News article created on 9 March 2018

Boaters' Update 9 March 2018

The latest edition of Boaters' Update answers your questions about the changes we announced to licence proposals earlier in the week. You'll also be able to read the first in a series of in-depth maintenance articles along with the latest news, events and this weekend's stoppages.

Harecastle Tunnel north portal Harecastle Tunnel north portal

Welcome to the latest edition. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced two weeks that have been in such stark contrast to one another, with winter turning into spring! Thankfully the weather cleared enough for me to get out and make the video, about boat licence changes, below.

Thanks to those who’ve been in touch since we announced the changes earlier this week – I start this edition with an article summarising the changes and answering the most commonly asked questions.

It’s not all about boat licensing though; you’ll also find the first in a series of in-depth boat maintenance articles along with a round-up of the latest waterway news, stoppages and events.

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:

  • 22 Feb – We've begun the final phase of essential works at Pollington Lock, near Goole, on the Aire & Calder Navigation.
  • 27 Feb – Cheshire paddle boarding club becomes first in UK to adopt a river section.
  • 5 Mar – The nine-and-a-half-mile Pocklington Canal is 200 years old this summer, and as part of the celebrations we want to share its story and show how people have enjoyed the canal over the years.
  • 15 Feb – We've launched the Mike Carter Award to recognise the passion and dedication of young volunteers across the north west.
  • Last week – it was a bit cold.

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!

  • 10 Mar – We'd love to see you this weekend at our last Open Day of the season at Seend Locks (Kennet & Avon Canal). It’s a perfect day out for Mum ahead of celebrating Mothering Sunday the next day!
  • 16 Mar – Go along to the National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port to hear Geoff Topp, Chairman of Liverpool Pilots’ Retired Division 2018, talk about The Mersey Training Ships
  • 18 Mar – Fancy helping make life better by water? Then why not head along to Hawkesbury Junction (where the Oxford and Coventry Canals meet) for a canal clean up jointly organised by us and the Warwickshire IWA.
  • 30 Mar to 2 Apr – Although slightly further off, I thought I’d wave the flag for the hugely popular Easter Boat Gathering at Ellesmere Port. As always it promises a richly varied and exciting line up of music, family and boat activity. The lively long weekend will include a fine folk programme combined with inspirational workshops and museum activities for all ages. 

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Boat licence changes

As you may have seen earlier this week, we’re changing some elements of the boat licensing system. The system has remained largely unchanged for more than two decades and there have been many changes to the waterways, and to boating, in that time.  We wanted to make sure that the system was as fair as possible.

So, after nearly a year of consulting with boaters and boating organisations – huge thanks to the 11,000 or so who got in touch – we’ve set out our plans to introduce some changes, phased in over five years from April 2019, that we believe spreads the financial contribution made by boaters fairly across the boating community.

The press release announcing the changes, and all consultation documents and reports, are online but to save you some time here are the key headlines:

  1. Current length bands remain the same, and three width bands will be introduced: Band 1 being 2.16m (7ft 1”) and below; Band 2 being over 2.16 to 3.24m (7ft 1” to 10ft 7¾”); Band 3 being over 3.24m width (10ft 7¾”). The two wider bands will attract surcharges rising to 10% and 20% respectively, phased in over four years from April 2020.
  2. The prompt payment discount will be reduced to 5% in April 2019. From April 2020 the structure of the discount will be changed so that a 2.5% discount will be offered for prompt payment in full, and a 2.5% discount for those using automated payment methods (including monthly direct debits).
  3. All other current discounts remain unchanged, with a planned review of the criteria for the electric boat discount.
  4. One-day licences will be withdrawn while all other short-term licences will be retained.
  5. There will be no link between mooring status (whether or not you have a home mooring) and licence fees. However, a further review is planned to establish how the significant growth in boat numbers in some popular locations can be addressed.

Since we announced the changes some of you have been in touch with questions. And, as promised in the video at the start of this article, you’ll find the most commonly asked ones below along with our answers.

Why are you charging wide beamed boats more when they can’t use most of the network?

Boating through HungerfordWe think it’s fair that if a boat takes up more space there’s some reflection of this in the licence fee. This change will be phased in gradually up to 2023 so boaters will have a chance to adjust and prepare. Ultimately, it’s down to individual choice – boaters who want to explore the entire network will choose boats that are narrow (and short!) enough to cruise every waterway.

Some also asked why we weren’t pricing licences by total boat footprint, as some other navigation authorities do. If we were looking at space alone then width and length would be the natural measure: however adding two width bands will be easier to understand and administrate than moving to a precise area-based charge.

Why are you reducing the prompt payment discount?

At the moment, only boaters who are fortunate enough to be able to pay the entire licence fee up front can benefit from the prompt payment discount. The current level of the discount – 10% – is not in line with the benefit the Trust receives by boaters paying up front. We are restructuring the discount so that boaters who manage their payments online, including paying by monthly direct debit, will be able to receive a discount too. We think that this is the fairest way of managing things for the benefit of more boaters.

Why aren’t you charging extra for those without a home mooring as they use more of the system and facilities than those with a home mooring?

A majority of those who gave us their views indicated they would support a change to take mooring status into account as part of the licensing system. However, there were heavily polarised views with a significant number arguing strongly against this, stating that any such London winter mooringsdistinction would be highly divisive. This issue was also linked by respondents to the growing congestion on our busiest waterways in London and around Bath where the growing numbers of liveaboard boaters without a home mooring reflects the availability and economics of housing in such costly cities.

Notwithstanding the majority in favour of a change, we don’t propose to introduce a different licence fee for boats without a home mooring. Our intention is to take forward a further stage of work to look at options that would address the growing use of canals in London and other areas by boats without a home mooring and how to develop a fair means of reflecting the significant benefit gained by such use.

Just in case you had a question that’s not answered above, there is a longer Q&A document available which may answer it. If not, do drop me a line.

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Is your prop-shaft happily coupled?

A couple of editions ago I asked what boat maintenance topics you’d like to read about. Thanks to everyone who got in touch: most of you have requested a piece on prop-shaft coupling maintenance. I’d love to say that I just rattled this off with my high-level mechanical skills but I’d be lying! Thanks have to go to the experts at River Canal Rescue

Prop shaft coupling R&D“Prop-shaft couplings require regular maintenance to ensure they stay secure. When the bolts on the coupling become loose or disconnect all together, this can cause extensive damage. The worst-case scenario is the engine being thrown off its mountings potentially damaging the stern gland, prop-shaft, coupling, gearbox and engine mounts, plus any external components that may become trapped when the engine shifts. The cost to rectify can go into the thousands.

“Unfortunately, this kind of occurrence is still relatively common due to boaters overlooking maintenance in this area. Everyone knows filters and fluids need maintaining, however ensuring bolts are tight tends to be less recognised. The worst part is, this is one of the simpler maintenance tasks and easier to identify than a loose engine mount or slack fan belt.

So, what should be done?

“Simply undertake a weekly visual check. When you get into the engine room to check oil levels etc., just take a peek at the prop-shaft components and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Has the engine been noisier or’ clunkier’ recently?
  2. Has the sound of the engaging gear become more pronounced or ‘snappy/sharp’?
  3. Does the engine sound smoother than it used to?
  4. Is the stern gland leaking excessively?
  5. Are there problems getting full power from the engine?

“If you answer yes to any of these, it’s a sign your prop-shaft coupling may be coming loose or is already loose and causing damage. By spotting a potential problem now, you’ll avoid further expensive damage later.

How to fix it

“You will need access to a set off spanners (or a spanner wielding friend).

Ensure the engine is turned off and that the engine room is safe to enter before commencing any work.

  • Locate the stern gland and prop-shaft. Follow the prop-shaft towards the engine until you hit the first component. This should be the prop-shaft coupling (it may be thrust bearing which will be bolted to the boat itself, with the prop-shaft travelling through the component). To identify the component is definitely the prop-shaft coupling, it will only be bolted to the prop-shaft and gearbox (not the boat ‘engine bearers’) and the prop-shaft will go into the component but not come through the other side.
  • All visible bolts will need checking. Do not tighten them if they are not loose. If they are loose, tighten them up tentatively or, ask someone more experienced to do it for you. Over tightening can be as damaging as under tightening. Do not engage gear unless you’ve completed this task.

“If this becomes a regular occurrence it’s time to question ‘why’? Ask an engineer in to check the engine over as the engine maybe out of alignment, have damaged engine mounts or a faulty coupling. Awareness is the key to maintenance in this case.”

If that’s stirred the mechanic in you then look out for the next topic, keel tank maintenance, in the 6 April edition.

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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:

  • Anyone who’s spent a day calmly chugging down the cut will tell you how much better they feel for doing it. What I’d like to know is what specific benefit you think you get from it. Is it like one long meditative session or does it make you feel closer to nature? Whatever way it makes you feel better, do please drop me a line and let me know.
  • As many will know the Montgomery Canal Partnership has been progressing the restoration and are already looking ahead to the next stage - the two-mile dry section to the Welsh border at Llanymynech. One of the key factors in this two-mile dry section is rebuilding School House Bridge - the last lowered bridge in Shropshire. The Partnership already has a volunteer bridges civil engineer involved and have an initial design. What it now needs is to recruit a part-time Project Manager to run the project. If you’re interested, the role is advertised on in our volunteer opportunities section.

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Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising this weekend

We’ve almost finished our £38million winter restoration programme – where we get out our big toys and restore things while you’re less likely to be out on the cut. Of course, there are other 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 spring winter 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!

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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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