Boaters' Update 11 Feb 2022

Welcome to the latest edition. In it you can read an update on all things London (ok, not all things, it's actually all the stuff we've been doing in London for boaters!). After that there's a reminder about separator/composting loo waste disposal and an update on an associated trial. Finally, find out just how much boating bounced back last year after the lockdowns.

Grand Union Canal in London, courtesy of Go Jauntly Grand Union Canal in London, courtesy of Go Jauntly

Welcome to the latest edition. Depending on your view, spring can start anywhere over the next three weeks – from the meteorological start of spring on the 1st March - to the astronomical start on the 20th March in six weeks away – and, while no promises can be made that stormy and wintry weather won’t yet darken our shores (or should that be canal banks?), we’re certainly getting closer to ideal cruising conditions – perhaps you’ve already been out, or planned, your first ‘proper’ cruise of the year?

In preparation for you spending more time afloat we’ve been pressing on with our winter stoppage programme and our first article looks at what we’ve been doing in London & the South East along with an update on the London Mooring Strategy.

There’s also a reminder around the disposal of waste from separator loos and an update on the associated trial in London. Finally, find out which lock was busiest last year – was it the one you used the most?

As always, we start with a round-up of news and finish with the bits and bobs section which includes an update on the next disabled boaters’ forum.

Before, metaphorically speaking of course, diving in, why not put the kettle on and watch our chief executive’s, Richard Parry, wide ranging interview on ‘Cruising the cut’? It’s a two-parter so you’ll get the chance to refill your cup before settling down for the second half.

Happy boating,


PS Don’t forget that you still have ten days to be in with a chance to get your tickets and mooring/camping pitch for Crick Boat Show for free! All you need to do is guess the name of either of the original artists who this year’s headline acts are covering. Both are tribute acts to two internationally acclaimed music artists and it’s as simple as sending in the correct name of either of the original artists. Enter the competition on the show’s website.

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 1 Feb – We announced that we have appointed Helen Grantham as the new chair of our Regional Advisory Board in our Yorkshire and the North East region.
  • 7 Feb – We continued to ask drivers to take much more care when crossing the 200-year-old hump-back bridges that span our canal network – we have to divert up to £1million each year from our waterways to repair these hit-and-run incidents.
  • 7 Feb – We hosted Lord Callanan, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, at London’s Docklands, where he heard about how the nation’s former industrial waterways can play a 21st century role in the Green Industrial Revolution.


Improving London's waterways for boaters

This year we're investing around £6m in maintaining and improving the London and the South East region’s waterways for boaters to navigate and for people to enjoy from the towpath. In addition, to date, over £300k has been invested as part of the London Mooring Strategy, with significantly more spend planned over the next two years.

What is our plan?

London's CanalsFollowing thorough investigation into potential sites, we're creating three quarters of a mile of new towpath mooring space in central London, installing approximately 150 rings into the concrete edge on the Grand Union CanalRegent’s Canal and Limehouse Cut. Work is due to commence this month. Vegetation will be cut back on the Limehouse Cut to make new and existing rings accessible as part of this work.

We have also carried out a dredging survey which identified a half-mile stretch at Norwood Top Lock where dredging would significantly improve the ability to moor. This work is currently being scheduled for this spring. Additionally, early in 2022, we will be spot-dredging and installing new mooring rings at Steele Road in West London so that boaters can moor up to use the waste facilities there. We are investing £65k in the work to these two sites.

To balance out the environmental impact of the installation of new moorings and potential habitat loss due to shading from boats, we will be installing marginal habitat on the Regent’s Canal below Ben Johnsons Lock. This will mature into a reed bed within five years creating habitat for juvenile fish, invertebrates, nesting birds and amphibians.

Photo of Old Ford LockInvestigations into the feasibility of new or improved customer service facilities are continuing this. We have run initial checks and service searches on ten potential sites and are able to explore six of these further over the coming months to see if any are viable for development (Enfield, Steele Road, Old Ford Lock, Old Oak Lane, Horse & Barge, and Eastwick). Four other sites, including Bull’s Bridge, Paddington Basin, Springwell, and Pickett’s Lock, were investigated but have proved not to be viable.

In the very near future you’ll have the chance to give feedback on more detailed proposals for one of the proposed new customer facilities.

Specifically in the Harlesden area in West London, we are currently working with partners Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC) and Brent Council on a project to deliver customer services facilities, community gardens and other public realm improvements with the Mayor of London’s Good Growth funding. There will be an opportunity to give your feedback on the developing proposals in the next week or so. Do check in on our Harlesden Canalside webpage from 16 February to 1 March for more information.

Alongside these key infrastructure and facilities works, we have contributed funding towards a pilot scheme for composting waste (more on this below), in response to the growing use of separator toilets. Start-up business Circular Revolution is operating a year-long pilot providing an ‘at your mooring’ service collecting composting toilet waste, initially covering East London and now extended to Central and West London.

Facing unique challenges

Ros Daniels, our regional director, said: “London’s waterways are some of the most exciting, interesting and vibrant in the country, and boaters are an integral part of what makes them so special. London is extremely popular with both local and visiting boats, which means the waterways face some unique challenges as the 200-year-old infrastructure struggles to keep up with this record number of boats.

“I’m pleased that, after a year of rigorous investigations, we are creating three quarters of a mile of additional mooring spaces for boaters. In a bustling city, finding sites that meet the size and access requirements for new water and waste facilities has been a struggle, but we’re now pleased to have found a number of promising spots that we’ll be exploring further in 2022. Our role is to protect and preserve the waterways and these improvements should benefit all those boaters who use London’s canals and rivers.”

The London Mooring Strategy, which was published in 2018 to help manage the increasing demand for boating in central London, acknowledged that if boat numbers continued to rise then additional measures would need to be investigated to ensure the waterways are managed safely and are available fairly for everyone. We are now consulting on proposals; further information can be found on our managing boats on London's waterways page.

Romney Marsh bridgeAs well as the key actions identified by the London Mooring Strategy, teams working on our regular winter stoppage programme have also been improving the cut for boaters. A range of jobs such as replacing the rotten oak deck boards on Bridge 40, Romney Marsh in East London. As it’s a listed structure we worked in accordance with instructions from our heritage team and sourced the replacement oak from stock to reduce costs. 




Clearing vegetation by boatYour feedback also told us that vegetation was something you’d like us to focus on so we’ve been out, along with a dedicated bunch of volunteers, all over London and the South East to cut back the unruly stuff. Even the harder to reach bits couldn’t escape our secateurs, pole saws and loppers – even if we had to get to it by boat as pictured right. 

Nether Lock stoppageOf course, you’ll know that we haven’t just been busy in the South East. Among a huge number of other things, we’ve put new paddles on the huge gates at Nether Lock on the Trent (see right).

If you mostly do your boating in London, or are London bound, then please note that there’s now a dedicated monthly bulletin which will update on events, ongoing stoppages, consultations and much, much more! The inaugural edition is now online.


Separator loos

You may remember that last summer, and as referred to in the previous article, that a trial was ongoing in London to look at solutions for dealing with the waste from separator loos as it can no longer be ‘bagged and binned’ at our refuse sites. These are also known as composting loos but don’t actually do any composting. Instead, they separate the liquid and solid waste for disposal. This is where the trial comes in. First though, it’s worth revisiting the statement we made about separator/compost loos in March last year:

“If you’re considering getting a separator/compost toilet for your boat, please only do so if you have the ability to completely compost the solid waste from your toilet yourself or have access to somewhere that will do this for you. If you don’t have the ability to do this, then getting a composting/separator toilet is not the best solution for you. Pump out and elsan facilities are available across our network that boats with tanks or cassette toilets can use instead.

A narrowboat on a canal“If you currently have a separator/compost toilet on your boat and are not able to completely compost the solid waste from your toilet yourself or have access to somewhere that will do it for you, then the alternative disposal method of bagging and binning it is not an environmentally sustainable way to deal with this waste. Bagged solid waste disposed of in bins can also lead to cross contamination of other content, which otherwise is sorted and mostly recycled, and can require that the whole content of the bin needing to be disposed of in landfill. Sending waste to landfill adds costs as landfill taxes are charged.

“If you have a separator/compost toilet on your boat and have been putting bagged and binned waste in our waste bins, you need to find an alternative way to dispose of this waste. No bagged solid waste from separator/compost toilets should be disposed of in Canal & River Trust waste bins. If you boat in London and have a separator/compost toilet but no where to compost the waste yourself then the pilot separator/compost waste subscription collection scheme might be the answer for you (see details below).

For more information please have a read of the separator/compost toilet FAQs.

Do you have a composting toilet and not sure how to dispose of your poop safely and sustainably? Or looking to upgrade and not sure how’d you’d manage?

The London-based trial cited in the first article is a startup, which we support as part of the London Mooring Strategy, and run by boater Eve Mackinnon. Eve’s business, Circular Revolution, provides a revolutionary, zero-waste collection service that transforms toilet contents into a soil conditioner used to replenish depleted soils and brownfield sites.

It offers fortnightly, or monthly, collection services direct from your boat. Included in the collection fee is a replacement caddy and paper eco-sack, to safely contain toilet contents. Currently it is collecting along almost 30km of navigable canal in East and West London. Check its website for the most recent updates. A ‘pay-as-you-poo’ service is also available for larger volumes intended as one-off collections. Please enquire directly for any support. There is also a 20% discount for new customers!


Boating bounces back after lockdowns

During the course of the pandemic you’re likely to have had first-hand experience of just how important the canal and river network became for so many people. The towpaths were places people could go to for their daily allowance of exercise during the strictest lockdowns. The water space proved popular when people, unable to get abroad, looked to holiday closer to home. But just how busy a year was it for boating?

Well, with the publication of our Annual Lockage Report for 2021, showing how many times locks were used, we can tell you! The headline is that as Covid-19 restrictions lifted in the spring, most places recorded counts that were close to pre-pandemic levels – although, due to restrictions, there was little boating the first four months of 2021!

The Report compares 2021’s lock use with the previous year. It details a 39.4% increase in total recorded lockage from 2020 to 2021 (across 178 comparison sites). The estimated total lockage across all locks (not just those with lock counters) was up from 2.65million in 2020 to 3.70million in 2021. This is slightly below the 2019 total, before the pandemic affected boating, when there were an estimated 3.96million total lockages. However, this compares a full year with just eight months as 2021 saw little traffic before May due to the extended lockdown period in the first four months of last year. In the peak summer months lockage was higher in 2021 than prior to the pandemic reflecting the surge in popularity once restrictions were lifted (Annual Lockage Report 2021, page 3). 

Hillmorton Locks 2&3 (twinned locks) on the Oxford Canal, which saw 8,147 lockages, an increase of 37% remained the busiest locks on the English and Welsh canal system. New Marton on the Llangollen Canal was the second busiest, with a 77% increase to 7,457 lockages. Cholmondeston on the Shropshire Union was in third (7,103), followed by Woodend on the Trent & Mersey (6,279) and Bradford-on-Avon on the Kennet & Avon (5,994).

There were year-to-year variations between the different regions. The year recorded the driest April since 1980 which, compounded by ongoing reservoir safety works, affected the Trust’s water resources early in the boating season, with water-saving operating times introduced on some canals in the north of the country. These measures helped to ensure that water supplies were available to keep canals open over the peak summer period.

Volunteer lock keepers were present at 119 sites, helping boaters and playing a vital role in our water saving efforts, recording 136,500 hours of lock keeping.

Adam Comerford, national hydrology manager, comments: “The last two years have been like no other, with the lifting of pandemic restrictions resulting in increases in lock use that are unprecedented in the 21 years of preparing this report. It goes to show that boaters, be they liveaboards, leisure boaters, or holidaymakers, were keen to get back out cruising on the water. The slow pace of boat life offers an opportunity to get away from the stress and uncertainty of the times.

Boats on the Chesterfield Canal, courtesy Richard Croft“The monitoring of lock operations across our waterways remains an essential element in our water resources management as well as providing an insight into any changing patterns in use across the network. This year it paints a hopeful picture and shows the enduring popularity of the waterways.”

‘Lockage’ can be defined simply as lock usage through the filling and emptying of a lock chamber, which in turn allows the movement of water and passage of boats.  It is important to distinguish lockage from boat movements, which are the actual number of boats which travel through a lock.  The Trust separates boat movements from lockage to acknowledge that averages can be skewed by the boat:lockage ratio (in the case of a typical broad lock, the ratio can be between one and four boats per lockful of water used).


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 what may affect you if you’re planning to get out on your boat this weekend. Please note that we’ve now entered our winter works programme where you’ll see us doing some of the bigger jobs around the network:

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 alert 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.


Bits & bobs

  • As mentioned in the last edition, the next Disabled Boater Forum will be held on 16 Feb, between 4pm and 6pm. Follow this link to register your interest. We’re pleased to add that we have now secured British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation for the forum.
  • Do you do most of your boating in the East Midlands? If so then you might be interested to hear that the East Midlands Boaters Conference will be going ahead at Northampton University on the afternoon of Tuesday 5 April. We’d love to see you there and we’d like your ideas ahead of the day around what you’d like to hear about, from us, during the event. Fill out this short survey to give us your views and then book your place, via Eventbrite here!


Stay safe, happy boating,


Last date edited: 11 February 2022

About this blog

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.

Sign up to receive the Boaters' update by email

See more blogs from this author