Boaters' Update 11 Sep 2020

Welcome to the first edition of September. In it you'll find guidance on horn and light signals while cruising, winter moorings, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and a great volunteering opportunity (among others)!

Family by the water Location: Tardebigge Flight, Worcester & Birmingham Canal

Welcome to the latest edition. Now that most children have returned to school more and more of us are hoping to return to something like our pre-lockdown routines. However, with the latest government announcement in England limiting social gatherings to six people and speculation around increasing infection rates, the Boaters’ Update will try and bring you timely updates to any future changes that affect your boating. In the meantime, while following social distancing, I hope that you are enjoying being back out on the network.

Note that slightly different rules apply in Wales. Also, and as per the Government’s instructions, some areas have localised lockdowns in place. You can find out how this affects boating on our website.

Away from coronavirus, in this edition you’ll find an eclectic mix of topics covered with everything from horn signals and winter moorings through to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and volunteering at Foxton.

If there’s something you’d like to see featured in a future edition, please get in touch.

Happy boating,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 7 Sep – We're searching for a team of volunteers to help keep things running smoothly at a famous canal landmark (you may have been on one of the 4,000 boats each year that pass through), including those interested in taking up the most iconic role on the waterways – the lock keeper. See below to find out which landmark we’re talking about.
  • September – It’ll come as no surprise that this year’s Angel Canal Festival has been cancelled due to the coronavirus but you may be interested in a whole series of events and virtual resources that replace this great celebration of a much loved stretch of London’s waterway network (some may yet be changed due to ongoing changes in the Government’s coronavirus instructions).


Honking and flashing

A boater got in touch recently to suggest I revisit a topic covered a couple of years ago about the correct signals to use when out on a cruise. It seems like a timely request as many new boaters have Image of narrowboat cruising past other boats on the canaldiscovered the joys of boating since we’ve emerged from the more stringent lockdown restrictions, so please do share this article to anyone who might be interested!

Before getting into the subject though, I wanted to give a final request for any more feedback on the cruising speed articles that have appeared in the last two editions. I’ve had more feedback since the last one and, with it being such a hot topic, I wanted to give you another fortnight to send in your thoughts before rounding up in the next edition.

Those of you go anywhere near commercial shipping will know that there’s a formal way of communicating your presence, and intentions, by way of your horn or lights.

For some parts of the waterway network, such as London, it’s need to know knowledge!

They’re not too tricky to memorise but perhaps it’s an idea to have a small, laminated, version stored somewhere on the stern deck just in case you need a reminder:

  • One short blast – manoeuvre to starboard (right).
  • Two short blasts – manoeuvre to port (left). This would be used, for example, if you need to pass an oncoming craft on the left side (port). It’s standard procedure to always pass on the right (starboard). 
  • A prime example are the refuse barges coming out of Camden which do not have the depth of water to move over to the right as they head out west from Little Venice, or the approach to the Maida Hill tunnel when heading east.
  • Three short blasts – I have engaged reverse; the craft may still have forward movement, but I am in reverse.
  • Four short blasts followed by either one or two short blasts – I am turning around, either to port or starboard as indicated by the final one or two blasts.

The above signals are used everywhere but, in addition, on Trust waters and the River Thames, there’s another:

  • One long six second blast – a warning, here I come. If heard on a blind bend, it could be considered good manners to reply with the three short blasts and gently engage reverse: if it is something big coming around the corner it will help them to know you are there.

For more information check out the Inland Waterways Guide webpage on COLREGs – the internationally agreed regulations designed to prevent waterborne collisions.


Be a friendly face at Foxton

We’re searching for a team of volunteers to help keep things running smoothly at the famous Foxton Locks, including those interested in taking up the valued, and iconic, role of lock keeper.

Arial photo of Foxton LocksThe locks are the longest, steepest staircase of locks in the UK and each year sees 4,000 boats travel through the flight as well as 320,000 visitors on the towpath.

If you’re interested, you’d join an existing team in welcoming your passing fellow boaters and helping them through the locks. Full training is provided and people of all ages and experiences are encouraged to apply.

Volunteer lock keepers work on a shift basis between April and October, with some even staying on to help care for the site over winter. We’re ideally looking for people able to give at least one day each week and are particularly keen to hear from people able to cover the role over weekends.

Alongside the lock keepers, we’re also hoping to recruit a team of maintenance volunteers who will help to keep things looking spick and span for boaters and visitors on the towpath. Tasks would include tackling litter, repairing fences, mowing grass verges and painting site Moored at Foxtonfurniture. 

Alex Goode, site manager for the Trust at Foxton, said: “Foxton is a busy site and being the longest, steepest staircase of locks in the UK it’s one of the real gems of the waterways. It’s popular with boaters and day visitors so there’s lots for volunteers to get stuck into.

“The support of volunteers is crucial and this is a great opportunity to play your part, whether that be welcoming boaters and keeping the lock-keeping tradition alive or using your skills to keep everything looking ship-shape.

“We’re looking for people who are reasonably fit and able to walk up and down the lock flight as well as those who enjoy interacting with others, have a willingness to learn and want to help keep the site looking it’s best for the thousands of visitors that enjoy the site each week.

If that sounds like you then we’d love to hear from you.”

More details of this opportunity and other volunteering roles available near you can be found on our website.


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.


Winter moorings

While some weather forecasters have cautiously been predicting a brief Indian summer to arrive early next week, we’ve had our Shropshire Union, winter 2017, courtesy of Imogen Nailorthoughts on the short and cold days of winter. In particular, the list of sites that we’ll be offering for winter moorings in 2020/21.

Winter moorings will be available for up to four months from Sunday 1 November 2020 until Sunday 28 February 2021. Permits will go on sale from Thursday 1 October on a first-come, first-served basis.

2020/21 winter mooring locations and prices:

Winter moorings are available at fixed locations and will be available to purchase for one, two, three or four months.

There are seven price bands. The pricing of each winter mooring site is based on the consideration of several different factors including;

  • The pricing of nearby moorings (to ensure the Trust complies with competition rules)
  • The location of the winter mooring site
  • The availability of facilities and services near to the mooring
  • The level of demand for each winter mooring site

The price bands for 2020/21 are (per metre, per month): 

  • Band 0                £21.00
  • Band 1                £19.00
  • Band 2                £17.00
  • Band 3                £14.70
  • Band 4                £10.90
  • Band 5                £8.70
  • Band 6                £7.10

The mooring price bands have increased by 3% for bands 1 - 6, and 5% for the highest demand sites, in band 0. Some sites have changed price band in response to the high levels of demand last winter, with popular sites increasing in price but other low demand sites have reduced in price.

Before booking a winter mooring please check our winter stoppages list to ensure that stoppages will not prevent you reaching or leaving the winter mooring site.

Winter moorings location and price list

Winter moorings frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Winter moorings terms and conditions

Site maps

These maps indicate where each winter mooring is located in the Trust's different waterway areas. Lengths shown on the maps may not be 100% precise but the linear length of each site will be included in the site list, and signage on site indicates the start and end point of each winter mooring from 1 November 2020 - 28 February 2021. These will be available shortly. 

Buying a winter mooring

2020/21 Winter mooring permits go on sale at 6am on Thursday 1 October on a first come, first served basis via our web licensing site. For those without an account on our web licensing site, but who are a current licence-holder, make sure you select an option to register under ‘I am an existing Canal & River Trust customer’.

Note that we will be reviewing our future provision of winter moorings, working with our Navigation Advisory Group to consider the longer term options for winter mooring.


Celebrate on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in 2021

Continuing on from the last edition, where I suggested the Coventry Canal as a potential destination next year, this time we feature the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. Forming part of two popular cruising rings, the Avon and Stourport, it’s also where you’ll find the bunting Tony by the Worcester & Birmingham Canalfluttering (coronavirus permitting) over the August Bank Holiday weekend as the Inland Waterways Association ‘Festival of Water’ celebrates 75 years of the organisation.

At its northern end, the canal joins the Birmingham Canal Main Line at Gas Street Basin, once a thriving transport hub. Close by is luxury shopping centre the Mailbox, with its stylish clothing shops and cafes. 

Among the cargos that once travelled on the canal was chocolate crumb to the Cadbury factory. Today, this is Cadbury World, a great day out if you have a sweet tooth – don’t worry you can work off any over-indulgence at the 58 locks on this canal, including, as the canal descends through rural Worcestershire, the Tardebigge lock flight which has 30 locks in just over two miles, making it the longest in the country.

Chocolate and guillotines

At Kings Norton Junction, the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal joins under permanently open guillotine gates. Opposite the junction is an attractive toll house with its board showing the charges.

The canal was realigned to allow the building of the M42. Tardebigge Wharf, with its dry dock, maintenance yard, workers' cottages, and historic warehouse remains the main base for maintenance on the canal, and is a great place to start a walk. It was here that Tom Rolt met Robert Aickman, which led to the creation of the Inland Waterways Association 75 years ago.

Historic meeting

Hanbury Hall (National Trust) can easily be reached by a pleasant walk across the fields from Astwood Bottom Lock. Hanbury Junction Lock volunteermarks the connection with the Droitwich Junction Canal, linked with the Droitwich Barge Canal and offers a route to the River Severn at Hawford. You might like to take a short walk down the Hanbury Flight, which was rebuilt by volunteers. Hanbury's other claim to fame is that it is said to be the real-life counterpart of Radio 4's Ambridge, home of The Archers.

Around Bilford, the countryside is left behind as the canal begins to encroach on the city environs. The Commandery was the headquarters of Charles Stuart before the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

Ahead lies Diglis Basins and two wide locks accessing the Severn. Once very busy with commercial traffic, the working boats have long been replaced by pleasure craft.

The history

The purpose of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal was to give a much shorter link between Birmingham and the River Severn. Against opposition from other canals, it gained its Act in 1791. Construction started at the Birmingham end but progress was slow. The canal was intended to be broad (for boats up to 14ft wide), which is why the first three tunnels have this width, but shortage of money meant that the section from Tardebigge to Worcester was built only wide enough for narrow boats. It opened throughout in 1815.

Water supply was a major problem and a source of conflict with connecting canals. At first the Birmingham Canal and the Worcester & Birmingham were physically separated by what was known as Worcester Bar, but in 1815 they agreed a compromise whereby the two canals would be linked by a lock, with the Worcester & Birmingham paying a compensation toll for all traffic passing through.

The guillotine lock by Kings Norton Junction on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal enabled each canal to preserve its water, regardless of the respective levels.

Experimental vertical boat lift

Tardebigge top lock is particularly deep because it was the site of a experimental vertical boat lift, which proved not to be robust enough.  After a few months it was replaced by a conventional lock — but as a canal’s water usage is largely determined by its deepest lock, it would have been better if it had been replaced by two locks. 

The volume of traffic never lived up to expectations, though it improved once the Gloucester & Berkeley Canal opened in 1827. Salt had been found when the canal was being cut at Stoke Prior, and the industry which developed became an important source of traffic. Worcester gas works and other canalside industries used coal brought by the canal.

However, from 1841 railway competition took away much of the business and in 1868 losses were so severe that a receiver was appointed. The canal was saved by being bought in 1874 by the Sharpness New Docks Company (which by then owned the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal). Under enterprising management new traffic was sought, and the canal survived until nationalisation in 1948.

The last commercial traffics were coal from Cannock to Worcester and chocolate crumb from Worcester to Bournville, ceasing in 1960 and 1961 respectively.


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, I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • Just over a year ago, we told you about a government consultation on the implementation of new red diesel regulations. This follow-up article explained our position. A year on and we’re talking red diesel consultations again, this one running until 1 October. At Budget 2020, the Government announced that it will remove the entitlement to use red diesel from April 2022, except in agriculture (as well as forestry, horticulture and pisciculture), rail and for non-commercial heating (including domestic heating). This new consultation seeks views on whether the Government has overlooked any exceptional reasons why other sectors should be allowed to continue to use red diesel beyond April 2022. Sections 5.30 to 5.45 of this document set out the context for private pleasure craft and lists the associated questions being asked. The direction given is that the best way to respond to this consultation is to download and complete the consultation response form and email it to:


Bits and bobs

  • You may remember that a couple of editions ago I mentioned that David Smith, life member of the Chesterfield Canal Trust (CCT) will be running the full length of the Chesterfield Canal, and back, in 24 hours. Well, congratulations David, and, to be exact, he covered 94.7 miles in 23 hours and 6 minutes burning 8,657 calories and taking 185,367 steps and raising money for the Chesterfield Canal Trust’s 2027 Appeal in the process!

Last date edited: 11 September 2020

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