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News article created on 4 May 2018

Boaters' Update 4 May 2018

With three whole days to get out on the cut I hope you can first spare a few minutes to read the latest edition. In it you'll find an update about the breach on the Middlewich Branch of the Shroppie, a blunt warning from the Boat Safety Scheme about the dangers of Carbon Monoxide (CO), an article about electric boating and, finally, continuing with your most requested ‘How-To’ maintenance articles, you’ll find out about keel tank maintenance.

Brewood, Shropshire Union Canal

Welcome to the latest edition and a lovely three-day weekend. It’s an eclectic mix with an update about the breach on the Middlewich Branch of the Shroppie, a blunt warning from the Boat Safety Scheme about the dangers of Carbon Monoxide (CO), and how minimising the need for one source of CO has been one boater’s best boating choice in an article about electric boating. Finally, continuing with your most requested ‘How-To’ maintenance articles, you’ll find out about keel tank maintenance.

As ever, there’s a round-up of the latest news, events and stoppages. If there’s a particular topic you’d like to see in a future edition then please just drop me a line.

More than a few of you have been in touch recently, concerned that you’d read we are spending £2.5million on ‘rebranding’ the Trust. Put simply, we’re not.

We will be launching a revitalised brand on 22 May but no extra money, outside of what we routinely spend on promoting the Trust, is being spent. It is not at the expense of the money we spend to repair and maintain the waterways, which continues to grow year-on-year. What’s really important is why we’re doing it

Happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up and the fortnight ahead

Over the last couple of weeks you may have heard, or seen, that:

  • 18 Apr – To celebrate the forthcoming Crick Boat Show (26-28 May), now Britain’s biggest inland waterways festival, our Explorers team took 32 Year 5 pupils from Crick Primary School for a walk along their local canal, the Leicester Line of the Grand Union.
  • 26 Apr – We've announced that we’re on the lookout for volunteers to join our Towpath Taskforce and help repair potholes and build an improved surface from Carthagena Lock to Broxbourne station.
  • 27 Apr – David Collins, Mayor of Dacorum and Town Councillor for Berkhamsted, stepped onto the towpath and helped us care for the Grand Union Canal.
  • 1 May – We are looking for 'friendly faces' in Ware, on the River Lee, to volunteer and help welcome visitors and tourists to the area.

Below I’ve picked out some highlights to see and do over the next fortnight. Of course, there are plenty of other activities and volunteering opportunities around the network: visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you. Or you may just want to escape out on your boat, in which case these cruising ring guides might be handy!

  • 5 to 7 May – It’s a bumper Bank Holiday weekend for festivals! It’s a tough choice between the St Richard’s Canal Festival(in Droitwich), Skipton Waterway FestivalNorbury Canal Festival or the IWA Canalway Cavalcade (in London).
  • 5 to 7 May – After three years of refurbishment you’re invited to join us at National Waterways Museum Gloucester during our reopening weekend and enjoy an immersive experience within the museum, once a grain warehouse, in the heart of Gloucester Docks.
  • 8 May – You might also want to join us at National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port on a special behind the scenes tour to see the historical boat store and discuss the conservation approaches the museum has chosen for each boat.
  • 26 May to 28 May – Don’t forget that the canal world’s biggest marketplace – Crick Boat Show – descends on Crick Marina, showcasing the inland waterways industry with 300 exhibitors. It’s a fantastic day out for all the family with dozens of boats to look round, free boat trips, live music, children’s activities, a real ale marquee, and a large variety of food and drink stalls – there’s still a couple of weeks left to get your discounted tickets!

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Middlewich Branch breach update

For those who don’t know, in mid-March a breach swept away a 70-metre section of the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. Before giving you the low down on what’s been going on over the last couple of weeks as we get everything in place to repair it, we’d like to give thanks for the fantastic response we’ve had from the community – boaters and locals – with offers of volunteering, free use of meeting rooms, and, of course, the people who've helped fundraise.

Digger at MiddlewichThe construction of the access route and compound area in readiness for the repair works is complete. An access ramp down into the bed of the canal is now being installed in preparation for laying an access road along the canal bed to the breach area.

A significant amount of ground investigation work and analysis of material samples has been carried out and this is nearing completion.  This information is critical for the design work, which is also progressing well.

You may already know that we've launched an appeal - the Shropshire Union Canal: Emergency Appeal - to help people who use the canal - whether it's using the towpath to get to work or school, visiting to get some peace and quiet, or boating on the 200-year old waterway - to do so again.

You can support our appeal directly online by going to our JustGiving page or by texting LEAK515 to 70070 to give £5 (you'll be charged £5 + one message at your standard network rate) or even by snail mail to FREEPOST RSXX-XSGE-KKUE, FAO: Shropshire Union Appeal, Canal & River Trust, Station House, 500 Elder Gate, Milton Keynes, MK9 1BB. Every penny we receive from your donation will go toward restoring this beautiful and treasured canal. 

It’d be great if you could spread the word about the appeal as far and wide as you can to help us restore this beautiful part of the network.

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Blunt Carbon Monoxide (CO) warning for boaters using petrol engines

As the 2018 boating season gets into swing, following the deaths of four people and emergency treatment for two more, the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) has issued a warning for boaters using petrol engines, especially large petrol engines, which Marine Accident Investigation Branch investigations have shown can fill a boat’s interior with carbon monoxide in seconds. The BSS says:

“Put bluntly, if you can smell petrol-engine exhaust fumes in the boat, kill the engine(s) and get out fast before you inhale any further toxic fumes!

No generators on deck sign“A major carbon monoxide (CO) risk comes from either big inboard petrol-engines producing lethal volumes of the highly poisonous gas in seconds, or from outboards and other portable engines steadily increasing CO in the cabin; but whatever the source, boaters cannot afford to drop their guard.

“Over the previous two boating seasons four people died and another two had emergency medical treatment when the cabins of their cruisers, with large inboard petrol engines, filled with a toxic cloud of CO as engine-exhaust gases were drawn inside through the open flaps of cockpit covers.”

Graham Watts, BSS manager, adds: “The warning is targeted at owners of boats with large petrol engines and focuses on the risk when boat engines are run whilst the craft is moored.

“Investigations by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) have demonstrated how exhaust gases from petrol engines can flow back inside through slightly open flaps on cockpit covers. The gaps in the covers can act like a funnel to channel exhaust fumes into the covered cockpit area, and then fill the boat interior with a massive volume of CO in seconds.

“CO measured in hundreds of parts per million in air can kill in minutes or hours, the MAIB tests recorded CO in thousands of parts per million in less than half a minute. Do not think that it is OK to have petrol engine exhaust fumes in your covered cockpit area or cabin - act immediately!

“No amount of CO should be thought of as safe, even low concentrations over longer periods can cause long-term health problems. Good skippers will understand and control all risks to protect their crews. This includes knowing about CO and being able to recognise the symptoms of CO poisoning.”

“CO is a colourless and odourless gas, but when it is mixed with the other petrol engine exhaust gases that you can smell, you can be confident there is a risk you need to deal with immediately.

“The symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to flu or food poisoning as the toxin begins to take effect, these include headaches, nausea and dizziness. As time passes and, or the amount of CO builds, symptoms can worsen with chest pains and breathlessness and go on to seizure, unconscious. So, early recognition of the symptoms is critical, but if nothing is done, death can follow on quickly.

“Because of circumstances where you may not smell the exhaust fumes, or you are asleep, it is critical to have a working certified CO alarm as the next line of defence. Even if your batteries are desperate for a charge, don’t run an engine on a moored boat if the exhaust fumes are being drawn inside. Wait until the wind changes or move to a different mooring.

“Also be a good neighbour and don’t run petrol engines where exhaust fumes could enter a nearby boat cabin.”

To summarise the main points;

  • If you are smelling and breathing in petrol-engine exhaust fumes, stop the engine and get off the boat.
  • Know the symptoms of CO poisoning, if anyone is indicating they are suffering, get them medical help. If the symptoms are severe – call the emergency services.
  • As a belt & braces defence, have one or more certified CO alarms (BS EN 50291-2). They need testing routinely and never remove the batteries.

Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield and Co-chair of All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group (APPCOG) is supporting the need for boaters to understand more about CO and promotes the BSS information:

“As Co-chair of the All-Party parliamentary CO group I am delighted to support the initiative of the Boat Safety Scheme to protect people from carbon monoxide poisoning. We have identified the growing number of CO related boating incidents as a worrying and emerging trend. The Boat Safety Scheme and the APPCOG are determined prevent any further incidents of this kind.”

More information about staying safe from CO on boats is available on the BSS website.

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Electric boating

While the dangers of CO are apparent in the BSS’s blunt warning, you may be left wondering about the alternatives. Lucky for us then that boater Ken Read has been in touch to share his enthusiasm for electric powered boating:

“When the Trust published their recent licensing survey, some interesting statistics emerged. Of the 30,000+ boats licensed on our waterways only 88 are registered as electric. This is a surprising statistic since electric propulsion is nothing new, it was used in WWII submarines. There are also considerably improved efficiencies in the use of electric propulsion, not just the 25% discount, so hotly debated in the CRT survey.

Aerial view of Caen Hill Locks and ponds“The English canal system contains approximately the same number of locks as it does miles of canal and a canal craft should not exceed 4 miles per hour. It takes approximately the same amount of time to pass through a lock as it does to cruise one mile of canal, so for 25% of its cruising time the boat is in a lock. An electric boat uses no power when stationary in a lock, whereas a diesel craft is left ticking over, therefore the electric powered boat is already up to 25% more efficient.

“Charging points for electric boats on the canals are not yet generally available, except in marinas, so boats must carry their own charging system, usually in the form of a diesel generator. This is where critics of electric power argue its shortcomings, but the contrary is in fact true. A smaller diesel engine is required to run a generator than is needed to directly propel a narrow-boat, making it more fuel efficient and by clever use of Ohms law, together with a transforming charger, the time required to run the generator engine for battery charging can be reduced to at least half the time that the boat is in motion. Solar generation can also supplement the generator input to the batteries.

“More subtle advantages are also available. The craft is almost silent when in motion with no vibration and can be shallower in draft, it also travels more extended distances on one charge, when travelling slower, this all tends to reduce speeding and subsequently bank erosion. There are no diesel fumes in locks affecting the boat's or other boats crew and considerate use of the generator diesel engine is flexible, so it can be carried out without nuisance to other boaters, or used to supplement battery power on river navigations. The use of a well-insulated on-board diesel generator can be as quiet or quieter than the equivalent diesel powered narrow boat and it provides the electric boat with a full 230VAC supply.

“If all of the above is not a sufficiently convincing argument in favour of electric propulsion then government legislation should also be considered. Already diesel-powered road vehicles are being penalised in, or excluded from our towns and cities, together with a clear directive from the government that only electric cars will be manufactured after 2040. How much longer will diesel powered narrow-boats be allowed into our towns and cities, by the back door?”

Thanks Ken! If you’ve got a view on electric propulsion that you’d like to share then do please get in touch.

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Keel tank maintenance

Following on from the first maintenance article on prop-shaft couplings, this edition’s focus switches to the second most requested topic. As with any mechanically technical article, thanks go to the experts at River Canal Rescue for preventing this from being a very short article (if it was reliant on my technical knowledge it would contain exactly zero words…):

Skin tank v2“Marine engines use what is called a keel tank to remove heat from the engine’s coolant (similar function of a radiator). It can be located on the side of the ‘swim’ (the curved side section at the back of the boat) and will have two large coolant hoses connected to the top, bottom and opposing ends of the tank (if installed correctly). There may be two tanks, one either side of the ‘swim’.

Auto bleed pipe v2“Contrary to popular belief, all cooling systems develop air pockets naturally. If air is allowed to build up in an integral component, it will stop the flow of coolant being transported around the engine, causing it to overheat. This may result in the engine becoming damaged beyond repair. As a result, keel tanks are designed to allow a build-up of air, without affecting the cooling system’s performance. However, it is only designed to cope with so much before it stops the coolant flow. Therefore to avoid the engine overheating, it is important to regularly bleed the air from the keel tank.

How to bleed air

“Before commencing any works, ensure the engine is cool and the engine room is safe to enter. Never undertake work on a hot cooling system.

“Unfortunately, there are many variants of bleed points built into the design of these tanks. While unique to the boat builder who installed them, they do share some similarities. For instance, they will all be located at the highest point on the tank and usually are located directly above the top ‘hot’ pipe feeding hot coolant to the tank.

Common bleed point“The most common bleed point is also the simplest, often a square section male plug which screws directly into the tank. It’s usually ½ inch drive socket compatible, but a spanner will suffice if necessary. Be very careful when undoing it, especially if it hasn’t been removed in a while. Variants may include a valve or stop tap which makes the ‘bleeding’ process much easier. Try not to fully remove the plug as the water can rush out at considerable pace once the air is evacuated, making re-threading the plug difficult. Be aware that once this plug is removed it may not re-seal when screwed back in, so have some PTFE tape ready just in case.

Screw top bleed point“Once the plug is loosened enough to allow coolant or air (if present) to escape, you need not undo it further. As soon as you see coolant escaping, re-tighten the plug. Your task is then complete.

“If the air pocket is particularly large, keep topping the engine up with coolant to ‘bleed’ the air from the tank. If you allow the engine to drain without top ups, it will introduce air locks directly into the engine which may cause it to overheat once re-started.

“Once the air ‘bleeds’ from the tank a few times you will get an idea of the maintenance intervals. To begin with I would recommend you bleed the tank once every 200 running hours. When you’ve done this a few times you may increase or decrease the frequency to suit your own needs.”

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More ways for you to get involved

Many boaters go the extra mile in helping to keep canals and rivers in good condition by volunteering or donating. 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:

  • We recently received a suggestion via Twitter: ‘Why don't you start an online shop to sell biodegradable products for narrowboat owners to use or at least recommend some or direct people where to buy?’ While we won’t be making or selling these products we can certainly compile a list of products (and places you can buy them) that fit the bill. So we thought it would be a good idea to tap into the wealth of knowledge held by you – if you have any tips on great environmentally-friendly products for boaters (including those that reduce plastic waste) then let us know and we’ll start putting something together.

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Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend

As someone who’s out, 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, by region, of anything that’s happening that may affect you if you’re planning on an early summer cruise.

Just click on the one where you’ll be and a webpage will open listing any stoppages for that region (if your region isn’t listed then, yay, there aren’t any navigation closures there!). If you’re not quite sure which region your planned cruise falls in to please take a look at this map.

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. If you have any questions about a specific closure then you’ll find the email addresses for our regional offices on our contacts page.

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Bits and bobs

  • Did you know that if you have a boating business you can now manage your licence requirements using our online licensing system? Existing business licence holders can renew online as well as update their details and make any amendments to their licence requirements. Please note that if we have your email address then we’ll be in touch that way so keep an eye on your inbox!
  • And finally, have you ever wondered how lock gates are made? This great video by vlogger CruisingTheCut captures the outstanding workmanship that goes on at our lock building yards.

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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 important safety announcements and upcoming events.

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