Boaters' Update 17 June 2022

Welcome to the latest Boaters' Update. In this edition you'll find out what we've been doing to preserve water for boating (and what you can do to help), an important reminder of summer water safety, an update on grass cutting, how to report an incident and passage through Standedge tunnel and news of a chance to win a canal themed t-shirt! The regular roundup of news and this weekend's stoppages can also be found.

Leicester Line Jubilee weekend Leicester Line Jubilee weekend

Welcome to the latest edition of Boaters’ Update. No matter which measure you go by – astronomical or meteorological – we’ll definitely be in summer by early next week (and the last few days have felt like it!). Bearing this in mind, our first article talks about some of our recent work to conserve water for what should be the warm months of boating ahead, along with what you can do to help.

The next article, ahead of Drowning Prevention Week, gives an important reminder on summer water safety. Following on you’ll find out how to report any incidents you come across on our waterways, the latest news on booking passage through Standedge Tunnel and, finally, how you could get your hands on a snazzy new waterway themed t-shirt just by sending us a selfie!

As ever, this weekend’s stoppages, the latest news and the regular bits and bobs section  are also included.

Happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 31 May – As mentioned in the last edition, we’ve completed our £2 million restoration at the Grade II listed Eshton Road Lock project on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. The Leeds & Liverpool Canal Society’s heritage boat ‘Kennet’ was warmly welcomed as the first boat through the newly repaired lock.
  • 1 June – We launched a new series of Let’s Walk programmes and social rambles across Cheshire, building on the success of a three year ‘Active Waterways’ project.

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Working to preserve water for boaters

In a few days it’ll be the summer solstice and, astronomically speaking, the start of summer. As you’d expect when the weather turns warmer and it rains less (usually), water conservation becomes vital.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal wash wall beforeAs you’d also expect on a 2,000 mile network of waterways, there are lots of places where water can escape. One rather obvious, but no less important, place is through the embankments and water walls.

During winter we undertake large scale relining of stretches of canals but, if we find a small section that needs work (as part of our regular inspections), we’ll also do ‘spot’ repairs any time of the year. If you’ve cruised a decent proportion of the network you’ll know that there’s no one solution to fix all types of waterway Leeds & Liverpool Canal wash wall afterwall issues. Almost every repair has a unique combination of factors that need to be taken in to account. Above right you’ll see a section of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, near where the M65 crosses it, where the bank has failed. Right, you’ll see that the best solution in this case was a ‘concrete bag’ wall repair.

Metal piling Oxford CanalIn other instances metal piling is used, although as you can see in the image on the right taken on the Oxford Canal, it requires heavy machinery to properly install. While it would be easier if every leak was as easily identifiable as a partially eroded bank, they’re not. Sometimes the issues occur behind the initial façade. The weir at Middlewich is one such example where water wasn’t escaping through the vertical face but, instead the horizontal ridge which, as you can see below right, is now remedied. 

Another obvious escape route for water is via a lock. With the technology, at least in Britain, being used for somewhere in the Middlewich weirregion of 500 years – our gates are hand built and made from sustainable English oak much like they would have been centuries ago – they can be forgiven for not being completely watertight. That said, there are limits to what can be considered acceptable leakage and, especially in areas where the water supply is under pressure, we often have to carry out repairs to keep it to a minimum.

Taking a quick tangent, you may be wondering what acceptable leakage is? Gate leakage is one factor amongst many that the hydrology team will look at as part of planning remedial work – but it will also vary on a case-by-case basis. On some canals, and in some locations, the gate leakage will be more of an issue (e.g. if we have backpumps, then we would be pumping water around and around incurring running costs and CO2 emissions, but gate leakage could be a major cause of that pumping being ineffective for onward transfer of that water to the next pound/flight uphill).

Buckby, on the Grand Union CanalThis recently happened on the Grand Union Canal at Buckby Lock 7. A three-day stoppage was required to reline lock gates to reduce water loss on the Braunston summit pound. While we don’t like to close navigations, however briefly, when more boaters are out on the cut, the water loss only became worthy of an intervention when boating activity started to pick up after winter. Knowing we had to take action to preserve water for the warmer and drier months ahead, we consulted with the local trade, (and with consideration of Crick Boat Show) and agreed on a three day stoppage in mid-May. We were able to completely reline the gates and, on completion of the work, volunteers and local staff were on site to help boats through the lock to maximise boat movement.

What can you do?

There’s something you can do on every single cruise to preserve the integrity of waterway banks. Don’t create a breaking wash (where the crest of your wake ‘breaks’) as they will erode banks and disturb wildlife. The speed at which one is created will depend on a wide variety of factors such as the depth and width of the waterway you’re on. Please do write in if you’ve got any tips for how to avoid a breaking wash.

You may also have heard of ‘Thrift’. If you’re new to boating, or can’t remember the mnemonic, it’s a set of principles, no matter where you are on the network, that can be followed to save water:

  • Two in a lock? Share locks
  • Help keep it in. Make sure gates and paddles are shut
  • Report any leaks to us
  • Invite oncoming boats through. Don’t empty or fill locks if someone else can make use of the water
  • Find another favourite. Explore less busy parts of our network
  • Think ahead. Plan cruises to minimise use of locks

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Staying safe this summer

Tomorrow, 18 June, is the start of Drowning Prevention Week. Although a shocking figure, it bears repeating that more than 400 people accidentally drown in the UK and Ireland every year. As a boater you’ll appreciate that falling in the cut is a People crossing a bridge over the canal with wildflowers and greenery in the foregroundrare occurrence, but it does happen. Drowning Prevention Week is the perfect time to refresh your water safety knowledge so that you’re prepared for every eventuality.

If you want to refresh your general summer water safety knowledge then check out this page. But, as a boater though, there are extra things to be aware of and to do:

  • During summer there is likely to be more waterborne traffic. Not all of this traffic will be easily seen, such as canoeists and kayakers, so be extra vigilant and plan ahead. Making hard manoeuvres on with your boat could be all that it takes for you to lose your footing.
  • Wear non-slip footwear and keep decks clear of tripping hazards
  • Consider wearing a lifejacket (strongly advised in tunnels)
  • If, unfortunately, you do end up in the water, don’t approach the stern of boats (even your own) that have their propellors running.
  • Make sure that you have buoyancy aids to hand, even if you’re moored up.

If you live on, or own, your boat then you should practice your man overboard drill regularly. If you’re new to boating there are some simple principles to follow (and then practice!):

  • If a member of your crew goes overboard never jump in to aid their recovery – you may make the situation worse.
  • At the earliest, and safest, opportunity, throw a line or buoyancy aid to the person in the water.
  • Keep the person in the water in sight at all times.
  • In most situations you should put your boat immediately in neutral gear. This will prevent any person being dragged into the propellor. If you’re on a river, or wide and deep waterway, you may need to stay in gear to maintain your position in the channel but if any person in the water comes near the boat you should, again, switch to neutral.

Ultimately, boating is an incredibly safe and fulfilling way to spend a summer’s day (or month!). The biggest challenge you’re likely to face is wrenching yourself away from the lifestyle and back to normality! That said, and like any other activity, respecting the potential for the unexpected, and preparing for it, gives invaluable peace of mind.

If you’ve had an unfortunate dunking and would like to share your cautionary tale for others to learn from then do please drop me a line.

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Reporting an incident

Even if you’ve only spent a short amount of time on the water you’ll probably appreciate that the waterway environment is overwhelmingly safe, peaceful and a pleasure to be in. From time to time though something may happen which you feel we should know about.

For instance:

  • Witness to damage or vandalism
  • Injury or potential injury
  • Antisocial behaviour (substance/alcohol abuse)
  • Threatening/aggressive behaviour
  • Collision or near miss in navigation or on towpath
  • Unauthorised vehicles on towpath
  • Unauthorised swimming
  • Theft or other criminal activity

Summer boating through a lockYou’ll notice the word ‘potential’ in the list above and this is because by reporting any incident, ‘near miss’ that you've witnessed or been involved in will help us to investigate the cause of the problem, minimise the risk of it happening again and where practical, remove potential hazards. Collisions, or close calls, with other boats aren’t the only type of waterborne incident. We want to have a comprehensive picture of any potential issues so do also report the same for unpowered craft such as paddleboards, canoes and kayaks.

To help with this there is a form on our website to collate all the relevant information. Regardless of whether you have internet access at the time, it’s a good idea to jot things down the old-fashioned way as soon as you’re able so that you can capture as much information as possible about the incident. Then, when you get the opportunity, you can follow the link above and submit your report to us.

Please note that the incident report form is not an alternative to contacting the Police in an emergency. You should call 999 immediately if lives are at risk (includes serious injury, illness, fatality, rescue help, fire or explosion on a boat), properties are at risk or to report a crime.

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Grass cutting update

At the start of April 2022, we appointed three new vegetation management contractors, to work in partnership with us to manage and maintain our green assets – trees, hedges, grass The area around lock gates on a canaland so on.  These new contracts offer significantly better value for money and we’re taking the opportunity to reinvest savings in addressing the backlog of off-side vegetation amongst other vegetation improvements.

However, it’s taking longer than we’d want to mobilise and deliver the service we expect, and this is resulting in problems with towpath grass being over long and uncut in some areas.  There are various reasons:

  • The transfer of contractor staff from the previous to new contractors and filling resource gaps took longer for the contractors to complete initially and continues.
  • New teams familiarising themselves with the network.
  • New teams becoming familiar with our specifications and how they apply.
  • A technical issue meaning that not all of our specifications have been available straight away.

So, what are we doing to resolve this?

  • We are meeting frequently with the contractors senior people to identify issues, review resources on the ground and progress so that we get back on programme.  Additional resources are arriving, but it will take time for these to get up to speed and for the impact to be widely seen.
  • Local, regular, often daily discussions with the contractors’ team managers to make sure priorities are clear, be able to move to areas requiring urgent action and deal with new problems.
  • We are holding the contractors to account and ensuring that they are not being paid for works which have not been completed.

So, we’re not where we would want to be at this point and its likely to be the end of the summer before we get everything back to where it should be. 

We welcome your views and feedback which will help us keep abreast of what is a changing situation.  If you have feedback on the grass condition, want to share photos or other information, please feed this through to us at Grass.Feedback@canalrivertrust.org.uk We won’t be able to respond to emails on this but it will be really helpful in allowing us to gauge condition and problem locations.

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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:

When 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 get in touch.

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Booking Standedge Tunnel passage

As you’ll have read in the first article, we do everything we can to keep navigations open for boaters. In some cases, as also highlighted above, this might mean a short stoppage to prolong the water resources further into the year. In other cases, such as currently on a section of the Huddersfield Inside Standedge TunnelNarrow Canal, where water supplies are restricted, we’ll limit opening times and passages so that water loss doesn’t compromise navigation early on during the peak boating months.

We appreciate that it makes planning a cruise more constrained but our aim is to stretch the water resources out for as long as possible so as many as possible boaters can enjoy this spectacular canal. Because of the current limitations at Standedge, there are some important things to know.

  • We currently have one slot for a Monday (Diggle to Marsden), two slots on a Wednesday (one in either direction only) and one slot for a Friday (Marsden to Diggle).
  • Due to the limited number of slots bookings are being snapped up quickly. We no longer have any availability for June or July but August, September and October still have slots available.
  • Bookings can only be made through our customer service team on 0303 040 4040 Monday to Thursday 0900 to 1700 & 0900 to 1630 Friday. Please select the option for Yorkshire and North East Region when you call through. The ability to book tunnel passage online has been temporarily removed for this season to allow the team to discuss changes directly with you in detail before a booking can be made.
  • Boats will only be let through the closed sections at the time and date agreed as per your Standedge tunnel booking. If you arrive early at your start point you will be required to wait for our team member to attend to site.
  • Where resource permits, we will endeavour to provide a team member to additionally assist you through the locks on the closed sections. We will be unable to guarantee this assistance at the time of your booking as this availability will be dependent on resource on the actual day.
  • Our water resources, this year, will unfortunately not support those customers who wish to book a return journey through the tunnel as purely an experience (as oppose to requiring passage as part of your journey on the wider canal network). Therefore, customers will be unable to book return passage within a month of booking the outward passage.
  • These changes may be subject to further restrictions. This would include, but not limited to, if we experience worsening water resource issues and need to increase restrictions or, conversely, if the water resource issues improve and restrictions can be relaxed.

If you have a booking or will be making one then please make sure you read further details about mooring timings and locations and navigating through the closed section.

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Wish you were here?

Boaters on our canals and rivers already know that there is nothing quite like being afloat. We all take different things away from the experience – the connection with nature, the Wish You Were Hereunique perspective, the adventure – as well as a boost to our wellbeing.

With that in mind, what better gift could you give someone than taking them along for their first ever cruise? So we want you to share your love of boating by taking along a friend or family member who’s not been out on the water before. 

Eyes on the prize (and camera)

If you do then you might like to know that every week throughout July and August you could win one of our brand new t-shirts, featuring a variety of striking designs inspired by beautiful canal boats and lock gates.

Simply send us a virtual postcard – via our website – by sharing a selfie of you and your new boating buddies. Don't forget to add a message to your postcard telling us what you all enjoyed most about your time on the water.

If you're one of the lucky winners, we'll be in touch. But with a selection of t-shirt designs to choose from, you might want to start browsing our new scenic collection now.

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Bits & bobs

  • In a little under a month we will be celebrating ten years as a charity. Many of the successes we’ve had have been, in part, due to our wonderful community of boaters, waterway supporters and volunteers who help make the waterways so special. So, in our tenth year we’re asking you to vote on some stunning locations to find out which make the top ten! You can vote, by liking the picture, via our boating Facebook page.

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Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 17 June 2022

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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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