Boaters' Update 3 July 2020

This edition covers the halting of boating in Leicester's local lockdown, the reopening of the Leeds & Liverpool, the principles you say make a good boater, post lockdown maintenance tips and how to prevent your boat from polluting the waterways.

Leigh Branch of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Wigan Leigh Branch of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Wigan

Welcome to the latest edition. Since the last Boaters’ Update two major announcements have come from the Government. Firstly the news many of you have been waiting for, from tomorrow, 4 July, leisure boaters will be able to stay overnight on their boats. The second announcement directly affects those who boat in the East Midlands specifically, there has been a reintroduction of local lockdown measures in Leicester.

As a result we are asking boaters in Leicester to stop all non-essential travel. We are also asking boats from outside the area to stop all non-essential travel into and through the area with immediate effect.

Aside from the restrictions in Leicester, this weekend will see the substantial return to boating activity on our waterways that we have all been working so hard for.

The return of overnight stays and the start of holiday hire boating means that we expect some areas our waterway network to be in high demand and extremely busy. We encourage everyone to follow the guidelines on social distancing, we are acutely aware that the substantial increase in use of locks, and other pinch points, means that it’s vitally important that we all continue to follow these guidelines consistently.

Please remember that the additional steps we all need to take to protect one another when responding to issues and requests for help may mean it takes longer to do so. This will almost certainly be the case for the emergency services as well as our colleagues and volunteers so please look out for another, be patient and stay safe!

In the rest of this edition, along with more on Leicester’s lockdown, you’ll find news of National Grid’s work to decommission parts of its network of cables under the towpath in London. There are also some timely reminders about considerate boating and how to prevent your boat polluting the waterways.

Happy boating,


PS Keep an eye on your inbox early next week if you do your boating in Wales – we’ll be updating you on the important boating milestones you’ve got coming up.

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 23 June – The Government has announced that staycations will be allowed in England from 4 July. We're urging people to take a voyage of discovery around the nation’s canals and rivers this summer.
  • 24 June – A new partner is being sought to run the commercial fishery at Harthill Reservoir near Rotherham.
  • 29 June – Could you be the next Bill Bryson? We have launched a search for a new generation of inspirational travel writers with the introduction of a summer writing competition, ‘Words on the Waterway’.


Leicester’s lockdown

Following the announcement from the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care (29 June 2020) regarding the reintroduction of lockdown measures in Leicester*, we have issued new guidance on use of the waterways in the city and surrounding areas during this period.

In line with Government advice we are asking leisure boaters to stop all non-essential travel into and through the city with immediate effect.

In order to help those who live-aboard, the Trust is suspending the requirement to move every 14 days on moorings between Wanlip (Bridge 18) and Newton Harcourt (Bridge 82). The suspension will be kept under review in line with revised government guidance. In addition leisure boaters with a mooring in the affected area who do not liveaboard will be unable to visit their boats during this period.

Hire boat bases, which are due to begin operating again from 4 July, are asked to direct their customers away from the affected area.

Angling and paddle sports have now been suspended on the River Soar/Grand Union Canal (Leicester Line) between the locations identified above. 

Whilst towpaths in the city will remain open, use of them should be limited. We are asking people to please stay local, avoid any stretches with moored boats and strictly observe social distancing at all times. In particular, cyclists should go slowly and take care around other users.

During this period of lockdown we will be working to ensure that vital boater facilities and services are accessible to those that need them. Work in the city will be focused on those roles which are critical to the safe management of the waterways, for example managing water levels, carrying out statutory inspections of canal structures and ensuring essential facilities for boaters are available.

All volunteering, including work done by partner groups, in the affected area is now suspended.

We ask everyone to be considerate during this period of extended lockdown and to enjoy their local waterway responsibly. Throughout this crisis waterways have provided an important lifeline and will continue to do so over the next two weeks as people in Leicester look for local green open spaces for their daily exercise.

We will be doing whatever we can to support our customers and protect the waterways so we can return to enjoying them fully when restrictions can be eased. The situation will be kept under active review and updates provided in line with the latest Government guidance.

Related information can be found on our local lockdown page. 

*Leicester is in our East Midlands region, not the North West as I inadvertently titled my email to you earlier this week.


Leeds & Liverpool Canal re-opens

While we’ve been in lockdown it would have been hard to miss the weather – the driest May and, overall, the sunniest spring on record. This particularly dry spell took its toll on water resources in the North West. The Leeds & Liverpool, in particular, relies on a regular supply of rainfall throughout the year to replenish its resources and due to consistent rainfall over the last week or so we are pleased that we’re able to re-open it earlier than planned – this means that those who are enjoying their first night aboard since March will be able to take advantage of the easing of lockdown.

From today (3 July) locks on the Leeds & Liverpool, from Wigan to Bingley, will be open at certain times to enable passage – the operating times are still required to effectively manage the water levels.

Boats must double up in locks where possible for all of these passages to help conserve water. These operating times will remain under review and could be subject to change so please sign up for stoppage notices via your MyTrust account.

For more information about navigation restrictions on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, please see our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

The Peak Forest and Macclesfield Canals re-open as planned on 6 July.


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.


National Grid’s work on London’s towpaths

On 20 July 2020, National Grid will start a two-year phased programme of essential works to remove old cables laid beneath the towpath of the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal and the Regent’s Canal.

As part of the works, we’ve agreed with National Grid that the towpath surface will be upgraded and, where possible, widened to a minimum width of two metres.

The oil-filled cables, which have reached the end of their useful life, are no longer needed to supply London and have been replaced by the now-operational London Power Tunnels, a new network of electricity cable tunnels in the capital. Removal of the old cables will help to safeguard the local environment and waterways from any potential damage in the future.

Ros Daniels, director for London & South East at the Trust, said: “We want to keep any disruption resulting from these works to an absolute minimum and we are working hard to ensure that the voices of our local communities are heard. These works are vital for the ongoing health of the waterways and the improvements to the towpath will benefit all those who use London’s canals for boating, walking, cycling, or simply having a moment of peace.”

Boats moored in Paddington BasinThe first phase in the removal of the cables from the towpath is due to begin on 20 July 2020 on the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm at Old Oak Lane, gradually working two kilometres east towards Scrubs Lane. Due to limited access along the towpath and the complexities of the work we will have to close this section of canal towpath until early November. A towpath diversion will be clearly signposted and we urge anyone using the towpath to factor in a little extra time to make the journey.

The works will affect boaters moored along the Oak Lane to Scrubs Lane section of towpath. We will be asking boaters not to moor in this section, as there will be a mooring suspension in place.

It is important to note that this is the first phase of a project that has a total expected length of two years and will ultimately see the removal of the cables along approximately seven kilometres of towpath between Old Oak Lane and Lisson Grove. The works along the canal towpaths are part of a wider two-year programme by National Grid to decommission cables between Tottenham and Wimbledon.

National Grid is leading on a community engagement and stakeholder consultation programme, anyone who wishes to make any comments or observations should contact their Community Relations team on 0800 161 5035 between 09:00 and 17:30 or alternatively by email at

For information regarding the project, towpath diversions and any planned consultation events please visit the dedicated pages on our website.


Being a Good Boater

As mentioned in the introduction, from tomorrow, the Government is permitting overnight stays at locations other than your primary residence and, while holidaying in a handful of other countries is possible, many are opting for a staycation. Just earlier this week ABC Boat Hire reported a 315% increase in bookings compared to the same week last year.

This means that we can all expect things to get busy on the cut rather quickly as we head into the peak summer months. There’s likely to be more first time boaters this year and it’d be great to set an example for them to follow. Some may even appreciate your advice (given while socially distanced of course).

We’ll be out and about to help where we can but it may take a little longer to get to you as we all make extra considerations for coronavirus and given that lots more people will be escaping for a day’s, or longer, boating.


Long-term readers of Boaters’ Update may remember that, with your help, we came up with an acronym for Good Boater a few years ago. It listed the things that you said good boaters do:

Go slow before, and during, passing moored boats

Only run your generator between 8am and 8pm and be neighbourly and considerate

On mooring up at busy spots check you haven't left a big gap and don't overstay

Don't moor opposite winding holes, on bends, or near to bridges

Bag it and bin it (especially your dog's) – never fly tip on the towpath

Only stay on a water point or a lock landing when you're filling up or locking through

Ask to share locks (and the work) and don't steal those set against you

Take time to check all paddles and gates are shut after you've used a lock

Enjoy the Waterways


Of course, given the current coronavirus context, there are other considerations. First and foremost, government guidance should be followed at all times. When out on your boat this means, along with others, observing social distancing and washing hands regularly (and definitely before and after using any waterway structures such as locks and facilities).


Oil on the water

Every year we (and sometimes the Environment Agency) receive a barrage of calls about sheens of oil on canals and river navigations. These incidents vary in severity, but a lot can be tracked back to a small amount of oil that has come from an oily bilge.

When the oil is this thin, mopping it up with spill pads is an impossible task, and we're left to rely on natural processes to break the sheen down.

What's the problem?

A pristine, well-running engine shouldn't contaminate bilge water, but life is rarely perfect -small amounts of fuel, lubricating oil, grease and anti-freeze can find their way into normally accumulating bilge water. When you pump this out, those contaminants get into the water, looking and smelling unpleasant and potentially causing problems for wildlife. It can also contaminate silt, increasing the cost of disposing of dredgings (meaning our dredging budget doesn't stretch as far).

What can you do?

You can pump out bilge water into the canal so long as it is clean - and bilge water is internationally considered clean if it is less than 15 parts per million of oil; in perspective, one drop of oil in 1 litre of water is 40ppm!

There are two approaches you could take - prevent oil getting into the bilge, or prevent oil leaving the bilge. In practise, a mix of both will work for most boats.

Preventing oil getting into the bilge

  • Well maintained engines shouldn't leak oil. Check the drip trays underneath, if they keep getting oily, find and mend the leak. If any engine oil is spilt, mop it up using absorbent pads;
  • Place absorbent pads under the engine and gear box; monitor these and pump out regularly into a drum. The oil can be taken to a local boatyard to be recycled;
  • Greasing the stern gland can prevent the ingress of water whilst the boat is stationary;
  • Securing the weed hatch and replacing it if necessary can prevent water entering the engine bilge;
  • Tightening all plumbing by keeping the nuts compressed and watertight will reduce leaks. A dry bilge cannot discharge oily water.

Preventing oil leaving the bilge

  • Use a bilge sock to absorb oil and fuel in the bilge;
  • Fit a filtration system to your bilge pump, such as ‘Bilgeaway
  • Using water-based lubricants and biodegradable fuels will help to reduce the pollution impact if an incident does occur;
  • If you do have oily bilge water, invest in a cheap hand pump and discharge directly into drums; your nearest boat yard will then ensure its safe disposal.


Post-lockdown maintenance tips

For the majority of boaters, this weekend will be the first time you’ve stayed on your boat overnight since March. While you may have been visiting your boat for a good few weeks now, your cruising distance will have been restricted due to not being able to stay overnight.

From tomorrow there’ll be no such hindrance and you may be planning to cruise further afield. Well, before you do, River Canal Rescue’s managing director Stephanie Horton has some post-lockdown maintenance tips that you may want to do (if you haven’t already).


If they’re not in a good condition, your engine won’t start. Look out for corrosion of the terminals and check the voltage. If below 12.5V, and the engine will start, the battery may need a recharge, so run your engine for a few hours. If the voltage doesn’t increase, change the battery.  Batteries lower than 10V can potentially be recharged at home (although they may not recover).

Starter systems must have the right batteries. A cranking battery delivers a high output quickly while a leisure battery delivers a lower continuous output. Systems’ charging times vary, however a 70amp alternator charging four x 110amp batteries from flat will take around three to five hours.

Each battery cell can affect the whole battery bank, so to prevent deterioration, regularly check and top up the cells’ water levels with de-ionised water. To check levels, remove the caps (where applicable) and use a mirror to look into the hole. If one cell’s water level drops below 50% it will bring the bank’s capacity down to the same level, irrespective of the other batteries’ condition. Never mix batteries and always replace a whole bank of old with new.

For a good connection, ensure the battery terminals are tight and greased (Vaseline does the trick). It only needs one loose terminal to cause a problem (usually the main earthing cable connected to the engine bed).  Look out for any green or white deposits and clear using emery paper. 

Overcharged batteries can bulge, gas or explode. If they smell like rotten eggs, they’re likely to be gassing, so before accessing, turn off any chargers and your engine, and wait a couple of hours (a spark can cause an explosion).  If the batteries have exploded, sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over the affected area to neutralise the acid, remove all batteries and replace with new.


Electrical issues are usually due to poor connections and broken wires. Check for corrosion, wires coming away, loose connections or disconnected wires before starting a journey and use a water resistant spray, such as DW40 or petroleum jelly to stop damp getting into isolators and block connectors. 

If it’s an intermittent issue, check the isolator switch, turning from one position to another. If the problem continues, ask an engineer to investigate as tracing faults can be very difficult. With a wiring ‘meltdown’ - due to overcharging or faults developing – call an expert to investigate the cause.

Fuel issues

Fuel problems typically occur when a vessel is left idle and are mainly caused by diesel bug (a black soot/jelly-looking enzyme that lives off water) and contaminated water. Once in the system, diesel bug clogs the engine’s fuel lines, filters, injectors and pumps and stops the engine working. Mild cases respond to a fluid ‘Marine 16’; it prevents bacterial growth and kills anything forming in the tank. More severe cases require a diesel bug shock treatment.

If you have a pre-filter, drain off any water to prevent it being drawn into the fuel system. If you don’t have a filter, drop a clear pipe into the fuel tank, place your thumb over the end (to capture the fluid) and withdraw the hose. This will tell you how much water is in the bottom of the fuel tank (and if you have diesel bug).

If there’s one to two inches of water, drain off via the tank drain (if applicable). Remove the bolt and drain down until fuel comes out. Alternatively, use an oil extraction pump, and with the pipe pushed to the bottom of the tank, draw out fluid until diesel comes through. Diesel sits on top of water and will only appear once the water’s been removed.

Water in the bilges

 If the bilges are full of oil and water when the engine’s running, it will be thrown over the engine, hitting electrical components.  If left for a while, rust and corrosion can develop and affect their operation, so check and clean the bilges frequently. If left to accumulate, water can get into the bell housing and corrode the drive plates and other engine parts.

Bilges containing only water, can be pumped out with a clear conscience, but if they’re contaminated, pump out using a bilge filter, like Bilgeaway or leave it to a marina. Bilgeaway is a cartridge filter that removes contaminants (petrol, diesel, engine oil etc) from the bilge area, using a non-toxic solution to render its contents non-reactive.

An automatic bilge pump is a must; it safeguards against water build-up and gives peace of mind when away from the vessel. Similarly, cleaning the deck gunnels is top priority; this allows rain water to run off easily, reducing the risk of water ingress.

Fan belts

Always carry a spare, and before setting off, check its condition. Twist the belt and look for cracks or fraying; this will tell you if a new belt is needed. Squealing from an old belt suggests a replacement is needed or it may need tightening. If it’s a new belt, some adjustment may be required. 

Guidance on how to change a fan belt can be found online, on RCR’s website or in the book Narrow Boat Engine Maintenance and Repair.

Essential maintenance tool

Focusing on diesel engines and their arrangements, Narrow Boat Engine Maintenance and Repair explains the theory behind the boat’s main systems, including propulsion, cooling and electrics, and gives instructions on how to identify key components, locate faults and where possible, how to fix them.  Retailing at £18 (discounted for RCR members), the book’s available from and bookshops.


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, and life better by water, I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • With social distancing likely to be required for some time, our regional teams are exploring holding our waterway user forums in a different way this autumn. Instead of face to face meetings we’re looking to try a virtual online meeting using Zoom, so that more people can join in without having to meet others in an enclosed space. We’d like to find out how many people would be interested in joining a virtual forum meeting, so we can decide whether we should hold national forums, regional forums, or perhaps both. If you’re interested in attending please complete this short survey to register your interest and tell us what you’d like to hear about at the forum meetings.


If this has been forwarded on to you by a fellow boater and you want to receive it directly then please sign up here, thanks. 

Last date edited: 3 July 2020

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