaters and local people who use this section of canal every year.
  • 9 July – New research shows that being out on the water is beneficial for both health and wellbeing. More on this below.
  • 12 July – A new underwater robot, trialled on Carr Mill Reservoir near St Helens, will revolutionise future reservoir maintenance and reduce disruption to boaters. More on this below.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

London & the South East – what we’ve been doing for you

As the Government has been slowly rescinding some of the more restrictive lockdown rules, coinciding with more clement weather, many more of you have been able to get out on your boat. This has meant Lock 37 South Oxford Canal 2we’ve been able to chat to more of you when we’ve been going about our daily routines of repairing, inspecting and generally trying to make your boating experience the best we can.

This helps us understand what’s important to you and informs some of our priorities. You don’t have to save it all up for a chance encounter out on the cut though. We also answer hundreds of calls and the team in London & the South East have recently been answering questions about a couple of topics in particular; booking passages/facilities and faulty locks (or other things that may affect boating).

Workboat in Lock 37 South Oxford CanalTo give a flavour of how these calls have influenced what we’ve been working on, we’ll start by looking at a couple of examples of our recent work. On the South Oxford Canal the top gate cill of Lock 37 blew with dramatic effect, see picture above right. Our reactive team were quickly on site and the complete repair, rebuilding the cill with new timbers, took just over a day from when the stop planks were first installed. 

Over on the Grand Union Canal at Clitheroes Lock it was a different Clitheroes Lock Grand Union pre repairissue that needed rectifying. The ground paddle frame and paddle had become displaced which resulted in restricted assisted passage for narrow craft only. Stop planks were installed to completely replace the frame, which was nowhere to be seen, and paddle with new (see picture below right). Before any of this could be done a very large tree trunk had to removed from the paddle chamber. And, as we always try to do, all other paddles, frames and connectors were inspected and found to be in sound order. This was all completed in one day after stop plank installation, allowing all navigation restrictions to be lifted. 

Clitheroes Lock Grand Union post repairNot far away, at Osterley Lock, we replaced an old balance beam timber and repaired a hand rail all in one day, including mobilisation to site, and operated the lock for boaters while the repair took place to minimise disruption. 

Weeds and worts

One thing always happens when the mercury rises. Weeds and worts grow at a rapid pace. So much so that we have an annual, and comprehensive, weed clearance operation. We’re now in week 14 of 25 of that operation with harvesters out all across the London network clearing blanket week, pennywort, duckweed and floating rubbish.

Additional operators will be drafted into central and east areas, to manage a peak in the annual growth which is linked to temperature, in addition to the Aylesbury Arm from next week (w/c 19th July). 

Mowing trial

Talking of green things, you may remember that back in March we told you about a mowing trial. In summary, the purpose is to balance the needs of boaters, towpath users, anglers and others using the waterways, while trying to bring benefits to wildlife and biodiversity to the whole canal network, especially in urban areas.

This means we will be increasing habitat coverage across our canals by allowing grasses, plants and wildflowers to grow and flourish along the towpath, whilst still ensuring the safety of all waterway users by maintaining a walking pathway and ensuring key navigational sightlines are managed.

We acknowledge that, due to changes made in the London & South East region to facilitate this trial, a number of established mooring sites are no longer described as ‘cut to water’s edge’, although you can still moor there. But, as part of the trial, we are inviting feedback to establish a balance of needs which, where appropriate, may result in changes. Details of the trial can be found on a dedicated webpage and, if you want to give feedback, scroll down to the ‘Be Local’ section for more information.

You can also keep up to date with what is being cut, and when, by accessing the mowing map in the vegetation section of our website.

Bagging workLooking ahead

Among the many hundreds of minor, and major, things we’ll be working on over the busy summer period is a range of repairs to the canal bank and towpath on the Oxford Canal to prevent further erosion and to increase stability.

We are using a number of methods at different locations, in some we are piling with 3m steel piles and in others (mainly embayment’s) we are using hessian sacks filled with stone and cement. See photo right. 

Longer term we are planning to replace over 20 gate leaves this winter within the region (some on the Oxford, Grand Union and River Lee). We say planning because we’re still keen to get your views on our plans for our major winter repair programme – a revised plan, after the first round of feedback, was published on Monday 5 July and you have until the end of the month to give us your thoughts.

Booking passages/facilites

For ease, booking for passage through Thames Lock can now be done 24 hours a day, seven days a week via the Boat Licencing Portal. Unlike going through a lock on a canal, Thames Lock needs to be traversed at certain times of the day to coincide with the tide. To save you the hassle of checking tide tables we have added booking time slots which take account of tide times. Please note that 48 hours’ notice must be given for all bookings to ensure that the lock can be manned when needed.

Eco Moorings

Photo of Islington Tunnel, Regent's CanalAgain, bookings can be made through the booking section of the Boat Licencing Portal (click on ‘Pre-bookable moorings’) and once the booking is complete you’ll get an email with instructions on how to set up an account for using the electricity points along with your booking confirmation. Please note that an Eco Mooring Ranger has also recently joined the team to manage the site and help resolve any issues.

Volunteering

As we emerge from lockdown we will be able to increase the range and diversity of volunteering opportunities across the region. Already, our teams of towpath taskforce volunteers have been meeting and working. We’ve been restricted over the last few months to groups of five, plus a Trust member of staff to lead the day, but we’ve still been able to make a huge difference by, among others:

  • installing planters at Waltham Lock,
  • removing graffiti along the South Oxford Canal,
  • planting native plants into the gabions at Startops reservoir; and
  • painting and maintenance at locks.

As restrictions continue to ease we’re able to expand the number of participants so if you’d like to join one of our Towpath Taskforces just head to the volunteering section of our website.

You may already have seen that Volunteer Lock Keepers have also returned to their iconic roles in April and May. Earlier this year we trained 25 new VLKs in the region so please give them a friendly wave when they help you through a lock!

Community Engagement

Brentford Lock WestWe are keen to offer opportunities for people to enjoy and explore more of the network and we are setting up a series of guided walks in Milton Keynes, the Docklands, Brentford and Ealing. We’d love to hear from you if you would like to be part of our growing pool of walk leaders – few, if any, have a more intimate and broad knowledge of canals than boaters – who may want to arrange walks on sections of the canal that they know well.  

Along the Paddington Arm in West London a new project began in June that is focussed on connecting canalside businesses with their part of the canal. The programme is funded through the OPDC (Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation) and the programme is funding a range of enhancements that will increase biodiversity; floating ecosystems will be fitted at a few sites including the junction of the unnavigable Brent Feeder and the Grand Union; other areas along the towpath will be planted with native species to improve the hedgerow; and to seed areas as wildflower meadows.

Face Front

Come, listen, sing and celebrate Enfield and Tottenham's vibrant waterside community with canalside stories and songs. Presented as part of the Hinterlands arts programme creatively exploring the Lee Navigation, Face Front Theatre Company will be performing canalside stories and songs to celebrate the vibrant waterside community in Enfield and Tottenham on 31 July and 1 August.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Boating is booming

I’ve mentioned it a few times over the last couple of months and now the data confirms it – boating is back in a big way! Analysis has been undertaken to compare the weekly lockage in 2019, 2020 and 2021 using the three busiest lock sites in each of our six regions based on the 2020 annual lockage report and it shows that 2021 is proving to be busier than the last ‘normal’ year, 2019 and, perhaps rather obviously, much busier than last year.

Aston Middle LockIn 2020 week 25 was part of the reopening after the first national lockdown (the reopening began in week 23), where boaters were allowed to move freely and stay overnight on their boats. However hire boats were not allowed to operate until week 27.

As a result of this reopening the average weekly lock count for week 25 was 52 across the 18 sites. In 2021, week 25 was part of Step 3 of the UK Government’s coronavirus roadmap, where two households or six individuals from mixed households can mix indoors and hire a boat together. The average weekly lock count in 2021 was 152. This is an increase of 192% compared to 2020.

When comparing this year’s counts to 2019, the last year of data which was not influenced by the pandemic, there is a 6% increase, with an average weekly lock count of 144 in 2019. This indicates that lock counts have recovered to, and in some regions exceeded, the pre-pandemic counts seen in 2019.

Before the travel restrictions were lifted on 12 April 2021 (week 15) the average percentage change between the 2019 and 2021 lock counts was -55% for weeks 1-14. Between weeks 15-25, where boaters could move freely again, the average percentage change between the 2019 and 2021 lock counts was -9%. Recently (weeks 22-25), the national lock counts has been higher than in the same weeks in 2019, with the average percentage change for these weeks being +13%.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

New underwater robot is a game changer for reservoir maintenance

Robot hanging from craneA new underwater robot, trialled on Carr Mill Reservoir near St Helens, will revolutionise future reservoir maintenance. Known as Valiant, the tracked remote-operated vehicle has allowed our engineers, and their contractors Keir, to carry out important maintenance tasks without the need to drain the reservoir, retaining existing water levels in the popular lake for boating and fishing, and saving hundreds of thousands of pounds in fish rescue fees.

The project

We embarked on a major repair project to upgrade the Merseyside reservoir in the summer of 2020 and will complete the work this July. Costing more than £2 million, the project was delivered in two phases. The first upgrade was carried out at the outfall tunnel by the railway viaduct and involved the removal of an asbestos concrete pipe and installation of a new gauging weir, security grill, safety railings, ladders and steps.   Further substantial work involved cleaning out the stilling basin, undertaking repairs and resealing construction joints on the spillway, plus other safety and access enhancements.

The second phase

The second phase involved the dam embankment itself. Extensive repairs were carried out to the old spillway and its bridge strengthened to carry modern traffic loads. The main work was to replace the valves located at the base of the valve shaft. The two original valves dating back to the 1860s were in poor condition and were replaced with four new ones, complete with supporting mechanisms. Work also included a range of improvements and repairs to increase the resilience of the crest road and repairs to the valve hut building, including a new roof.

Robot being lowered into waterVisitors will now be able to admire the ingenuity of Victorian canal-builders close up, as one of the original valves, which measures more than two metres high, has been preserved as a monument to the enterprising engineers who built the reservoir. A few months ago, we sent it away to a specialist firm to be shot-blasted and painted, and it has now been returned to a special new plinth by the valve hut for everyone to admire.

Originally a mill pond powering Carr’s Corn Mill, the lake was hugely expanded in the 1750s to provide water for the Sankey Canal about a mile away. This is no longer navigable but the reservoir has now become a popular venue for angling and water sports, as well as a great habitat for wildlife.

The Valiant

Tim Brownrigg, our project designer, said: “The Valiant was developed in collaboration with diving contractor Edwards Diving Services and is set to revolutionise how we manage underwater reservoir maintenance, particularly difficult jobs like replacing old, worn-out valves in locations where it is too dangerous to send divers.

“The Trust cares for 72 reservoirs across its 2,000-mile canal network so the potential reduction in disruption for boaters, local residents, water sport enthusiasts and wildlife is immense and of course, cost savings are likely to be significant.

Our project manager Curtis Udogu said “It’s been fantastic to keep Carr Mill in water for the entire complex upgrade project over the last year. Our top priority is always to keep local residents and businesses safe, so from time to time we do need to upgrade equipment, and repair and replace the infrastructure. We know people feel healthier and happier when they’re by water, so this ability to keep reservoirs in water during major maintenance projects will pay dividends in the future for everyone.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________

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 get out on your boat 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. You can set up your smartphone to automatically notify you if a notice is issued for a canal or river that you’re interested in. Check out this guide to setting it up.

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Research shows boating is beneficial for both health and wellbeing

As a boater you’ve probably known it for a while but, with concerns around the negative mental and physical health legacy of the coronavirus pandemic, new research reveals that spending time on coastal or inland waterways can be an easily accessible and effective way to improve wellbeing.

The research

The research, commissioned by leisure marine trade association British Marine and us, provides a preliminary exploration of the wider social value associated with boating on inland and coastal waters. Comparing moderate with frequent participation, the research shows that regularly spending time out on the water could be even more beneficial than accepted mindfulness activities such as practising yoga or pilates and even generates an increase in life satisfaction of about half that seen from gaining employment.

Shire CruisersThe research shows that the more time spent out on the water, the bigger the benefit: frequent participation in boating and watersports compared to moderate participation is associated with anxiety levels 15% lower and a life satisfaction value of 7.3 on a scale of 0-10 (6% higher).

With positive effects of spending time on the water, and as the UK prepares for another staycation summer with more people looking for activities and days out locally, British Marine has launched a new ‘on the water’ website, giving details of locations across the UK where people can get afloat.

The website is designed to connect people with boating and watersports providers offering paddleboarding, motor cruising, surfing, kayaking, narrowboat cruising, sailing and more on either inland canals, rivers, lakes and reservoirs, or along the coast. The Royal Yachting Association (RYA) is a Supporter of OnTheWater.co.uk, and RYA Recognised Training Centres can also be found on the website.

The new research investigates the economic value of inland and coastal boating in the UK and is the first of its type to explore the impact on people’s wellbeing or quality of life by being able to get out onto the water. Paddle sports are shown to be the most popular and accessible way to get afloat. With further growth in 2020 during the pandemic, over 20.5 million people annually take to the water doing a paddle sport, and the activity represents almost half (45%) of the economic contribution of wider tourism expenditures associated with the boating and watersports sector in the UK.

An important baseline

Richard Parry, our chief executive, said: “This study provides an important baseline in the wellbeing research around boating activities. It is the latest piece of research that demonstrates the substantial value of the nation’s inland waterways to people everywhere; from providing vital green and blue spaces in our towns and cities, to supporting biodiversity and helping mitigate climate change impacts.”

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Bits & Bobs

  • A common goal for many boaters is to have as little impact on the environment as possible. The rise and rise of ‘Green Boating’ continues apace and if it’s something you’re keen to learn more about then you might consider heading to this year’s Crick Boat Show which has a whole morning of seminars devoted to the subject. Buy your tickets now to take advantage of the advance price and save 20% or more off on-the-gate prices!

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 16 July 2021

About this blog

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.

Sign up to receive the Boaters' update by email

See more blogs from this author