Boaters' Update 28 Aug 2020

This latest edition covers your feedback on the correct cruising speed, news about the Chesterfield Canal, our winter works programme and an article suggesting the Coventry Canal as a place to cruise next year.

Tell lock-keepers that you have a disabled person aboard the boat Tell lock-keepers that you have a disabled person aboard the boat

Welcome to the latest edition. Two weeks ago as we were enjoying glorious weather, I was encouraging you to get out and enjoy our wonderful waterways. Now, as this rollercoaster of a year continues, we’re at the end of a week that’s seen two unwelcome storms, Ellen and Francis, batter parts of the country. Thankfully, the worst has passed as we head into the Bank Holiday weekend.

Regardless of the conditions outside, many of you have taken the time to get in touch in response to the article on cruising speed in the last edition and we start this Boaters’ Update with a summary of your feedback.

You’ll also find articles on the Chesterfield Canal, an overview of our finalised plans for this year’s winter stoppage programme and we turn our thoughts to potential boating destinations for 2021.

And finally, don’t forget that as per the Government’s instructions, some areas have localised lockdowns in place. You can find out how this affects boating on our website.

If there’s something you’d like to see featured in a future edition, please get in touch.

Happy boating,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 14 Aug – We are using a combination of abseiling skills and a spider crane to repair a decades-old timber pier at Sharpness Dock in Gloucestershire. The work is a race against tide, time and weather on a river with the second largest tidal range in the world – the Severn.
  • 18 Aug – We have launched a new free 12 week health and fitness programme of weekly waterside walks and online support for Cheshire residents aged over 55.
  • 21 Aug – Volunteers on the Grantham Canal are getting back into the swing of things after lockdown by lifting new oak lock gates into the restored Lock 14, the first new gates the lock has had in almost 90 years.


Cruising speed

Well you didn’t disappoint! Thanks to everyone who took the time to send in their thoughts on this subject in response to the article in the last edition.

Moses on a narrowboat holiday, credit Heather WinstanleyAs some of you acknowledged, this isn’t a subject that all boaters agree on. That said, there were some prominent themes to come out of the 14 pages of responses:

Please note that it’s acknowledged that ‘tickover’ isn’t a measurement of speed – this will be influenced by many other additional factors – but is used here to relate to the principle of dropping to ‘tickover’.

  • Around a third said that tickover alone isn’t the answer. 20% said that while speed is relevant, the main consideration should be the effect your boat is having on the water – and not just when you’re approaching moored boats. The point was made that on some, wider and deeper, navigations you can go faster than tickover and create less disturbance than going at tickover on shallower and narrow channels. Another 15% said that moorers should take equal responsibility by mooring ‘properly’.

“Wash and disturbance should be judged on an individual basis and not just on the fact that a boat is moving past at all.”

“On quite a few occasions I have thought that a passing boat was going too fast but actually it had little effect on my moored boat so tickover speed was unnecessary, just a reasonable reduction from normal cruising speed was obviously fine.”

  • Of course, not everyone agrees. Around 20% of respondents said that tickover is the guiding principle.

“If you are travelling on tick over you cannot cause problems.”

“Drop to tick over 20 metres ahead of moored boats.”

  • The last quote above was another subject namechecked a few times. While there wasn’t a firm consensus, two boat lengths was frequently mentioned as the point at which to reduce revs but others felt it should be more like ten.

Moored boats“I find if you are cruising and you see moored boats a fair way ahead drop the throttle right down for a few seconds, this takes the power out of the bow wave and you can cause less hassle.”

  • Around a quarter said that more tolerance and politeness was needed out on the cut with some saying that moored boaters are too eager to criticise. Some went on to say that more experienced boaters should take the time to gently educate those new to boating.

“The most important thing is to have respect and care for other people and their boats and then we can all enjoy the waterways.”

  • There was a fairly even split between those who believe that private boaters speed most while a similar proportion felt it was hire boaters.

“I agree whole-heartedly with the comment that hire-boaters are rarely the worst offenders.”

“The worst offenders on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal are from the holidaymakers”

  • Some 10% or so of respondents offered a philosophical slant questioning the need for speed.

“4mph is NOT a target.”

“It's not about getting a ring done it's about living at a slow pace, looking for the blue flash of a kingfisher ahead, trying to pass that heron without it taking flight…”

“In my opinion the thing about boating is escaping the rat race, slowing the pace of living, and enjoying the surroundings.”

So there you have it, a mixed bag of sometimes contradictory responses! Do get in touch if you have any views on the responses above but, before you do, here’s two final quotes giving advice:

“I was told by the gentleman who taught me how to use the canal system to always pass a moored boat as though they are cooking chips in an old-style chip pan.”

“I teach powerboat driving and the way I explain it is to imagine that there is someone on the moored boat just making a cup of tea with boiling water.”


Winter works programme 2020/21

As you’ll know, each winter, when fewer boats are cruising our waterways, we carry out essential repairs and maintenance. In many cases we need to close the waterway completely, and sometimes the towpath too.

Before we begin we always consult, you our boaters, to make sure these stoppages cause as little disruption as possible. Thank you to all those who commented on our draft winter 2020/21 programme. This has now been finalised and you can see the individual stoppages in the main search facility on our stoppages page - simply enter the dates you’re planning to cruise this winter and on which navigation and click search – you’ll then have a list of any that may affect your plans! A full list, as a PDF, is also available for downloading.

A particularly notable stoppage will be found on the Kennet & Avon Canal from November 2020 to March 2021 (From Bridge 109, Wootton Rivers Farm Bridge, to Lock 67, Little Bedwyn, Kennet & Avon Canal) where a huge range of works, from repairs to the inlet chamber, silt removal and maintenance of the pumps at Wootton Pumping Station through to removal and replacement of the pipework and electrics which run under the canal (which requires open-cut excavation of the canal bed) at Crofton Pumping Station.

Over the coming editions we’ll be taking a closer at some of the other big projects you’ll see happening over the winter.

Please remember that all planned stoppages are subject to change, depending on the latest advice from the Government regarding the coronavirus pandemic. We will update the notices to reflect any such changes.


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:

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.


The Coventry Canal

As this year’s boating continues to return to normal you may have started to rue the missed months unable to boat due to lockdown. This may also mean that you’re starting to think about next year’s plans  - hopefully far more settled and predictable than this year.

With this in mind, over the next few editions, I’ll be highlighting canals or rivers that come with added significance in 2021. But first, Coventry Canal, Armington courtesy Joanne Rollasondid you know that the UK City of Culture is a competition run by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport?

Every four years, cities compete to be awarded the prestigious title of the UK’s City of Culture. Previously Derry/Londonderry, in 2013, and Hull, in 2017, have won but did you know that next year it’s Coventry with the events programme starting in May 2021?

The city’s canal was constructed to connect the rapidly expanding city of Coventry with the Trent & Mersey Canal. This way, its promoters hoped to exploit the potential of the Warwickshire coalfields, shipping fuel both north (via the Trent & Mersey) and south (via the Oxford Canal).

Its construction period took more than 20 years and the whole line eventually opened in 1790. Nonetheless, it was a profitable venture that still paid a dividend right up to 1947, the year before the canals were taken under the Government's wing.

The section of the Coventry Canal between Fazeley Junction and Fradley Junction proved particularly problematic. The Birmingham & Fazeley Canal had reached Fazeley in 1789, where it joined the Coventry. Frustrated by the lack of progress in completing the Coventry Canal, the Birmingham & Fazeley and Trent & Mersey canals got permission from Parliament to build the missing section. The two companies built half each, meeting at Whittington; the Coventry Canal then bought the northern portion, which is why there is an apparently isolated stretch of Coventry Canal between Whittington Brook and Fradley.

Narrowboats next to bridge on Coventry CanalCommercial traffic north of Nuneaton continued until the 1960s and has now been replaced by increasing volumes of pleasure boats. The line terminates a short walk from the cathedral at a basin that has itself undergone much improvement in recent years.

For about a mile south of Hawkesbury Junction, the old route of the Oxford Canal can be seen running parallel. This was the ludicrous result of a disagreement between the rival companies, which was only resolved when the connection was cut at Hawkesbury. The resulting sharp turn from one canal into the other can present something of a challenge to navigators of longer craft.

The present junction is also known as Sutton Stop, after the family of the same name who once lived in the attendant cottage and perhaps it might be one of your stops next year?!

Please get in touch if you’d like your favourite canal or river featured in a forthcoming edition.


Conditions force restricted navigation on six mile stretch of Chesterfield Canal

Due to water shortages, we are unfortunately having to restrict navigation movements along a six mile stretch of the Chesterfield Canal from September 1st until further notice.

Enabling boats to cruise unimpeded during the most popular boating months has been possible up until now. However, despite the hard work and continued efforts of our operational and water management teams, we have taken the decision to restrict navigation along part of the canal due to concerns over water levels. There are three contributing factors:

  1. The first half of the year was much drier than normal and, despite some recent rainfall, the canal has not had the steady supply of rain that it needs throughout the season to replenish resources.
  2. There has been a significant increase in boat movements along the canal since lockdown restrictions were lifted, leading to a higher loss of water than normal as vessels move through locks. 
  3. As of 20th August 2020, feeder reservoirs at Pebley and Harthill are at 35% of holding capacity, with predictions that the reservoirs will be at the critical level of 20% within four weeks at the current rate of use, unless there is significant rainfall.

By restricting the use of the six mile section between Lock 42 and the summit at Norwood Tunnel, we hope to keep the rest of the canal running as normal.

We continue to monitor water levels and will get the entire canal back open as soon as we can after enough rainfall.

For further information, please visit our FAQ's.


Get involved

Many boaters go the extra mile in helping to keep canals and rivers in good condition by volunteering (when coronavirus permits),  donating, or just picking up the odd piece of discarded litter. In whatever form your volunteering takes place we’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you. Your support helps make life better by water.

As you’re such an integral part of what makes waterways so wonderful, I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • Just over a year ago, we told you about a government consultation on the implementation of new red diesel regulations. This follow-up article explained our position. A year on and we’re talking red diesel consultations again. At Budget 2020, the Government announced that it will remove the entitlement to use red diesel from April 2022, except in agriculture (as well as forestry, horticulture and pisciculture), rail and for non-commercial heating (including domestic heating). This new consultation seeks views on whether the Government has overlooked any exceptional reasons why other sectors should be allowed to continue to use red diesel beyond April 2022. Sections 5.30 to 5.45 of this document set out the context for private pleasure craft and lists the associated questions being asked. The direction given is that the best way to respond to this consultation is to download and complete the consultation response form and email it to:


Bits and bobs

  • We’ve published a new resource to help boaters plan their trips, including route planning, length of trip, and boat size amongst others.
  • Just a reminder for those who haven’t renewed their licence since new changes were implemented on 1 April 2020. Since then a 2.5% ‘prompt payment’ discount (reduced from 5%) has applied for those who paid on time in full, and there’s a new 2.5% discount applying for those who manage their payments online including, for the first time, for boaters paying by direct debit. This means that boaters who may not be able to afford to pay in one lump sum also benefit from a small discount on the full licence fee. In addition to the current length-based pricing, from April 2020, we started the phased introduction of additional pricing bands for boat widths over 2.16m (7ft 1”), as announced in March 2018, with a surcharge of 5% applied until March 2021. This increases to 10% from 1 April 2021.

Last date edited: 28 August 2020

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The boaters' update

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