Boaters' Update 4 June 2021

Welcome to the latest edition which focusses on the things you've been telling us are important to you. First up you can read about the work we've been doing around the network. Then there's an article explaining how to book passages and facilities online and finally you can read how we can all work together to make life on the cut as enjoyable as possible for all.

A man enjoying steering a narrowboat Enjoying narrowboating

Welcome to the latest edition. Last month was one of the coolest, and wettest, May on record. Now that we have suddenly arrived in summer, with some glorious sunshine this week, it feels like a switch has been flicked and we can look forward to a magnificent summer of boating (I hope I’ve not just ruined the weather for us all)…

Do spare a few minutes to read on though as below you’ll find three articles that discuss the things most important to you – we love to hear from boaters and we’ve crunched the data and analysed what you’ve most been getting in touch about.

The first, about the work we’ve been doing out on the cut, reflects your enquiries about stoppages. Specifically, the examples are directly related to the types of waterway infrastructure you’ve been telling us are your priority.

Booking passages and facilities is another hot topic and the second article talks you through how to do this with ease without having to do much more than click a few buttons online.

Finally, mirroring the calls and emails on this subject, there’s a discussion about considerate boating and what we can all do to make life on, and around, the cut as enjoyable as possible.

As always, the routine round-up of news, stoppages and ways to get involved (and how to give your views on our plans for next winter’s multi-million pound stoppage programme) can also be found below.

Stay safe, happy boating,

Damian

PS If you enjoyed the first episode of our new podcast ‘CanalCast’ you’ll be pleased to know that the second has now hit the airwaves and explores the health and wellbeing benefits of spending time by water.

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 21 May – We are working in partnership with Staffordshire County Council and the National Trust, to improve the towpath along the Trent & Mersey Canal in Great Haywood, Staffordshire, for boaters and the thousands of people who use it every day.
  • 24 May – You may remember that we previously consulted on Private Boat Licence Terms & Conditions (thanks to the 3,300 or so who gave us their views). As a result we've now published our updated Private Boat Licence Terms & Conditions alongside a report detailing the results of the recent 12-week consultation. You can also read the answers to some frequently asked questions.
  • 25 May – We were delighted to have welcomed our patron, His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales, to the Coventry Canal as part of a visit showcasing how Coventry is coming together for the UK City of Culture celebrations.

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Stoppages – what we’ve been up to

As you’ll have read in the introduction we’ve been busy analysing the reasons why you’ve been getting in touch to give us an insight in to your priorities. One of the most common boating/navigational reasons has been to ask for information on a stoppage or navigational restriction.

Before sharing some examples of the types of things you’ve been asking about, it’s worth remembering that our stoppage notification system usually contains the most up to date information on the progress of a particular piece of maintenance.

If you have set up a MyTrust account, just sign in and go to the ‘My notices and stoppages’ section and select the canals and rivers you want to keep updated about and we’ll send you an email whenever a new stoppage notice is issued. Here’s a handy guide on how to set up your phone to issue an alert when you receive an email about your chosen canals and rivers.

Ok, so back to what you’ve been getting in touch about. Nearly half of all stoppage enquiries were about bridges, locks, embankments or canal walls.

Embankments and wash walls

As reported in an earlier edition, storms this winter battered the waterway network and left us with a host of additional repairs on top of the then ongoing £49 million winter maintenance programme. While Rochdale Canal collapsed wallwe have the luxury of being able to plan a lot of our work when events, such as storms, damage parts of the network we have to draw up a comprehensive, and bespoke, repair plan.

Some of these projects, however, such as a collapsed wall on the Rochdale Canal not only require bespoke repair plans but come with logistical challenges.

The wall backs on to residential gardens so no road access is possible to the site. Instead, all the heavy machinery has to not only get to the site by canal but also operated from a floating platform as shown in River Soar pilingsthe picture above on the right. 

Sometimes events less dramatic than storm-force winds and torrential rain eventually create a need for big repair projects. A large section of wash wall on the River Soar unexpectedly failed at its base and started to rotate leaving the wall unstable. The fix is to remove the remaining base of the wash wall and install structural piles, photo on the right, and then rebuild the upper section of wall to enable reinstatement of the towpath and moorings. 

Alongside some of the unplanned works described above we’re also inspecting the network on a daily basis and identifying where we can improve things. This is what we’re doing on the Grand Union between Henwood and Tyseley.

Grand Union pilingsA total of 1,500m of piling is being installed along sections of the off-side cuttings between Bridge 78, Hampton Lane and Bridge 79, Damsen Lane as well as some dredging. Due to the width of the piling pontoon shown in the photo on the right (which will also be used for dredging), there have been very short delays to boaters when the crew are working near to bridge holes. If this has been you we’ve appreciated your co-operation and patience! 

Locks

We tend to do a lot of our work on locks when it’s less busy on the cut to avoid disruption to boaters. At times though our hand is forced. One ongoing example is on the Ripon Canal.

Void under Oxclose LockOxclose Lock wouldn’t fill sufficiently so the team tried to install stop planks so that it could be inspected. However, because the lock wouldn’t fill to a high enough level they were unable to safely reach to put the top set of planks in. This meant that another work boat with extendable machinery had to cruise to the remote site to complete the stop planks.

This wasn’t the end of the difficulties. Inspections have revealed a 65 cubic metre void (photo right) beneath the failed wooden floor of the lock. The team are now currently using a workboat to bring 100 tonnes of gravel to the lock to place in the void beneath the floor of the lock chamber.

They will then use a grouting contractor to grout around the gravel to make it into a solid mass which will then be able to support the lock structure and floor above it. 

Bridges

Coffin BridgeSadly, almost as a matter of routine, we’re repairing bridges across the network due to careless drivers who take chunks out of the parapets when not paying enough attention. That’s not to say that we wait for them to be hit by a car before maintaining them.

Coffin Bridge, photo right, is a prime example. In the last winter stoppage programme we carried out works to the bridge to repair lateral arch movement and parapets, to replace missing brickwork and repair uneven steps.

Thorlby Swing BridgeAnother example can be found at Thorlby swing bridge (right) on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal where we replaced the fenders.  

As you’ll imagine, the above examples only scratch the surface of the wide variety of work we do day in, day out to maintain canals and rivers for boating. In coming editions I’ll share more reports of what we’ve been up to. If there’s a particular project or repair that you’d like to hear more about then do please let me know.

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Booking passages and facilities

Back in April, as boating was starting to make a return to the waterways, one of the top boating/navigation enquiries was about booking passages and facilities.

Boat licensing log in pageAs a boater you’ll know that booking is only necessary for a small minority of tunnels, locks, other structures and stretches of water. This might be, for example, for safety reasons or because boat passage needs to coincide with tide times. Sometimes, it’ll be for a specific event – see the section below about the Coventry Canal.

Although you probably don’t need reminding, before you set off on a journey, check your route and see if any sections need to be booked in advance. You can do this by using the list at the bottom of this webpage.

If you need to book passage for a part of your cruise, you can make your booking via our online boat licensing portal. Most readers will already have an online account already set up, but, if not, you can easily register for an account.

Once signed in to your online account, you will see the ‘Bookings’ section and the option to ‘Make a tunnel/passage booking’. From here you can choose where you want to book passage for. You can search by region too.

When you start to make a booking, you’ll have access to more detailed information about any relevant dimensions and the dates and time slots available. Once your booking is complete you’ll know what time you need to arrive by and any safety considerations, as well as any specific terms and conditions of the booking.

You can read our general terms and conditions for booking passage online beforehand.

Booking for summer 2021

Soon we will be adding the entire 2021 summer season onto the booking system so that you can plan ahead but please note that there may be some regional variations to the dates available.

If local or national government coronavirus guidance changes over the course of the summer, such as restricting boats to essential movement only in a particular area,  we are asking all boaters to take responsibility for ensuring their own bookings comply with the law at the time of the journey.

Visitor moorings in Coventry Basin

Photo of Coventry BasinCoventry is the 2021 UK City of Culture with lots of exciting events taking place around the city centre, the canal and in the canal basin. The events programme, regularly updated, starts on 21 June so there is no better time to visit by boat.

The important bit

In order to ensure we maximise our mooring capacity, we have managed to create a few extra visitor moorings in Coventry Basin. With an expected increase in visiting boat numbers, moorings in the basin will need to be booked in advance. This can be done online in the way described above or, if you’re unable to book online, you can call us on 0303 040 4040.

Please note that the booking system will not go live until 14 June.

The Drapers Field visitor moorings, starting immediately after Bridge 1, will not require a booking so boaters are still welcome to visit without making any prior mooring arrangements. All moorings, including the bookable ones in the basin, will be free and the boater facilities in the basin will also remain open to all visiting boats.

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Share the space and be kind

If you’ve been lucky enough to be on the cut over the last week you’ll have noticed that the summery weather is attracting visitors to the towpath. But, come rain or shine, it’s likely to be busier on the water and towpath throughout the summer as ‘staycations’ replace overseas travel in light of uncertainty over travel restrictions.

Moored boatsWith more people on and around the waterways there may, on occasion, be times when more patience is required. We understand that it can sometimes be frustrating and we do our best to listen, understand and help.

However from time to time our people experience behaviour which is unacceptable, and we encourage everyone to speak up when this happens. Threatening or abusive behaviour will not be tolerated. This includes threats and abuse received directly or indirectly verbally, in writing, text messages or appearing on social media channels, chat rooms or other electronic media. We will maintain records of all threatening or abusive behaviour and where it is appropriate to do so will take immediate action to protect our people to address threats and abuse from individuals or groups.

Stay kind slow down message on towpathWe want everyone who visits, or lives on, the waterways to have the best possible experience. To this end we launched our ‘Stay kind, slow down’ campaign to encourage cyclists to go slow enough to mind and give way to other people (pedestrians have priority), and to be able to stop safely if they need to.

As a boater there are things you can do to ensure your actions don’t impinge the enjoyment of others, a few examples are:

  • Shuffle up and share at visitor moorings (there’s a great blog and video about this)
  • Don’t crowd the towpath with your personal belongings
  • Be considerate when playing music or watching TV (especially when moored up next to others)– a recent Twitter thread sparked a few comments!

What else would you add to the list? Drop me a line and I’ll share in a future edition.

Of course, most of the time the waterways can be relied on to offer up tranquility, enjoyment and a great sense of community. This couldn’t be better demonstrated by the ‘Thank You’ recently featured on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live (37 minutes in).

Tyrley Locks, Shropshire Union CanalThe boater in question was on the Shroppie and approaching the end of his narrowboat holiday when, on approach to the flight at Tyrley, had an accident that resulted in a badly fractured hip.

Nearby boaters rushed to help and, put their vocational skills (rather fortuitously an ex-first responder and nurse) to use. When the ambulance arrived the steep towpath access to the top of the flight was deemed too risky so, tied on a stretcher to the top of a boat, the injured boater was taken up the lock flight and away to hospital. If you were one of this boaters saviours then do please get in touch!

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Get involved

Many boaters go the extra mile in helping to keep canals and rivers in good condition by volunteering, donating, or just picking up the odd piece of discarded litter. In whatever form your volunteering takes, 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:

  • As we are every year, we’re keen to get your feedback on our plans for the coming winter’s major stoppage programme. The first round of consultation is still open (until 6 June) so do please have a read and give us your thoughts!

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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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Last date edited: 8 June 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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