Boaters' Update 17 December 2021

Welcome to the final edition of the year. As you'll have experienced, and is reflected in the articles below, it's been a year that'll be remembered for the pandemic but, waterways-wise, has been able to offer its perennial dose of happiness and wellbeing. We, at the Trust, look forward to seeing you do the same in 2022.

Snowed in narrowboat on the canal at Apperley Bridge Snowed in at Apperley Bridge on the Leeds & Liverpool canal

Welcome to the final edition of the year. We end it much as we started with the pandemic dominating the news headlines. The first article discusses the implications for boating of the new variant and how you can get in touch over the festive period should you need to.

Following that chief executive, Richard Parry, looks back (and ahead) in his end-of-year message to boaters. The third article also reflects on the big stories covered over the last 12 months on these pages.

The green theme, explored in recent editions, also continues with news of a trial switch in fuel for Trust workboats and, along with a round-up of this weekend stoppages, you can read about our winter open days (pandemic permitting) in February and March next year.

As always, a round-up of news and, in the bits and bobs section, a request from British Marine for boat owners to take part in a survey (and be in with the chance of a prize!).

Happy boating over the festive period,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 9 Dec – We've begun a trial of HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) fuel for our workboats. We see this as a step towards reduced emissions on the waterways . More on this below.
  • 9 Dec – At Gloucester Pumping Station in Gloucester Docks, we've installed two large three-ton pumps which will play a crucial role in managing water resources in Gloucester and Bristol.
  • 14 Dec – We're investing £16.5million on carrying out specialist repairs, upgrades and maintenance work in our North West region this winter.


Omicron and boating

As has been well documented through every media channel, the country is in the grip of a new COVID-19 variant, Omicron. In response to the risks of the new variant the Government has moved to it’s Plan B for England (different rules may apply in Wales).

One of the main defences against Omicron is a third, booster, vaccination jab. You can get vaccinated at a walk-in vaccination site: you do not need to be registered with a GP. Please visit the NHS site for more information and to find a site.

As it stands, the new guidance doesn’t directly affect your plans to go boating. When, or if, new guidance is issued by the Government then our dedicated website pages will be updated.

In the meantime do get in touch with your local licence support officer if you have any further questions relating to cruising and the pandemic. Please bear in mind that as we head in to the festive period people will be taking time off to be with their family so if you can’t get hold of your local licence support officer then do please give customer services a call on 0303 040 4040, our opening times over the holidays are as follows:

  • 24 December - 8am – 5pm
  • 25 & 26 December - closed
  • 27 & 28 December - 9am – 5pm
  • 29 & 30 December - 8am – 6pm
  • 31 December - 8am – 5pm
  • 1 January - closed
  • 2 & 3 January - 9am – 5pm


A message for boaters from chief executive, Richard Parry

Once again we reach the end of a year that’s been dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and – as we see restrictions tighten with the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the run-up to Christmas – it’s likely to affect us all for some time to come. Looking back over the year, the virus has understandably shaped much of what we’ve been able to do.  However, we’ve learned from the experience we gained in 2020, and drawn confidence from the extraordinary vaccine roll-out, which has meant that we have been able to make progress in many aspects of our work.  

Richard Parry, chief executiveIt has been inspiring to see so many activities resume on the waterways, and to see this summer’s boating at record levels from the middle of May right through to October.  I hope you’ve been able to spend some time afloat this year and enjoyed your cruising.  After long periods of intermittent use since March 2020, it has put our ageing network to the test and our operational teams have worked long and hard to keep our waterways open and safe; the resilience and dedication of our colleagues across the Trust has been exceptional.

The first phase of our winter works is well underway as we undertake the vital maintenance and repairs that are needed to support boating for the year ahead. The second phase will continue to prove as challenging as ever, with national issues around materials and labour, and higher inflation, means our costs are coming under pressure, notably for our energy supplies which have increased dramatically since the spring. 

As boaters and ambassadors for the benefits of being by water you know what our waterways offer in terms of personal wellbeing. So, as we continue our Grant Review with Government, which is where around a quarter of the network’s current funding comes from, your support for future funding of the waterways will be more important than ever.  This year, we’ve seen towpaths continue to provide access to nature and the outdoors for people with little alternative accessible green space.  It has been wonderful to see so many people engaging, for the first time, in the benefits that the waterways offer to local communities. This wider public engagement will also be vital in making our case for future Government support.

It’s also been encouraging to see so many volunteers able to return to us this summer, after a hiatus of over a year for many, and others coming new to the Trust having experienced the benefit that the local canal has given to their community and wanting to give something back.   We know, and appreciate, what a positive difference they make.

Of course, there are also plenty of things that we strive to do better as we seek to provide you with the attractive waterways and reliable services that your boating depends upon.  My brief Boating Buddies days this summer are amongst my highlights of the year – and thanks to all who have participated in that programme.

So let me wish you all a peaceful Christmas and New Year.  We value your support and will continue to do whatever we can to make your boating plans for the year ahead successful and rewarding. 



It’d be an understatement to say that it’s been a roller coaster of a year (and the ride hasn’t finished yet!). Outside the world of boating it will of coursebe remembered as a year dominated by the pandemic. But that wasn’t all that’s happened:

  • Joe Biden sworn in, after Capitol riots, as new President of the USA
  • NASA landed another rover on Mars (and flew a drone on the planet)
  • England reached the Euro 2020 final (and unfortunately lost again on penalties)
  • 2020 summer Olympics were held a year late
  • In July, there was a record-breaking heatwave in North America and catastrophic floods in Europe
  • COP26 came to Glasgow
  • Angela Merkel left office after 16 years in power
  • Prince Phillip, Larry King, Christopher Plummer, Charlie Watts, Leon Spinks, Marvin Hagler, Murray Walker, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Sir Clive Sinclair, Jimmy Greaves, Ian St John and Stephen Sondheim passed away.
  • James Webb space telescope to be launched

The list above is a small slice of the year’s events and, in any ‘normal’ year, 2021 would have been considered a big news year even without any mention of the pandemic.

On the waterways, thankfully, we’ve broadly been able to complete most of the work we set out to do. Like every other organisation and community in the country we’ve had to adapt the way we work and live and this will continue for as long as needed.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Boaters Update and thank everyone who has contributed an article or been in touch to make a comment or suggestion.  If you’ve read every edition this year you’ll have consumed close to 80,000 words. It’ll come as no surprise that, when visualised in a word cloud, boats, boating and canal are dominant:

Wordcloud 2021

’Lock/locks’ also feature heavily – a reflection of what you’ve most been getting in touch about. On the left of the word cloud you can also see we’ve talked about weather quite a bit. This is, in part,because climate change is having an increasing impact on the network and we’ve been sharing the work we’ve done to repair (another word to feature above!) the damage.

One such example was the work we completion of the massive lock rebuild on the Calder & Hebble after the devastating Storm Ciara hit and severely damaged the Figure of Three Locks. 

Sometimes it’s simply the age of the network which leads to a repair programme and extensive investigatory works.   Oxclose Lock on the Ripon Canal is a good example. It wouldn’t fill sufficiently so the team tried to install stop planks so that it could be inspected.

Void under Oxclose LockAfter finding huge void, pictured right, beneath the failed wooden floor of the lock we had to fill it with 100 tonnes of gravel which we then grouted around to make it into a solid mass to support the lock structure and floor above it. 

Despite the age of the network, most of our work is proactive rather than reactive and over the past 12 months you’ll have read about lots of examples in Boaters Update of planned preventative maintenance and, hopefully, seen the works taking place first-hand when you’ve been out on the cut. Also detailed in a previous edition is this winter’s huge works programme which, while not just focussed on locks, sees us replacing, repairing and restoring a large number of lock gates and chambers. In fact, that leads quite nicely in to the following article…


Plans for open days

As mentioned in the first article, the Omicron variant is starting to spread rapidly and, at the time of writing, it’s impossible to guess how this might, or not, affect our lives next year. At the moment we are planning to invite people to see the work we’re carrying out as part of our £59 million programme of repairs this winter to protect and preserve the 200-year-old waterways in our care.

Stoke on Trent, open daySafety is paramount and we will be keeping a close eye on government guidance but, as things stand, we plan to run a series of in-person open days in February and March so you’ll be able to hear from the teams involved and find out more about the essential work to keep this important part of the nation’s history flowing.

There will also be a programme of online ‘behind the scenes’ tours starting soon giving people who aren’t local, or who would prefer to join online, the opportunity to see the breadth of works taking place.

The in-person open days are being planned across the country and will encompass a variety of sites and works. You’ll be able to experience: the spectacular Anderton Boat Lift on the junction of the Trent & Mersey Canal and River Weaver; a walk along the drained Hertford Union Canal in the heart of London; intricate staircase locks at Grindley Brook on the Llangollen Canal; important water-saving repairs at Hebden Bridge on the Rochdale Canal; replacing lock gates at Seend on the Kennet & Avon Canal; and a chance to visit Newark’s inland dry dock – the largest in the UK.

Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds & Liverpool CanalIn addition, virtual events include, amongst others: ‘wonder of the waterways’ Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal; works to pumping stations on the Kennet & Avon Canal; and emergency breach repairs on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Rishton.

Richard Parry, chief executive, said: “The work we carry out every winter is at the centre of our care and maintenance. Our teams are out, often battling the elements, to keep the canals and rivers open, safe and accessible for boaters, local communities, and other waterway visitors.

“The task of looking after this ageing network presents an ongoing challenge, particularly as extreme weather becomes more common, so we will continue to be unrelenting in our efforts to generate the funds and support needed to keep the waterways available for generations to come. The open days are a fantastic opportunity to find out more about the work involved and why it’s so important, as well as seeing the canals from a fresh perspective.”

Visit our dedicated webpages to find out more about the open days.


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.


Greener fuel trial for workboats

Since COP26 we’ve had a running ‘green’ theme in Boaters’ Update. It’s been the topic that’s elicited the biggest response from readers. We’ll continue it in 2022 so if there’s something you’re keen to see covered then do please let me know.

Workboat Bourne afterFirst though, you might be interested to know that we’ve begun a trial of HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) fuel in our workboats. We see this as a step towards zero emissions on the waterways and believe that the rapid adoption of greener fuels such as HVO would reduce carbon emissions from the running of existing boat engines in the short-term while not requiring changes in either engines or supply infrastructure.

Where is it being trialled?

The fuel is currently being trialled in the urban litter boat Berkswell in Birmingham and will start to be introduced to other craft operating out of Icknield Port, continuing until the end of March 2022. During this time, we will be monitoring the effects of using the HVO fuel. Initial reports indicate that the craft is operating well, with no reported issues. If successful, there will be a gradual rollout across the whole fleet from April 2022.

The trial is being supported by funding raised by the players of People’s Postcode Lottery through its Postcode Climate Challenge Initiative, which is supporting 12 charities with projects tackling climate change.

We're considering the short-to-medium term solution of a switch to HVO as a milestone on the way to any more fundamental change. We will also be gathering feedback from fuel suppliers and boaters across our waterways who are now supplying or using HVO.

Taking action to lower our carbon footprint

Matthew Symonds, national boating manager, said: “COP26 highlighted the importance for all of us to take action to lower our carbon footprint. On the waterways, we hope that HVO will provide a ‘quick win’: a more sustainable, cost-friendly swap that will enable boaters and boating businesses to easily reduce their emissions. The trial of the fuel in our workboat fleet will provide valuable information on practicalities and performance, and we are also inviting feedback from the boating community on their experience.

“We are committed to working towards a zero-carbon future for boating on our inland waterways, recognising that this needs to be a collaborative effort involving boaters, businesses, local authorities and the government. Our boating customers have a very broad range of needs, and we want to find the right solutions to help them transition to zero-carbon without any significant changes to their use and enjoyment of the waterways.”

What is in the fuel?

HVO is made from waste oils from animal fats and vegetable oil and is more than 90% carbon neutral. It has 30% lower nitrogen oxide outputs than fossil fuel diesel and can reduce particulate emissions by nearly 90%. The fuel is stable when stored for up to ten years, is free-flowing down to at least -25°C and does not attract water. It also mixes with other diesel fuels.

The Government has set out a legal obligation for the UK to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 through amendment (in 2019) of the Climate Change Act. In addition, a route map for achieving net zero in the maritime sector (which includes inland and recreational boating) was set out in the Clean Maritime Plan.


Bits & bobs

  • British Marine is carrying out a survey to collect feedback from UK consumers about their participation in boating and watersports activities and purchases of boating and watersports related products and services. On completion of the survey you’ll be entered into a draw for one of three £100 gift vouchers to spend on Amazon! If you’re interested, the Terms & Conditions of the survey can be found here.
  • A few editions ago we let you know, of particular interest to Gold licence holders about the Environment Agency consultation about boat registration charges proposals from 1 January 2022. The consultation closed on the 16 September 2021 and you can now find the published response on their  consultation page on The revised national legal charging scheme is also available to view.


Stay safe, happy boating,


Last date edited: 17 December 2021

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