Boaters' Update 19 Nov 2021

In this latest edition you can read about the big bits of work we're doing to improve your boating experience, hear from one of the team doing the work and find out how lithium batteries are good for the environment and your bank balance. Of course, you'll also find a news round up and this weekend's stoppages.

Men in drained canal leaning on lock gate Engineers fitting lock gate

Welcome to the latest edition. I hope that you’ve been able to enjoy the last vestiges of autumn out on the cut. The settled weather has helped us make a good start to our winter works programme and the first article gives you a rundown of the big work we’ve got planned for the next months and what is already underway.

You’ll then be able to hear from one of our construction managers who, rather fittingly, helps plan and carry out some of the work you’ll read about in the first article. Finishing up this edition, and following on from the ‘green boating’ article you read a fortnight ago, is a discussion on batteries and, as one boater suggests, why you might consider switching to lithium batteries.

As always, a round-up of news and stoppages can also be found below.

Happy boating,

Damian

PS Don’t forget that this year’s Annual Public Meeting will be hosted online on 22 November at 2pm with people able to view and submit questions to our chief executive and chair. For more information please visit this webpage.

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 2 Nov – We're celebrating after several of our Cheshire canals were awarded Green Flag status by Keep Britain Tidy (which also now means the entire Shropshire Union Canal!)
  • 4 Nov – Our volunteers have again won Gold in the Rugby in Bloom award for their efforts in helping to care for the busiest set of canal locks in the country on the Oxford Canal at Hillmorton.
  • 5 Nov – Britain’s first electrically-operated floating swing bridge, Northwich Town Bridge, is swinging again, thanks to a £300,000 repair.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Winter works underway

While the mercury has yet to take a prolonged dip below the 10-degree mark, we’ve already started on what we call our winter stoppage programme – the repairs we plan to get done when boating traffic is limited and the cut is relatively quiet.

Unsurprisingly, as passionate advocates for the waterways network, you’ve continued to stay in touch with us and, over the last month or so, the main topic has been about booking facilities and services. A previous article covers this in depth if you want more information.

When it comes to maintenance-related conversations, you’ve mostly been talking to us about locks and bridges, with towpaths coming in a distant third. With that in mind you might find the summary below useful…

First, some stats. This winter we’re working at a range of different lock sites – some urban, some rather rural! Given that each and every one is unique it follows that the work done at each site will be different. Some will get a new set of gates – we’re hand-making 123 new, bespoke, leaves in our workshops. Others will be relined and masonry repaired. We’ll also be bringing some modernity to a selection of locks. Resin grouting will be put behind the lock walls to fill up any voids and prevent deterioration of the lock structure.

Oxclose LockOver the last several months, as you’ll have seen in previous articles, there’s a staggering range of work to do at locks. We can’t cover it all here but at various locations this winter we’ll also be replacing and repairing lock ladders, fixing gate anchors, repairing balance beams, replacing dislodged stones… the list really does go on!

It's a similar story for bridges. There’s an array of work going on from upgrading electrical and mechanical components and repairing abutments all the way through, working with third parties and contractors, to complete bridge replacement.

What’s going on now?

If you have been out on the water over the last couple of weeks enjoying the milder weather, you may have seen us doing some of the following:

  • At Lock 14, Newark Nether Lock, on the River Trent we’re carrying out repairs to the  gates to address leakage and lock ladder alterations.
  • At Locks 1, 2 and 3, Marsworth, on the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal we’re replacing gates at each lock as we are at locks 4, 45 and 87 on the main line of the canal.
  • At Lock 36, Turnerwood Top Lock, on the Chesterfield Canal we’re replacing both the top and bottom gates.
  • Resin grouting, as described above, is taking place on the Trent & Mersey Canal at locks 38 to 40.
  • On the Glasson Branch of the Lancaster Canal we’re testing the installation of temporary stop planks grooves, and associated planks, to ensure the lock can be drained for gate repairs. Once done we’ll crack on with tail gate repairs and/or replacement.
  • There’s a lot happening on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. In between bridges 57 and 64 we’re rebuilding and repairing bridge parapets and filling in a redundant sluice with stone and clay. On the more northern reaches of the canal we’re draining the channel in a couple of places to investigate leakage and carry out repairs.

You may be wondering about a particular lock, in which case, the table below details all those we’ll be working at in between now and the end of next March. For details of the work we’re doing at each lock, see the winter works section of our website.

Canal/River

Lock number

Ashton Canal

Locks 2, 3, 13, 15 & 16

Aylesbury Arm (Grand Union)

Locks 1, 2, 3 & 16

Birmingham & Fazeley Canal

Locks 2 & 6

Bridgwater & Taunton Canal

Lock 3

Calder & Hebble Navigation

Locks 16, 17 & 19

Caldon Canal

Locks 6 & 14

Chesterfield Canal

Locks 36 & 46

Glasson Branch (Lancaster Canal)

Lock 7

Grand Union Canal

Locks 4, 8, 14, 15, 21, 26, 45, 48, 50, 52, 66, 70 & 87

Huddersfield Broad Canal

Lock 7

Huddersfield Narrow Canal

Locks 6, 17, 29 & 33

Kennet & Avon

Locks 17, 51, 84, 99, 100 & 105

Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Locks 25, 26, 42, 46, 65, 68, 73, 77, 80, 83, 89 & 90

Llangollen Canal

Locks 1, 2, & 6

North Stratford Canal

Lock 5

Oxford Canal

Locks 4, 13 19, 22, 33 & 36

Peak Forest Canal

Locks 5, 7, 9 & 16

River Soar

Lock 48

River Trent

Locks 13 & 14

Rochdale Canal

Locks 9, 44, 64, 71, 72 & 73

Rufford Branch (Leeds & Liverpool Canal)

Locks 2, 3, 6 & 7

Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation

Near Rotherham Lock

Shropshire Union Canal

Locks 1, 4, 8 & 14

South Stratford Canal

Locks 42 & 45

Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal

Locks 9, 23, 24, 25 & 39

Stainforth & Keadby Canal

Thorne Lock

Stourbridge Canal

Lock 2

Tees Navigation

Barrage Lock

Trent & Mersey

Locks 12, 23, 25, 35, 57, 60, 61 & 66

Walsall Canal

Lock 3

Worcester & Birmingham Canal

Locks 19, 27 & 58

The above is, of course, just the work we’re doing on locks as part of our winter works programme. A quick search on the stoppage section of our website shows that, over the next week there are around 300 active individual notices around the network:

  • Nearly a third give information on opening times, how to book facilities and services and safety advice (including high and low water levels).
  • Over a fifth are related to locks – this could be ongoing works, inspections or to let boaters know that we’re aware of a problem and working on a plan to fix it.
  • More than one in ten are related to third party works. This can be anything from contractors working on some of the M62’s bridge parapets all the way through to the installation of a hydro-electric power plant on the River Weaver.
  • The remainder are a real mix of culvert repairs, towpath works/diversions, reservoir works, fallen trees and just about anything else you can think of!

The weather is unlikely to remain as benign as it has been, and in the coming months the teams out ‘on the job’ are likely to be braving sub-zero wind chill while knee-deep in a lock chamber, so if you do see them they’ll definitely appreciate a friendly wave and ‘hello’!

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Meet Mark – building a better boating experience

As a regular reader of Boaters’ Update you may remember Tracey Jackson and Aaron Atwal. Both are area operation managers working on different parts of the network who answered some questions about their role at the Trust to give you an insight into how stuff gets done.

This time round the spotlight is focussed Mark Wigley, a construction manager, who works in our Direct Services department.

How long have you been with the Trust? 11 years now, I started at the waterways in November 2010

Mark WigleyWhat’s your background? I gained a degree in countryside planning, and then went into conservation and environmental regeneration work for many years; working for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, and then two different Groundwork Trusts. I then decided I wanted to build my own house and needed to acquire the right skills so joined a Green Oak timber framing company down in Herefordshire. From there I then joined British Waterways as the customer operations supervisor for the Rochdale Canal, back in 2010, moving a few years later into managing the construction team.

Can you remember your first experience of a canal or river? My Dad was a commercial artist back in the 1980’s, and I remember him producing a set of slightly risqué postcards featuring canal boats and boaters!

What is it you do at the Trust? I’m a Construction Manager, with Direct Services; the Trust’s internal construction team. I manage a team of construction staff to deliver a wide range of works across the North West region of the canal network.

How many people/who is your team made up of? We have 16 team members, made up of carpentry, stonemasonry and bricklaying professionals as well as construction operatives, and three site supervisors. In early December we will be taking on four additional apprentices who are specialising in a stonemasonry qualification.

What kind of volunteers do you have?  We welcome all and anyone who would like to volunteer with the Trust; currently most of the group of volunteers who have helped us over many years are retired and all share a love of canals. Some are keen boaters (one jointly owns an historic working boat) while others are keen walkers and use the canal network to explore the surrounding countryside.

Man in high vis in front of lock gateWhat do volunteers do in your team? We have been very fortunate to get involved with a great group of volunteers, who spilt themselves amongst helping my Direct Services team and helping out the regional teams as well. This bunch of volunteers get involved in all aspects of my team’s work, from moving work boats, to helping clear out drained lock chambers; this year one of them has expressly asked to be able to get involved in lime pointing a lock chamber – we have just the job over at Lock 9 on the Marple flight of locks, on the Peak Forest Canal.

Do you or any of your team go boating? There are some keen boaters amongst our volunteering group, and recently my daughter has joined our local Scout troop, which arranged a four-day trip along the Calder & Hebble Navigation and then onto the Rochdale Canal. I took her out to one of our local locks, beforehand, to run through the basics of how to operate a lock safely.

What do you enjoy most about your job? This is a difficult one to sum up; I love the locations that we work in, from industrial, urban, Manchester, to the rugged Pennine hills of Calderdale. I love the variety of work that my team get involved in, from changing lock gates, to leak stopping to rebuilding collapsed retaining walls etc. I On the banks of the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canalalso really love the challenge of planning jobs and seeing them delivered on the ground; including dealing with the inevitable problems that face project delivery.

What do you enjoy the least about your job? Another difficult question to answer; I think I find it frustrating when we can’t take on a particular job that needs doing. This would normally be for very valid reasons such as, lack of time, money or shortage of staff members to undertake the work.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your job? Having the right resource to be able to deliver the work that is needed to care for our waterways – whether that be funding for materials, equipment, staffing, training etc.

Is there anything boaters can do to make your job easier? Reporting issues early on can really help our local teams tackle problems before they become big issues, or get our engineering colleagues out at an early stage to assess an issue and decide on its priority.

What does an average week look like? I’m not sure I’ve had one of those yet, in my 11 years here!

What’s the oddest job you’ve had to do on the waterways? Along with my team I was once filmed alongside, Barney, a Blue Peter presenter; as he joined us on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal helping in all stages of measuring, making and fitting a new set of lock gates at Lock 37 East. We also once had to get a helicopter to move materials and equipment to one of our remote reservoir sites on the network – it was a little surreal seeing the site toilet suspended under the helicopter flying away!

What’s the most common job you do? Winter time sees the team typically fitting new lock gates, at other times of the year we often get involved in stone work repairs and wash wall rebuilds.

In your own words, what do you see as the benefits of the waterway network? The network really is a piece of living history, that can be enjoyed in so many different ways – personally as a family we use our local canal for walking, cycling, and kayaking; with my daughter having recently been on a Scouting boating trip, and my son itching to learn how to fish. We have all benefitted from our local waterway and I’m excited to see others using the network in a wide variety of ways.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

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 while there’s less boating activity:

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.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Charging up a greener future

In the last edition we talked about a variety of ways in which boating can be made ‘greener’. Of course, many boaters chose a life afloat because of its environmental credentials and thousands already do far more than their land-based counterparts to reduce their carbon footprint.

A narrowboat on a canalOne thing some might not have considered yet are lithium batteries. Boater Phil Brooke-Little explains that they’re not only good for the environment but can also be beneficial to your bank balance:

As has been regularly pointed out, the running of diesel engines is burning fossil fuels and is therefore un-green! Of course, it’s not actually as simple as that as diesel engines can be greener if they burn non-fossil fuels however that option is not open to most of us and therefore remains aspirational.

There are, however, things we can do to greatly reduce the use of diesel by reducing our engine running times. This brief waffle is aimed at those who use their engine, at times, solely for charging batteries – particularly of interest perhaps to liveaboard boaters who might also like to reduce the displeasure of house holders with what is a necessity on occasion, particularly in winter.

Perhaps unsurprisingly that solution can be Lithium batteries! Now don’t all go and hang up your glasses and clasp your wallets protectively because times have changed!

Let’s start with the pros:

Lithium will take pretty much all the current you can throw at them right up until full, this means greatly reduced engine running times, sometimes by as much as two thirds over lead acid as it makes full use of the alternator’s capacity and this also means a huge reduction in diesel consumption, engine servicing and depreciation costs and of course this is good for you and the environment. 

Lithium batteries are happy to be used and left in a partial state of charge that could prematurely kill a lead acid battery, this means you don’t have to charge until full as you do with lead acid with the inherent inefficient taper for the last half or more of the charging. It means you can top up as and when convenient without the worry of not having achieved a full charge.

Longevity. While lead acid may have an optimistic cycle life of maybe 300-600 charges using 50% of capacity most will see far less. Lithium will do 3000-4000 or more if used to 80% discharged and will even do 2000-3000 cycles run from completely full to completely flat (100% DOD) and they can do this at the full rating of the battery i.e. a 100Ah battery can be cycled at 100A discharge (1C) in one hour over 2000 times. Lead acid figures in comparison are at a rate of 1/20C or 5A for a 100Ah battery.

Now this pro will surprise you but it is actually the cost. Using a metric of cost per lifetime KWh stored. If you compare a good value good spec 100Ah Lithium battery at £435 delivered and an AGM lead acid one at £159 (basing charging cycles on lead acid maximum cycle spec and lithium minimum with lead acid stressed minimally at the 20hr rate and lithium maxed out at 1hr rate, lead acid being 50% discharged per cycle as recommended and lithium at 100% per cycle (not recommended but the test conditions)) the lead acid works out at 31.5p per kWh cycled and the lithium at 18p per KWh cycled.

A snow-laden canal boat at Fenny StratfordIf one stresses the lithium less by cycling to 80% empty, which is more realistic, the figure is 11p per kWh so less than half the cost. Now look at running two hours a day to charge lead acid as opposed to less than one for lithium and your fuel cost is halved. Worst case might be you do this every day and, at today’s cost of diesel, that’s a saving of £365 a year and over £100 in servicing and that diesel is a big CO2 saving!

You should also bear in mind that lead acid will very rarely get anywhere near its advertised cycle life due to the almost impossibility of looking after them correctly because of their fussiness. Lithium is much less fussy in general and has a Battery Management System (BMS) to manage the things it doesn’t like. The things it doesn’t like are similar to the dislikes of lead acid but they just dislike them more but the BMS removes that worry.

The perceived cons:

Cold weather charging: Lithium batteries with a decent BMS will not let you charge them if their temperature is below 0°C. You can use them but not charge them. One solution is simply keep them above that by putting them in the cabin, they are completely sealed and so are perfectly safe living with you. You could insulate them or you could get ones with heaters or attach heaters. In reality there will be very few days in the UK where this is actually an issue.

Fire risk: There are several different lithium chemistries, the one we use on boats is Lithium Iron Phosphate ( LiFePO4) this is a very safe and stable chemistry, different from that used in cars, phones and other consumer electronics which only give problems themselves if mistreated.

Enjoy an autumn boating holidayAll batteries on a boat will be managed by a BMS, this keeps the batteries safe from what would be their main threat namely the human condition of an appalling memory. Even without this they won’t explode or catch fire. Unlike lead acid they are not full of a highly corrosive acid and an explosive gas mixture mixed with high currents! 

Lithium installation is complicated and expensive: The answer to this is that, while it can be, it doesn’t need to be. There are many companies out there prepared to take your money by the wallet load in exchange for fancy gear that they will tell you you must have for safety etc. For the most part this isn’t true if you initially purchase batteries with a comprehensive BMS.

This sounds complicated but in reality is actually included within the battery and disconnects charge when full, stops you damaging them by cutting off when empty, balances the cells and protects against low and high temperatures. A good one will also enable parameters to be set to best suit your use and a good supplier should be able to set them up for you although most probably won’t. The battery can be monitored in all aspects via a Bluetooth app on your phone if you are into that sort of thing but it certainly isn’t necessary. You may be told that you need to alter all your charging sources but in fact you don’t need to, particularly if you leave at least one lead acid battery in the system (hybrid). Your BMS will protect the cells from damage. Being told you need a DC-DC converter/charger is a common one, you don’t, lead acid charging voltages are fine and you won’t be limited by the current capacity of your expensive converter that contains loads of complex electronics and power conversion gubbins that simply isn’t needed. This brief wittering is probably not the place to discuss details but if you want to research then avoid people trying to sell you things and concentrate on core principles. 

In short, myths are built around ‘new’ technology and it is mystified and made a thing of reverence that people don’t really understand and therefore are in a gullible state ripe for the picking by the makers of complexity. However, once some basics are understood, it can be seen that there is nothing really clever at all, even the jobs the mysterious BMS does are simple and could probably be designed by an O’level student in the old days and probably a degree level student now if allowed to touch real components!

Two standard 7-foot narrowboats on the Montgomery CanalThe main thing most have against them is cost and this has already been addressed as being a back to front worry as lead acid are actually more expensive in the not even particularly long term. If you are of the DIY persuasion they can actually be initially cheaper than good lead acid now even without the fuel savings and without the increased longevity.

So, in conclusion, you can see that as well as boosting your green credentials, you can save money and increase your wellbeing and that of all around you. The reports back from people who have switched are pretty much universally positive and of the ‘never go back’ variety with an emphasis on engine running saved.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 22 November 2021

About this blog

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.

Sign up to receive the Boaters' update by email

See more blogs from this author