Boaters' Update 2 July 2021

Welcome to the latest edition where you can read about how we've been fixing the things important to you, route planning, cyclists, an updated Waterway Code for those using the cut and how we can help you when you're in a tight spot. You'll also find out how we're working on some of our reservoirs and managing water resources.

A man enjoying steering a narrowboat Enjoying narrowboating

Welcome to the latest edition. Even if the weather might not reflect it, we’re now in the peak summer months and canals and rivers across the network are busier as cruising plans are put in to action.

In making those plans some of you have been in touch. This Boaters’ Update starts with a review of what you’ve been asking about and updates, with examples of our recent work, on how we’re fixing the things most important to boaters.

It’s not just the water space that sees more traffic at this time of year. Towpaths will undoubtably get busier as we get into the school summer holidays, so the second article looks at all things cycling, and how a little consideration goes a long way.

Continuing the theme of considerate behaviour, you can also read about an updated Waterway Code for boaters, anglers and paddlers to help everyone get the most enjoyment when on or by the water.

Finally, sit back and watch our water management expert, Adam Comerford, explain how we’re managing the network’s water resources to keep canals open for boating. In the same vein, there’s an update from our North West team on how we’re managing lock usage to conserve water on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

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

Stay safe, happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 17 June – We worked closely with the London Borough of Islington to provide the first eco visitor moorings in the country on Clean Air Day 2021.
  • 21 June – Our marinas in Liverpool received top marks for high standards of environmental information, management, safety, and boating services, and scooped England's first Blue Flag Marina Award.
  • 29 June – We announced plans to bring our face to face fundraising programme in-house as we step-up post-lockdown fundraising.

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What you’ve been asking, what we’ve been doing

Last month more than a quarter of all enquiries were about boating and navigation. Nearly half of those were about booking facilities and passage (here’s a handy guide I prepared earlier!) and the second most frequent boating reason was route planning. Some also got in touch about locks, bridges and canal walls so you’ll also find examples of where we’re working hard to fix the things important to boaters.

First though, we’ll talk about route planning for those of you who haven’t yet decided where to cruise.

Route planning

Different to planning a journey by road, rail or air, the ultimate destination of a canal cruise isn’t usually the primary reason for making the journey. The slower pace, along with the sense of wellbeing and escape, often means you’ll inadvertently cruise through an unexpected treasure of a place and stay longer than planned. So, perhaps, the first rule of planning a cruise is to build flexibility into it.

The other consideration, of course, is that our canals are 200-years old, fragile and, at times, vulnerable.   And with more boats than in their freight carrying heyday, on top of our planned preventative maintenance, we may need to carry out emergency repairs – see below for examples of this. Having a flexible cruising plan and staying up to date with our stoppage notifications will help prevent disappointment.

Once you’ve picked a route, and destination, it’s a good idea to search our website for the canal or river you’re planning to cruise – using the search facility in the top right – and you’ll find a dedicated web page, including map, containing information on all the boating necessities such as water points, visitor mooring points, stoppages and maximum boat dimensions.

There are other online route planners (find a list on our website) and, if you want more general advice on planning a cruise, then head across to our dedicated webpages.

What we’ve been doing

More than one in ten of the enquiries we get are about, to put it formally, the waterway infrastructure – mostly locks, bridges, canal banks and towpaths (in that order of frequency!).

As a reader of Boaters’ Update you’ll know that we normally install around 170 new lock gates each year (there are over 1,500 on the network). Each and every one is unique, handmade from sustainably grown green oak and expected to last for about 25 years. 

Protecting locks

Although the expected lifespan is around 25 years, and lock gates appear indestructible, this can be drastically shortened, or require numerous repairs, if care isn’t taken when using them. Some good advice was shared by a boater in the last edition:

  • Don’t drop the paddles!
  • Don’t open gates by pushing against them with your boat.
  • Open both gates to avoid damage to the collar and increased leakage through worn away rubbing strips.

And to add to that:

  • Enter and leave slowly to avoid bumps: then even if they do happen, they are less likely to cause damage.
  • Keep your boat well away from the gates and cills.
  • Wait for the boat already in the lock to leave before you start opening or closing paddles.

Bank Newton gate repairsUnduly boisterous boating aside, sometimes locks, or parts of them, wear out quicker than expected for a whole host of reasons. When they do need repairs we get teams on site as quickly as possible to carry out the work. One such example was a broken heel post on the Bank Newton flight of the Leeds & Liverpool, pictured above, which, despite being a major engineering task, was fixed within 12 days.

Kings Road LockNot all repairs are possible on site though: over on the Wakefield Branch of the Aire & Calder a gate anchor – securing the lock gate to the bank at Kings Road Lock (right) – had  to be entirely removed, taken to a workshop and cast welded before being reinstalled.

And, in case you’re wondering about Oxclose Lock on the Ripon Canal, that was featured in a previous edition, 100 tonnes of gravel have now been Oxclose Locktransported to the site by workboat. The void has been filled with the gravel and contractors are currently grouting the loose material together. 

This has to be done painstakingly, with expansion holes drilled as the grouting is taking place to ensure the floor does not expand and lift. Once this is done, a new oak floor will be laid and new cills installed. As the grouting is very time consuming, the contractor has been asked to concentrate on the areas around the cills, enabling us to Lamberts Lane beforereinstate the floor and re-fit the cills whilst the grouting is completed in the rest of the chamber. 

Bridges

Damage to bridges from road vehicles is a perennial and, in our view, avoidable cost. But as mentioned above when caring for such an old and fragile national treasure the wear and tear of decades - sometimes Lamberts Lane aftercenturies - of use needs our intervention. Wherever possible we use our heritage and restoration skills to respect their historical significance. This retaining wall, photo right, next to a bridge on the Macclesfield Canal demonstrates this perfectly (above and right).

Clopton Bridge before

Repairing and restoring bridges is a common task right across the network and sometimes the results are transformative, such as this one on the South Stratford Canal that has just been completed and reinstates access to the towpath. The difference between the before photo, above, and the after, below, is amazing!

Clopton Bridge after

Canal banks and walls

Riddlesden wall beforeFar from superficial, repairs to washwalls and canal banks are more than just squaring off the edges to make it look neater. The recent repairs at Riddlesden and Silsden on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal demonstrate that a more considered approach, carefully revealing the extent of the work needed, is taken before moving on to the repair. 

Riddlesden wall afterWhile we’re on the subject of the work the Trust does, don’t forget that 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, will be published on Monday 5 July and you’ll be able to give us your views. Let us know if you think we’re planning to dredge the right places, repair or replace the right lock gates and, if not, what you’d like us to focus on.

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Stay kind, slow down

In the last edition I mentioned that some of you, in response to an article, wrote in to express your frustrations that some cyclists continue to speed on towpaths. You may be surprised to learn that, every year, we have estimated 122 million cycle visits to towpaths. This is why continue to raise awareness of the towpath code.

Stay kind slow down message on towpathThis has been even more important over the last year or so as, in many areas, our towpaths have been busier than ever. They have played a vital role for the nation offering outdoor spaces in the lockdowns as we all “kept it local”. Like many boaters, especially in urban areas, not everyone has gardens of their own, so many people have got out and about on foot and on bikes, often discovering (and falling in love with) towpaths for the first time.

With so many new faces on the towpaths – many of whom are, perhaps, new to cycling too – we took the opportunity to launch our Stay Kind, Slow Down campaign which encourages everyone to be mindful of each other and take it easy on towpaths.

Coronavirus rules meant that we couldn’t get out on towpaths to promote the campaign as we have in the past so we’ve been using social media to do the heavy lifting. This has helped us to target our campaign messages to the right people, which has worked well.

We’ve also created a useful FAQ page to “myth bust” some of those every day questions that can sometimes confuse people – again we’ve been using social media to help make sure this reaches the right people.

Now that things are starting to get back to normal we are planning to raise more awareness of the campaign. As part of this we’ve recently Two men riding bikes on the canalheld a pilot using Speed Information Displays in the West Midlands to remind people on bikes to slow down and to thank those taking it nice and easy. We’ve had great feedback from this so we’re planning to try using these SID devices (as they are also known) in more places.  Please get in touch with us if there’s somewhere were you think it might help to promote our campaign.

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Waterway Code for boaters and anglers

Over the past few editions we’ve talked about how we can all do our bit to make life on the cut as wonderful as possible – it’s one of the things you’re regularly in touch about. Over 10% of last month’s enquiries related to this topic. With this in mind we’ve been working with boaters and anglers to update and relaunch the Waterway Code to help all those who share the water to understand and be considerate of each other’s needs.

Boating on the Coventry CanalThis summer, with overseas travel still largely restricted, private leisure boating, hire boat holidays, paddle sports and angling are expected to be more popular than ever. So with the cut likely to be busier than a ‘normal’ year, now’s a good time to get reacquainted with the code.  Long term boaters, anglers and paddle sports enthusiasts are likely be familiar with much of the advice which offers common sense guidance and is an updated version of a previously published Code.

Jon Horsfall, head of customer service support, said: “As boaters, anglers, and paddlers get back out on the water this summer, making the most of their licences, we are encouraging people to read and follow the Waterway Code and celebrate good manners and considerate behaviour. Being on or by the water makes people healthier and happier and we want to make sure everyone can enjoy the time they spend with us by following these simple pointers.”

The Waterway Code is a companion to the Towpath Code, mentioned in the previous article, which covers towpaths and cycling.  The aim of both advisory codes is to make the waterways pleasant and safe places for everyone who uses them.

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Don’t be afraid to ask for help

The last 16 or so months have been extremely challenging, and sometimes tragic, for many. The impact has been felt across all aspects of society and those who live on their boat haven’t gone unscathed.

ScottTradgey struck boater Scott just before the pandemic took hold when his dad passed away. To compound things, as lockdown came into force, he also lost his job as an engineering fabricator.

After all of this Scott’s Boat Safety Certificate (BSC) expired and, with no wages coming in, he couldn’t afford the test and, as a result, couldn’t renew his boat licence.

Scott did, however, manage to put a little aside for his licence by cutting back on all non-essentials and learning how to forage because he couldn’t afford coal, wood, or enough food.

At around the same time, his local licence support officer, Glyn Bumford got in touch to enquire about Scott’s progress towards his BSC examination and boat licence.

From their conversations Glyn established that Scott was at rock bottom and struggling to progress the BSC so he could renew his licence. He also learnt that Scott was an ex-Soldier.

So, with Scott’s permission, Glyn got in touch with SSAFA (the Armed Forces charity) and sought out the application forms that Scott would need to access support. Not long after Glyn turned up at the boat with the forms. It was a pivotal moment as he describes: “I used to think that the Trust was just like any other “Authority” body, but discovered that Glyn was prepared to give me time on the phone, listened to me, showed patience, believed me, gave me the benefit of the doubt and suggested options. When Glyn turned up with the SSAFA forms, that made me extra determined and motivated to sort matters out”.

Shortly afterwards Scott found full time employment as a welder/boat yard operative.

We can help

Boating can be a great lifestyle but also tough at times. There’s a whole heap of advice on our website but if you don’t find what you’re looking for then do get in touch with your local licence support officer – we want you to help you have the best time afloat.

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Working on our reservoirs and managing water resources

Perhaps the most vital of commodities, water is a finite resource that takes careful management to keep navigations open for boating. In the video below water management expert, and our national hydrology manager, Dr Adam Comerford talks about the work we’re doing on reservoirs to protect the long term sustainability of our water supply as well as how this might affect water levels for the next few year:

This year, and over the next few years, we're is carrying out essential maintenance on reservoirs to make sure they continue to comply with the law and remain safe.

The investment, amounting to many millions of pounds, will ensure the long-term integrity of the reservoirs and the vital water supply they provide to the canal network.

In some instances, the maintenance requires water levels to be temporarily ‘held down’ meaning there will be less water than normal available for boating. We are asking boaters, with the help of volunteer lock keepers, to be even more careful than usual to conserve water.

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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.

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Bits & Bobs

  • As I’m sure you do, everyone should do whatever they can to stop pollution entering the waterway network. Congratulations have to go to River Canal Rescue for its’ environmentally-friendly bilge discharge filter Bilgeaway which won the British Safety Industry Federation’s Water Pollution Award. Good work!
  • Finally, don’t forget that there’s now only seven weeks until Crick Boat Show (Fri 20 Aug to Sun 22 Aug) so if you haven’t already, you might want to get buying those tickets in advance and save 20% or more off on-the-gate prices!

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Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 2 July 2021

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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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