Boaters' Update 12 Mar 2021

Welcome to the latest edition. With boating looking increasingly likely in the foreseeable future this edition runs through the things you might want to do and know before taking your boat out for its first cruise of the year. There's also an update on water resources in the North West, a pleasing update on a £3 million repair project, composting/separator loos and more besides!

A narrowboat moored in winter on the Grand Union Canal at Tring Moored on the Grand Union Canal at Tring

Welcome to the latest edition. The good news is that, since the last one, we’re now two weeks closer to a potential time when boating will be permitted as the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown still seems to be on course – see the last edition for what this might mean for boating.

Those of you who are on social media, and follow our boating Twitter account, may have seen last week’s poll that asked when you are planning to first go out on your boat (restrictions permitting!). Nearly two-thirds said that it would be before the end of April. With this in mind, the next few editions will focus on topics that will help you prepare for your first outing on the cut.

In this edition, we’ll talk about the maintenance considerations for bringing your boat out of hibernation as well how to prevent your first visit to your boat creating oil pollution. Along with that you can find out about water resources on the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals, a video update on the £3 million worth of repairs at Figure of Three Lock on the Calder & Hebble Navigation and more advice on composting/separator toilets.

As always, the routine round-up of news, stoppages and ways to get involved can also be found below.

Stay safe,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 3 Mar – We're looking for volunteers to give some of their time as lock keepers at Llangynidr on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, and at Bath and the Caen Hill Flight on the Kennet & Avon Canal
  • 8 Mar – We are carrying out improvements to wildlife habitats along the Montgomery Canal thanks to funding secured from the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Management Scheme - Supporting Natura 2000 Restoration

Getting your boat ready for its first cruise of 2021

Within the next month or so, if everything goes to plan, normal cruising should once again be permitted. As with most things in life though, your boat may need some TLC before it’s ready to take you for your much awaited dose of waterway wellbeing. Here are some of the main things you might want to think about.

Water heater and pump

Man on a boat cruising down canalYou should start by closing the taps, replacing the plug in the water heater and switching the water pump on.

For domestic water supplies, once the water pump is back on you can just open and run water through all of your taps. Start with those closest to pump to ensure that any air will be pushed through, avoiding locks in the system. Lastly, drain any water in the tank and refill with fresh drinking water.


If you have plans to cruise you should run your engine up to 'running' temperatures (if a gauge is on board) or for half an hour. Check all around your cooling system for leaks or escaping steam - if you find something not quite right, immediately call out a qualified engineer.

Before you run the engine, check water trap filters and remove any excess water. If water is present or there are signs of diesel bug or jelly, dip the tank to identify the severity of the issue and then treat with a fuel treatment or have the fuel polished accordingly.

Boats moored on towpathTo check for water in the tank - get a plastic hose, drop it in the tank. When you feel the bottom, cover the end with your thumb and withdraw the hose. This will give you a good indication to what is at the bottom of your tank, and the amount of water present.

There might be a build-up of water in the engine bay, particularly if your boat has a cruiser type stern. Visually check the bilge water before pumping it out to ensure there is no floating oil. If oil is visible, you should add absorbent oil pads to the water surface, to ensure that the oil is soaked up before pumping out the bilge water. See the next article for more advice on preventing pollution.


As mentioned in the last edition, emergency call outs to boats have increased over the last year. River Canal Rescue reports water ingress, due to badly-worn deck boards and leaking stern glands, was the main reason for emergency rescue call-outs during lockdown. The firm’s urging people to check their vessels as soon as they return to them and undertake the following: 

  • Replace worn deck boards and periodically clear drainage holes. Engine bays are typically covered by marine-ply deck boards, supported by a C-shaped steel channel with drain holes to collect any seeping rainwater. If the drain holes are blocked by debris, leaves and dirt etc, water flows over the channel sides into the engine bay. Over time, the wooden deck boards decay, creating a wider gap between them, and so the downward spiral continues; more debris falls into the channel holes and more water flows into the engine bay.
  • If a stern gland leaks when the vessel is stationary, pump in grease or adjust the collar. The collar of rubber or brass forms a barrier where the propeller shaft exits the hull and must be well-greased with tight packing to prevent excess water leaking. The grease should act as a seal while not in use and the packing can be compressed by adjusting the nut on the stern tube. If greasing and tightening the adjust bolts fails to slow the leak, this usually indicates the packing needs replacing. Address this fast; a quick build-up of water will cause the vessel to sink (even if you have a bilge pump, it will soon be overwhelmed).

Need some help?

If you’re an old hand and want to pass on some advice for those returning to their boats for the first time in a while, then do please drop me a line and I’ll do a roundup in the next edition. If you’re a new hand then you might be interested in the boat and engine maintenance 'bible' written by River Canal Rescue's MD, Stephanie Horton. 

Preventing your oil ending up in the cut

All our waterways are vulnerable to pollution, from small, accidental spills to major problems causing significant environmental damage. Around 300 pollution incidents are reported to us every year and can cost anything up to £50,000 each to resolve.

Fortunately, major incidents such as the shocking quantities of oil poured into a surface drain connected to Pymmes Brook that ran into the River Lee early in 2018 are not common. However there are many more smaller incidents which, certainly collectively, can be equally damaging to the environment. Most of these incidents are preventable. Whilst boaters were not the cause of the 2018 River Lee incident, they had a vital role in reporting and helping to clean up the damage.

Best practice

  • Always check your bilge before pumping it out. If there’s an oily sheen to it, only pump it out into a suitable container, not into the cut. You will need to search for a specialist waste carrier to dispose of oil contaminated bilge water.
  • Transfer fuel and oil in proper containers, metal or approved plastic only.
  • Dispose of waste oil and oil contaminated bilge water in the appropriate place. We don’t run a used oil or bilge waste disposal service. Please take your waste oil to the nearest dedicated local authority site or check to find your closest disposal point. Alternatively, small auto workshops near the canal are often prepared to take old oil, which they put in their oil recycling tank.
  • This may sound obvious but please use a funnel when pouring fuel or oil and pour slowly and steadily, you’ll be much less likely to spill it. Use a fuel collar when refuelling to catch drips too.
  • Use a bilge sock in your drip tray and always have a spill kit or at least a stash of oil absorbent pads to hand as accidents do happen. Nappies and cat litter are useful alternatives for soaking up spills, but these must not be disposed of in boater’s domestic waste if contaminated with oil.
  • If a spill happens, don't use detergent to disperse it. Many popular brands of washing up liquid are toxic to aquatic life. Use your spill kit instead.
  • Consider alternative environmentally-friendly options. Breakdown and recovery expert, River Canal Rescue, sells a range of Bilgeaway filters that remove bilge contaminants, and using a non-toxic solution, renders the contents non-reactive, so they can be easily disposed of. Find out more here

Tackling pollution incidents

We really appreciate boaters being extra eyes and ears. With such a large network of canals and rivers we can’t be everywhere all of the time, so you’re a great help by spotting anything wrong on the waterways.

Water pollution incidents are categorised 1 to 4 according to their impact on the environment, people and/or property. They're both an environment and health & safety hazard and require a correct and timely response appropriate to the amount of pollution observed. Further details of how incidents are categorised can be found on pages 38 and 39 of this document.

We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the Environment Agency (EA) when it comes to dealing with pollution incidents. Our policy is to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the waterway and protection of the environment, whilst maintaining compliance with relevant legislation, and maximising opportunities for cost recovery.

A major or significant category 1 or 2 spill will see the EA lead on the investigation and remediation of the pollution. We assist the EA in managing the incident and cleaning up. In a minor category 3 or 4 incident, for instance where someone has pumped out oily bilge water, we are in charge of the response. The simple rule of thumb is that if it’s a big incident, the EA are in charge, if it’s small then they leave it to us.

So, what should you do if you spot a spill and how will we deal with it?

Reporting a spill

When you call us, we’re going to need the following information:

  • Where exactly is it? i.e. what canal or river, which bridge or lock, postcode, What3Words or GPS/grid reference?
  • What does it look like?
  • How does it smell?
  • How far has it spread?
  • Are fish or wild fowl in trouble?
  • Do you know, or can you see the source of the pollution?

If it looks like a serious problem or emergency, call the EA Incident Hotline on 0800 807060 at any time of day or night. If it’s out of office hours and it looks urgent you can also call our out of hours emergency number 0800 47 999 47. Please be aware that we will make a judgement based on the severity of the incident and it is not always appropriate for an on-duty staff member to respond directly to you.

Anything other than major pollution incidents, please call 03030 404040 during normal working hours or report via our website.

Reporting animals in distress

We do not have staff trained to handle animals that have been affected by pollution but work alongside partners who are. If you see an animal in distress do report it to the RSPCA or in the case of swans, to a specialist swan rescue organisation if there's one in your area.

You'll find more information and advice on preventing pollution from The Green Blue and Environment Agency.

North West Water Resources Update

With British summers being what they are, it’s impossible to know at this stage what the weather will throw at us, but with careful management of water resources and some limited restrictions on lock use where appropriate, we hope to keep our waterways open and available for you to enjoy.

Marple Aqueduct on the Peak Forest CanalFollowing water resource issues over the last few years on the Leeds & Liverpool, Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals (the latter two affected by Toddbrook Reservoir being out of action) we want to assure boaters that we are doing our very best to make sure that we have enough water to last the summer boating season. 

We want to take some steps to try and conserve as much water as possible by introducing some measures to help us. Therefore, we’d like to invite boaters and other waterway users to a meeting with our water hydrologists and North West boating customer manager to discuss our plans. The meetings will be held on Thursday 25 March for the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and Wednesday 24 March for the Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals (both between 7pm-8.30pm). To book a place please visit the links above.

Get involved (digitally)

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, 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:

  • Don’t forget that Sunday 21 March is Census Day. We published an article on how boaters can take part in the last edition. Please note that some boaters reported a few teething problems which have been passed on to the Office of National Statistics.
  • Have you booked your free tickets to the Virtual Crick Boat Show? You might want to with over £5,000 worth of prizes up for grabs! The show runs from 24 to 28 March.
  • Do you do your boating in the East Midlands (or plan to)? If so, you might be interested in the East Midlands Boaters Conference, to be held online on Thursday 25 March 2021.This year’s will be a great opportunity for the regional team to share and discuss its plans and priorities for the coming year, and to hear your feedback and ideas. Sign up, for free, online.
  • You may remember that a couple of months ago we featured an article from a boater who’s a PhD student in London researching what it means to live on a boat in the nation’s capital. If you live on your boat in London then there’s still time to take part -simply drop Laura a line at

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 make an ‘essential journey’ this weekend (no other types are permitted in lockdown):

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. 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, or spot an error in our system, please just get in touch

Great progress made on £3 million project to repair storm damage

Last year’s storms Brendan, Ciara, Dennis and Jorge all got a mention in the last edition and, given that they were over a year ago (and a lot has happened since then), it can be hard to visualise just how damaging they were.

The video below, showcasing the progress of a major £3 million repair project at Figure of Three Lock on the Calder & Hebble Navigation, demonstrates, with climate change bringing extreme weather events more often, how the design of the works has to be more robust, including a new spillway capable of taking a larger water capacity, to help the structure withstand future flood events. 

Composting/separator toilets

Over the last couple editions we’ve talked about composting/separator toilets and, more specifically, what to do with the solid waste. In response to correspondence, we’ve drawn up the following statement which, we hope, answers any outstanding concerns and queries:

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.

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. We appreciate that you might not be able to do this straight away, and in the interim small quantities of securely bagged waste can be disposed of in Trust bins if there is no alternative. We respectfully ask that you only do this as a last resort. From the end of December 2021 we request that no bagged solid waste from separator/compost toilets is disposed of in Canal & River Trust waste bins. We will continue to work with boaters and others to identify a sustainable solution for the disposal of this waste.

To save you revisiting past editions, the FAQs that featured in a previous one, now slightly amended, are below:

Why has your advice about the disposal of solid waste from separator/compost toilets changed?

We believe that there is a regulatory problem with the approach that we had which meant we had to change our guidance for boaters to disposing of solid waste at an appropriate composting site away from the canal rather than bagged up in our canal-side bins. We appreciate that, in the short term, the advice isn’t ideal for those with a separator/compost toilet, but we do need to ensure that our guidance complies with waste disposal regulations.

Is this new guidance in force immediately?

We appreciate that this change in guidance has happened at short notice so small quantities of this waste can be bagged and binned for a little while longer. We respectfully ask that you only do this as a last resort. From the end of December 2021 we request that no bagged solid waste from separator/compost toilets is disposed of in Canal & River Trust waste bins.

Does this mean used nappies cannot be disposed of in your bins?

No. Used nappies can still be placed along with other household waste just in the same way that land-based parents and carers would.

If I can’t dispose of solid waste at a canal-side facility where should I put it?

If you don’t have the space to store and let the composting process happen (around 12 months), your waste should be disposed of at a suitable composting site away from the canal. Putting partly-composted waste down an Elsan leads to blockages (as this waste is very dry) which are expensive to fix. Liquid from these toilets can still be disposed of in Elsans.

What if I’m thinking about getting a separator/compost toilet for my boat?

We strongly advise that you 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 separator/compost 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.

Will this new guidance be in force forever?

The Trust is concerned at the numbers of boaters who voiced issues because they have opted to dispose of their solid waste into bins rather than following the principles of sustainable composting. The bagging and binning of this type of waste is not an environmentally sustainable way of disposal and we strongly advise that boaters only use a separator/composting toilet if they have the ability to completely compost the solid waste from it or have access to somewhere that will do this for them.

We will continue to work with any boaters and others to seek, identify and promote sustainable solutions for the disposal of this waste, including working with third parties who may be able to offer a service for those with composting/separator toilets.

What will be done to find a way to deal with this waste from separator/compost toilets?
We will support boaters and other partners who are keen to find sustainable ways to dispose of this waste. This could include supporting environmentally friendly and sustainable pilot projects that resolve this issue.

Bits and bobs

  • From Tuesday 23rd March 2021 when you next log into your My Trust account you will notice some changes to the appearance of the login screen.  Don’t worry though, the way you log in hasn’t changed. All you need to do is enter your existing registered details (email address and password) to sign in. If you can’t remember your password, just click on the ‘forgotten password’ link on the sign in page. You’ll be emailed a single use verification code to enter and then prompted to choose and confirm a new password.  This short video walks you through how to sign in to your account and what to do if you’ve forgotten your password. This change is part of a wider update of the systems we use at the Trust that will provide us with greater future flexibility to offer our customers and supporters enhanced security features and personalise your experience and allow you to better manage your My Trust account.

Last date edited: 18 March 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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