Boaters' Update 23 April 2021

Welcome to the latest edition where you can read how our investments help keep navigations open. There's also an important safety reminder, a feature on electric boating, volunteer lock keepers and an update on boating in the North.

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Welcome to the latest edition. Although caution is still needed and we can’t do some of the things we want to, such as limited indoor socialising, until at least 17 May, the last week or so has had a vague resemblance to ‘normality’.

Now that one facet of regularity has returned – the ability to stay on your boat overnight – Boaters’ Update will continue to arrive in your inbox once a fortnight bringing you up to date, ready for your time afloat.

Below you’ll find out how we grow our investments to help us spend more on keeping your navigations open, there’s an important safety reminder about the dangers of carbon monoxide, an article on electric boating, an inspiring video about volunteer lock keepers and an update on boating through a few key places in the North West as well an update on our repair plans for the breach on the Aire & Calder.

After hopefully enjoying this Boaters Update, you might consider settling down to the first edition of the Canal & River Trust’s new podcast ‘CanalCast’ – the series will look at the joys of canals and some of the big issues the Trust is helping to tackle – with the inaugural one focussing on biodiversity.

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

Stay safe, happy boating,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 15 Apr – A new cultural heritage advisory group has been formed to support the Trust in combining effective conservation and interpretation of the built and cultural heritage of the waterways, with promoting their use, enjoyment and value for wellbeing.
  • 15 Apr – We've begun a five month project to improve a section of Grand Union Canal in Solihull. The work will involve dredging sections of the canal and installing steel piles along the edge of the towpath making it easier to navigate and moor.


Investments contribute more than £50 million to your waterways each year

In 2012 the Canal & River Trust was given a 200-year-old, 2,000 miles long, gift to look after on behalf of the nation. It included nearly 3,000 listed structures, 46 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, over 1,500 locks, 71 reservoirs, 63 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 6 historic battlefields. I won’t detail the bridges, culverts, weirs, docks, winding holes, moorings, pumping stations and sluices as I’m sure you get the picture.

A condition of this rather sizeable gift was that it needs maintaining in perpetuity so that, among other things, it can be enjoyed by generations of boaters, walkers, runners, cyclists, anglers, canoeists and… well, again, you get the picture.

To help with this mammoth, and ongoing, undertaking the Government agreed to an annual grant and, in addition, transferred a portfolio of properties from our predecessor British Waterways. Some of these were needed for the ongoing operation of the canal and river network while others were specified as investments to provide a long-term income stream to fund ongoing maintenance of the network.

Boats moored in Paddington BasinAs part of the Grant Agreement we have to maintain and grow the capital value and income from these investments and our strategy is to do this at greater than the rate of inflation, thus allowing us to spend more on looking after your waterways in real terms over time. This is an important condition of the Agreement, requiring us to manage the investments commercially to generate as much income as possible. This means the portfolio cannot be “static” and never change and we regularly sell assets where we think their potential to grow income has diminished and invest the receipts in new assets with more potential for growth. So if you hear we’re “selling the family silver”, we’re not because we are investing the money in better quality assets that will earn more long-term sustainable income to spend on waterway maintenance and repair.

Over time, we’ve diversified the investments we own and, in addition to property, we now also own financial investments like stocks and shares. This is to make sure that we don’t have “all our eggs in one basket” and so would not be significantly affected if one type of investment were to have a bad year.

Since 2012/13 this investment dowry has grown from around £550 million to around £850 million growing by more than 50% compared to Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation at around 14% over the same period. The number you are perhaps more interested in however, is that the investments now contribute over £50 million each year to the upkeep of the waterways, up from around £39 million in 2012/13, an increase of over 30%. For comparison, the important contribution you make through boating and mooring revenue, currently contributes around £40 million a year.

A wide range

Although our day job is to maintain a 200+ year-old network of canals and rivers, this doesn’t mean we’re restricted to only investing in waterway-associated investments. We do still own waterway related properties like marinas and boatyards and some waterside properties with potential for development, but our financial investments are very much “global” like many pension scheme investments and are Henley Business Parkmanaged for us by an expert external investment manager. We also own high quality industrial, office and ground rent investment properties which are not waterside such as Henley Business Park, pictured right.

We’ll continue this topic in the next edition, focussing on our development activities, but in the meantime if you have any questions please do drop me a line.


Report on fatal carbon monoxide poisoning of two friends on a boat in York

The Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) is asking boaters to learn the lessons when, for the second time in six years, two inland boaters died in a craft having equipment DIY installed with improvised, unsuitable exhaust systems and no working carbon monoxide (CO) alarms.  This is according the to the Marine Accident investigation Branch report published last week on the vessel Diversion, on which two friends died in York on 4 December 2019.

The events of Easter 2013 on Lake Windermere that saw a mother and daughter die on a sports cruiser when exhaust fumes from a DIY exhaust filled the cabin space were sadly repeated on Diversion. It had the wrong sized automotive silencer fitted to a diesel-fuelled heater Carbon Monoxide Kills signand then wrapped in exhaust foil which hid the problem until the MAIB investigation revealed the cause and the source of the highly toxic gas.

The report shows that lethal amounts of toxic CO were being pumped into the cabin as the leak in the exhaust was only a few millimetres away from the circulatory warm air intake on the heater. All this was happening without warning, as a CO alarm had been removed.

The BSS urges boaters to ensure that any appliances and systems used on the boat are installed safely by competent fitters, then run according to the instructions and kept in good condition with routine professional maintenance.

BSS manager, Kevin Tyson, said: “The last line of defence against either CO from equipment on your boat or CO caused by sources beyond your boat is a suitable working CO alarm which is compulsory for boats with cabins on most inland waterways.”

The BSS Requirements state that boats with accommodation spaces i.e. areas within a boat surrounded by a permanent boat structure, must have a CO alarm certified by an accredited third-party certification body to at least BS EN 50291 standard (although the marine specific BS EN 50291-2 alarm standard remains the recommendation for any new purchases).

You can read more about what you need to do to protect yourself and your crew from the risk of being poisoned by CO on the BSS website and it recommends taking the self-assessment challenge to test how carbon monoxide safe you are.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) facts

  • CO is a silent killer and recognising any early signs of poisoning and knowing what to do if CO poisoning is suspected can mean staying alive.
  • Any carbon-fuel burning appliance or engine can cause CO – carbon fuels include diesel, petrol, gas, coal, wood and charcoal.
  • It cannot be seen, smelt, tasted, or felt and, in high concentrations, CO can kill without warning, sometimes in only minutes.
  • Breathing-in lower levels of CO over a longer period can have serious effects such as memory problems and difficulty concentrating.
  • The early symptoms of CO poisoning can be masked or mistaken for colds, flu or COVID-19. Victims might suffer headaches, suffer mood changes; feel sick and dizzy; or be tired and confused, some may have stomach pains and start vomiting.
  • Drinking alcohol can also mask the effects and victims may not be aware of the danger creeping up on them, unless they have a warning from a CO alarm.
  • More serious affects can quickly develop such as loss of balance, difficulty breathing or controlling limbs and eventually unconsciousness.

And finally, on another safety-related topic, we’ve recently been informed of a nasty accident where a person fell overboard and was injured by a boat’s propeller. Would you know what to do if it happened on your boat? Skip to 1m29s in this video to refresh your memory and ensure that you and your crew are safe from this type of incident.


Electric boating – a quiet revolution

As the effects of climate change are increasingly felt the momentum towards more environmentally friendly technologies continues to gather – and inland waterways are no different.

The Government’s Clean Maritime Plan states that by 2025 there must be a plan in place to ensure that all vessels (including those on inland waters) are able to meet the zero emissions by 2050 target.

A brand new narrowboat, grey in colour with solar panels on top, on the canal at sunsetWhile they may not be on every boat, or even most, solar panels and wind turbines are an increasingly common sight on our waterways. However, as with cars, the practicality and availability of some form of electric propulsion is growing. One example can be found in Rob Howdle and Caroline Badger’s boat building company Ortomarine which is dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint.

Recently they took the bold decision to only build and sell boats with some form of electric propulsion, whether that’s a purely electric vessel, or a hybrid with rechargeable battery cells and a diesel engine.

Rob feels that there’s a perceptible change: “There’s been a notable shift in the industry and demand for electrically propelled boats is definitely growing. The more demand there is for a technology, the more research and development goes into it, which in turn drives down the cost, making it even more popular. There are lots of companies investing in solar power and battery technology and it’s all now being applied in the marine industry.”

A man with a blue t-shirt and wearing a brimmed hat steers a grey narrowboat on the canalRob thinks, apart from the environmental benefits, that some gains are less obvious: “When you find a beautiful stretch of canal, it’s a peaceful, calm day and all you hear is the water lapping the front of the boat. It’s actually pretty perfect.”

While other hurdles need to be overcome – charging points and conversion costs to name just two – Rob is in no doubt that the future lies in carbon-neutral boats: “The new directives that are being imposed are going to force a new direction for the industry. All this has to start somewhere and the more people that buy into it, the better it’ll be for the environment.”

As part of the journey towards this new greener future, at the end of next month, there’ll be a mini flotilla of boats taking part in a trial. A selection of Ortomarine boats will take part in a series of tests with a goal of documenting and publishing, real life performance figures for their latest serial and parallel hybrid designs.

Each of the vessels taking part in the trials, will follow the same route, on the same day and in identical conditions to see how they perform in a typical 8hr cruising day. "Here we go again" a traditional diesel-powered narrowboat (Ortomarine's first Private boat launched in 2016) will be the benchmark by which the other electric boats will be compared in terms of handling, speed, acceleration/braking and consumption. A full report will feature in a future edition.

All photos © Ortomarine 


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.


The Unsung Heroes of Britain's Canals: Lock Volunteers

Ever approached the bottom of the flight at Caen Hill, Foxton or Fradley and breathed a heavy sigh of relief as the friendly face of a volunteer lock keeper hove into view? While all volunteer lock keepers add a huge amount to the boating experience, the hard work of the team at Tuel Lane Lock on the Rochdale Canal has been recognised by British Marine Inland Boating – they’ve been awarded the Esme Dowling Trophy for being Lock Keepers of the Year 2020, congratulations!

There’s a whole section about volunteer lock keepers on our website, including how to become one, but this wonderful vlog (video blog) from @CruisingTheCut is also definitely worth a watch. 


Weaver Navigation, Trent & Mersey, Anderton Boat Lift and Aire & Calder news

With warmer weather and longer days it can be easy to forget that just over 90 days ago we were being battered by Storm Christoph. Along with widespread flooding, waterways didn’t escape unscathed.

Soot Hill Trent & MerseyWork continues to repair the damage but we’re pleased to report that at one of the sites, a major landslip on the Trent & Mersey, we’ve stabilised the site well enough to enable managed passage. More details can be found here – please read before cruising.

Elsewhere in the North West, although not that far away, we’ve announced the summer opening times for the Anderton Boat Lift, aka the cathedral of the canals. Currently operating four days week, this will change to seven days a week from 3 May. More details, including how to book, can be found here.

Finally, also on the Weaver Navigation and after boater feedback, the summer opening times for the Vale Royal, Hunts, Saltersford and Dutton locks are now online. While no booking is required between 10am and 2.30pm on weekdays (10am to 5pm on weekends), if you want passage outside of these hours you’ll need to book – more details here.

Aire & Calder

Permanent repairs to the breach on the Aire & Calder Navigation have begun at an estimated cost of £3million. Our engineers have completed detailed inspections and assessments onsite, and a design solution has been agreed. We are commencing construction work on a permanent repair programme and expect repairs to the breach site to be completed by mid-August.

Due to the complexity of the project, we cannot guarantee that there will not changes to the project programme. We appreciate the significant disruption this temporary closure has caused, and we will endeavour to do all we can to re-open the navigation by mid-August Regular updates will be issued on our website as via our stoppage notifications.


Last date edited: 23 April 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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