Boaters' Update 17 July 2020

Welcome to the latest edition. In it you'll find out how to tell if we're cutting the grass by your boat in the coming week, wide beam boating advice, positive news about boating in the North West and some lock safety advice (among others!)

Two standard 7-foot narrowboats on the Montgomery Canal Two standard 7-foot narrowboats on the Montgomery Canal

Welcome to the latest edition. While restrictions remain in Leicester the rest of network is open for business and being enjoyed by boaters around the country. From next Tuesday this will include National Waterways Museum Gloucester and the visitor centre at Trevor Basin. Preparations are well underway to safely open our other attractions too.

If you’re going to be out on the water this weekend you can prepare by refreshing your memory of the latest Government guidelines on coronavirus.  And you might find it helpful to read through our list of reminders, below, about a range of boating topics, including things such as how to book passage through certain waterway structures and how to buy facility keys and pump out cards.

Aside from that there’s great news about the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, widebeam advice, a video on using the correct windlass, updated news about the Weaver Navigation, how you can tell when we’ll be cutting the grass in your area, together with the latest news and stoppages.

Please remember that the additional steps we all need to take to protect one another when responding to issues and requests for help may mean it takes longer to do so. This is the case for our colleagues and volunteers so please look out for one another, be patient and stay safe!

Happy boating,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 8 July – With trials of e-scooters starting in the North East, we released a position statement about their use being prohitibited on towpaths.
  • 9 July – With lockdown lifting across the country, people have been searching for ways to get outside and enjoy the great British summer and waterway activities have been booming as a result.


Mowing next to your boat

Wouldn’t it be great if you knew when the grass was going to be cut next to your boat? That way, if you wanted to remove any chance of grass cuttings ending up on your boat, you could either cruise to a different mooring or put one of these signs in your window.

Well, now you can. Before explaining how you can find out, I thought it’d be good to give an overview of our grass cutting operation.

Cutting the grassWe want to provide a towpath that’s safe for all users and enhances biodiversity wherever we can. It won’t all be maintained to lawn-like standards because this may actually be unnecessary for safe use and would be detrimental to the character of the waterways and to their wildlife.

Every year we cut 24 million square metres of grass. That’s the equivalent to mowing a town the size of Bedford or city the size of Chelmsford or Worcester. We cut the grass starting in spring and on a cyclical basis until autumn. It costs us nearly £2 million a year and can be looked at as our most expensive vegetation management activity.

Mowing at least once a year

We'll aim to cut the whole width from the boundary to water’s edge once a year, and will aim to make sure moorings, bridges and locks are cut to a higher, more frequent, standard.

Along certain stretches, we may vary the number of cuts, but only where this will not impact access or the protection of our bridges or locks etc, so benefiting biodiversity. We'll also try to limit cutting under hedgerows to allow wildflowers to flourish. These areas will still be cut once a year as part of the full width cut.

Mowing for moorings

Where tall waterside towpath plants and grass can be an issue, we cut, where appropriate, around a 100-metre length layby to the water’s edge every 1km to allow safe, informal moorings.

Mowing near you?

As explained above, mowing around the network really does take a ‘different strokes for different folks’ approach. You can see what approach we take for each stretch of canal or river on this map. Just above the map you’ll see ‘See our programme of grass cutting for week commencing 13 July.’ This link is updated on a weekly basis and it’s here that you’ll be able to find out if we’ll be cutting the grass next to your boat.


Using lock paddle gear safely

As reported in the last Boaters’ Update, boat hire companies have seen encouraging levels of holiday bookings since the government eased lockdown restrictions. This will undoubtedly mean that lots of first time boaters will be out on the cut and using locks for the first time. While they’ll get training from the hire boat company, the video below is a great refresher for anyone who needs it when out for a cruise. 


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:

Tees BarrageWhen 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.


Boating in the North West

Allowing boaters to cruise during the peak holiday months of July and August remains a top priority and our operational and water management teams are working hard to conserve enough water to make this happen.

Due to the significant and sustained rainfall in the North West over the last couple of weeks this has improved our reservoir holdings sufficiently to ensure we have enough water for the remainder of the boating season. We are pleased to advise we are removing the operating times and the restrictions we put in place to save water have mostly been removed allowing free flowing navigation along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. However, there is still restricted operating times at Wigan flight, Bingley Three & Five Rise and Kirkstall lock to Newly.

The Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals will each open three days a week. Boaters are advised to check specific opening times carefully, via our stoppage notices, as they do vary depending on location.

Boaters will still be able to cruise along lock-free sections of the canals and canals will continue to be open for towpath use, and for angling, canoeing and other un-powered boats as long as the Government’s social distancing rules are strictly observed. 

Peak Forest & Macclesfield canals

Bugsworth on the Peak Forest CanalThe Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals are currently opening three days a week, and we intend to lift all restrictions on Monday 27 July. We will continue to monitor the situation and may reintroduce operating times as necessary to conserve water. Boaters are advised to check specific opening times carefully, via our stoppage notices, as they do vary depending on location.

River Weaver

Some of you have been in touch to ask about why we continue to have designated operating times for locks on the Weaver Navigation.

Saltersford Lock, River WeaverThese times remain in place due to a reduced number of colleagues within our local team due to the coronavirus pandemic. While some semblance of normality resumes in other parts of the country, our teams across the Trust, including our volunteers, are still working with a reduced number due to the social distancing and shielding government guidelines.

The safety of our colleagues, volunteers and boaters remains the top priority and, in turn, this means we simply do not have the resources to open these manned locks every day.

With our current resources, and listening to the feedback received from boaters, we have implemented a revised schedule to include more weekend travel.

The locks are now operated Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, with revised times. More information on the Weaver can be found in the stoppage notice section of our website.

Anderton Boat Lift

From Saturday 1 August, we are able to offer an additional weekend day meaning the Lift will operate on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, with longer operating times over the weekend period.  Full details can be found on the stoppage notice.

We appreciate your feedback and we will continue to review these operating times.


A boom in big boats?

Have you noticed that wide beam boats are becoming more common? It’s easy to see the attraction if the boat is a permanent home - all that extra space comes in very handy! But before you start contemplating whether you need, or want, a wide beam, it’s worth considering the pros and cons.

With house prices, particularly in big towns and cities, pricing many people out of bricks and mortar and onto the water, houseboats and wide beams might seem like they offer an affordable answer.

Big on the inside - big on the outside

A classic widebeam boatUnfortunately, wide beam boats don't have the same qualities as the Tardis – big on the inside still means big on the outside. Increasingly, we’ve been hearing concerns that, as with any boat on a canal or river it wasn’t designed for, some wide beams have inadvertently caused issues.

If all canals and rivers had broad canal dimensions there wouldn’t be any issues but, as you know, they don’t. Some were originally built for short and wide boats and others quite the opposite! While width is probably the main limiting factor (especially at bridge holes and locks), longer narrowboats can come unstuck in places like Yorkshire where some locks can only accommodate up to 57ft.

So, if you’ve got a big ‘un (anything wider than 7ft) or are thinking of upgrading or buying one, what sort of things should you consider?

  • Budget – as with buying pretty much anything, if it’s bigger it’s going to cost more. This includes the licence – surcharges, detailed in the T&Cs, apply depending on the beam.
  • Cruising – a couple of the considerations are mentioned above (locks and bridge holes) but it’s worth pointing out that even if none of the visible structures will impede you, the navigable channel might – narrow canals are not dredged for passing wide beams - you could find yourself running aground on a narrow canal every time an oncoming boat needs to pass you, potentially damaging your boat and the canal. Check out our waterways dimensions if you’re unsure
  • Mooring – ok, so this is stating the obvious but, wide beam boats take up more of the channel even when moored up. This just means you need to be extra vigilant that you’re not causing a navigation hazard by obscuring views or mooring opposite a boat on the other bank, so think about the space you take up
  • Location – because of the way canals were built it’s likely that you’ll be confined to roughly the area you buy your boat in (unless you’re prepared to pay for a contractor to move your boat by road). If you don’t have a home mooring in that area then you need to be able to meets the rules around continuous cruising

Regardless of how wide your boat is, we know that the overwhelming majority of boaters are considerate and conscientious. Most have a blissfully fulfilling time because they know life is better by water. That said, we do appreciate that the bigger the boat, the bigger the list of considerations so we’ll be here to with more advice and information should you need it.

Share your wide beam wisdom

If you have a wide beam boat and would like to share helpful tips or advice for others in the same, erm, boat then drop me a line and I’ll compile and share them for others to benefit from.


Handy boating information

  • As many of you know passage through some tunnels, bridges and locks needs to be booked in advance. Some of these, such as Anderton Boat Lift and the Ribble Link, can be booked via the boat licence platform. Others, such as Harecastle Tunnel and some of our tidal locks, are booked in other ways. Once you’ve clicked on this link, scroll down to see an up to date list of all the structures that need booking, when they’re open and how to book.
  • We’ve restarted our monthly waterway survey (where we sample a small section of the boating community) so, if you do receive a link to it, we’d appreciate it if you could take five or so minutes to give us your thoughts.
  • Our offices remain closed for the safety of everyone but, in the meantime, if you do need to buy a key for customer facilities or pump cards then both can be found in our online shop.
  • While we’re on the subject on our offices, please remember that when they do reopen that we announced back in March that we won’t be accepting cash payments for large purchases, such as licences, at our offices.
  • And to continue the flow, while we’re on the subject of licences, did you know that you can get up to 5% off your boat licence fee depending on how you buy it? You can get 2.5% off for paying by direct debit or in full but the only way to get the full 5% is by also ‘self-serving’ on our licensing platform.
  • If you had a valid 30-day explorer licence that expired during lockdown then you’ll be pleased to know that we’re giving you an extra month in which to use it – you don’t have to do anything, you can just continue using that licence up until 13 Aug 2020.
  • As mentioned earlier in this edition, there’s been a huge uplift in people coming to the waterways to enjoy the summer. For some this will be on the water, for others it’ll be the towpath. With this increased use we all have to be mindful that we tidy up after ourselves (and our pets) so we can all get the maximum enjoyment when on or by the water. How does the saying go, ‘Leave only footprints…’?
  • Talking of conscientious use of the waterways, you would have seem in the last edition that we revisited the GOODBOATER There’s an updated version here if you’d like to print it off and stick in your window!


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, and life better by water, I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • We’re now in the second stage of consultation for our winter stoppage programme. You now have until 9 Aug to have a look at our proposals and give us your thoughts.
  • Theatre group Alarum Productions, who you may remember from their commendation for a Living Waterways Award in 2018, have an exciting new venture – setting up a collective of performers, venues and artists of the waterways, and providing funded project opportunities, thanks to an Arts Council England emergency grant. This new funding will bring together a wider group of those making art on, around or about the waterways. It will create new project opportunities for work that responds to life on or around the water, encouraging collaborations, as well as promoting members’ existing work and bringing it to a wider audience. It will be a digital initiative to start with, but aims to produce live events when possible again, bringing a variety of disciplines together to explore the vibrancy and breadth of talent on the water. They’d love to see some new members, and more submissions for the current project – anyone can join the group for free and apply here. If you’d like to know more and see what’s being created please follow the Facebook page here. Alarum Productions are well known for their show about the wartime trainees, ‘Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways’, which toured on an iron coal boat in 2017 and, recently, a major project gathering the memories of women involved in saving the Black Country canals – ‘I Dig Canals’.


Last date edited: 17 July 2020

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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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