Boaters' Update 26 February 2021

Welcome to the latest edition. In it you'll find news of how we might (it's not definite yet!) all be able to get back out on the cut in the months ahead. Along that good news you'll be able to read about how you can take part in the census, why 2020 saw record number of breakdown call-outs to boats and the answers to some of the questions you sent in after reading the composting toilet article in the last edition.

A canal boat returns to a crowd of people at Ellesmere Port Gifford returns to the museum

Welcome to the latest edition. As you will have seen, the Government’s long-awaited roadmap out of lockdown was published earlier this week. While there are no immediate changes to restrictions on boating, there’s plenty of cause for optimism.

The first article in this edition sets out the key milestones in the path back to boating – as with everything to do with this pandemic, the dates listed are not definitive and subject to the Government’s criteria being met.

Sooner than that, we all get a once in a decade chance to take part in the census. The second article explains how, especially if you live on your boat, you can take part.

You’ll also find a report on boat breakdowns in 2020 – it’s easy to forget, with our attention understandably focussed on the pandemic, that last year started with a series of severe storms that caused damage to the network and, unfortunately, also boats. Finally, the last article is in response to those of you who got in touch about the last edition’s composting/separator toilet article and looks to answer your most commonly asked questions.

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:


Easing of lockdown restrictions and what it means for boating

It’s been 340 days since we entered our first national lockdown. Now, and perhaps for the first time since then, there is the prospect in the months ahead of life returning to something akin to normal.

For the time being, following the Government’s announcement on 22 February 2021, all navigation in England and Wales should remain Boats moored at Braunston on the Grand Union Canallimited to essential use only. We are closely monitoring the guidance and will confirm any update on cruising as soon as we can.

Boaters who are not currently occupying their boat should not take short overnight breaks on their boat. Those living aboard are advised to limit their navigation, moving only a minimal amount to access essential facilities or services when necessary. Please moor considerately.

Boat licence terms & conditions regarding moving every 14 days remain suspended until the restrictions come to an end. If you have any questions, please contact your licence support officer.

How does the Government’s roadmap apply to boating?

We believe that the Government’s roadmap applies to boating in England in the following ways – please note that this is subject to further confirmation.

There is no change until Step 1 part 2, potentially from 29 March, when it is anticipated that the official stay at home order will end but people will be encouraged to stay local. Limited local boat movement may be possible but you should avoid travelling if your boat is not close to where you live, and only those living aboard are permitted to make an overnight stay.

In Step 2, from no earlier than 12 April, holiday lets are expected to reopen. We believe that at this point cruising can be done freely and overnight stays on boats and holiday hire boating will be allowed, as long as you are one household or support bubble. The boat movement suspension will be lifted (with boats required again to move every 14 days unless at their home mooring).

In Step 3, from no earlier than 17 May, indoor mixing on your boat will be allowed with up to six people or, if it is more people, two households.

We will bring you further guidance on advice for Wales as and when it is published.


Census 2021

It doesn’t matter if your home floats or if it’s a two up, two down, in the heart of a bustling metropolis. On 21 March every household in England and Wales will be expected to complete their census questionnaire.

The census is for everyone. Once every ten years, it helps build the most complete picture of England and Wales. The whole population has the chance to provide the information that ensures all communities are represented in decisions on funding and services. This could mean Boats moored on towpaththings like doctors’ surgeries, housing or new bus routes.

If you live on your boat you may start receiving letters, either by hand from a census officer or in the post in March, with details of how to take part. The deciding factor will be whether you live on a long term mooring that is registered with Royal Mail.

If registered with Royal Mail, you will receive a letter containing a unique access code to allow you to complete your online census form. If you are not on the Royal Mail mailing list but are a moored in a marina (or similar) an attempt will be made by a census officer to deliver a letter or questionnaire by hand to permanent and visitor moorings before 20 March.

If you have not received a letter or questionnaire with an access code by 23 March, then please visit the census website or Public Contact Centre (which opens on 1 March) where you can request to receive a text to a UK mobile phone, which contains an access code to complete the census online.

Those who are continuously cruising will be counted over the period 20-22 March. A census officer will hand deliver paper questionnaires to visitor moorings; however, you can also request an access code via text to be sent to a UK mobile phone as per the above paragraph.

From one boater to another – Census 2021 and coronavirus

The census is coming at a critical point. It will be fundamental to government’s understanding of the impact the coronavirus has had on different communities and how we all live.

Government has designed Census 2021 to be simple, straightforward and safe to complete. This will be a digital-first census, and they will Boats on the Chesterfield Canal, courtesy Richard Croftbe encouraging people to participate online with online support, including help by email, social media, text message and on a webchat facility on their website.

People can also complete their census over the phone, with the help of trained staff, or can request a paper form.

Census staff will never need to come aboard; they will always be socially distanced, wearing PPE and work in line with all government guidance.

Everyone benefits from the census

In charge of delivering the census is the ONS’s deputy national statistician, Iain Bell – himself a boater. Based in south Wales, he Man walking along towpath by canal with autumnal coloursspends part of his time living on the Mon & Brec Canal with his partner.

“A successful census will help give the best picture of the needs of everyone living in England and Wales,” he says.

“It benefits everyone. Based on the information you give, it ensures millions of pounds are invested in emergency services, mental health care, school places, hospital beds, houses, roads, GP and dental services.

“It is therefore crucial we reach everyone in the country – from people living in London’s commuter-belt to all inner-city communities; from those living in the countryside to student populations; the elderly and all ethnic minorities. And, indeed, anyone like me, who spends time living on a waterway.

“There are some groups who are harder to reach than others, with language, living arrangements, technology and understanding of what the census is all barriers for us to overcome. My advice for liveaboards is to make sure you have a postal point if you have a mooring. For continuous cruisers, being registered with a GP or with DWP/HMRC means analysis covers you as well.

“It’s crucial you do take part. If analysis that feeds policy decisions doesn’t reflect all sections of society then there is a risk of the needs of different groups not being met. Being able to complete it online will hopefully make it easier than ever for all of us to take part around our individual schedules, and in a way that is flexible to our living Boats on the Rochdale Canal, Hebden Bridgecircumstances. We do recognise there will be some people who need paper forms or help getting online, and we have set up local census support centres to help with that.”

Census day will be on March 21, but those households with a known address, will soon receive letters with online codes explaining how they can take part. The census will include questions about your sex, age, work, health, education, household size and ethnicity. And, for the first time, there will be a question asking people whether they have served in the armed forces, as well as voluntary questions for those aged 16 and over on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Results will be available within 12 months, although personal records will be locked away for 100 years, kept safe for future generations. 

For more information and advice on how to answer the questions, visit


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:

  • One third of all boaters have been emailed and invited to take part in our Boaters’ Survey. The email was sent from SNAP survey – which helps keep it anonymous (we can see how many have been filled in and remind people who haven’t – but can’t trace it to specific email addresses) so please do check your inbox (and your spam/junk in case it’s accidently ended up in there) and give us your views. The survey is open until 7 March.
  • In the last edition exciting news of a Virtual Crick Boat Show was announced. Please note that the dates are 24 to 28 March and you can book your free tickets


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.


Storms and lockdown cause record-high call-out figures for boaters in 2020

It might be logical to think, in a year when a global pandemic enforced unprecedented restrictions on boating, that the number of times boaters needed to call for help would be less than normal. That wasn’t the case.

River Canal Rescue reports the number of rescues it undertook in 2020 yet again reached a new high. In the period from 1 Jan to 31 Debbi changing the fuel filter on her boat engineDecember, engineers attended 231 incidents (186 major and 45 minor), 55 per cent more than the 149 (105 major and 44 minor) in 2019.      

Major is defined as submerged, partially sunken or grounded craft, plus salvage work; minor as situations which on attendance, can be resolved without the need for a full rescue team. 

Storms Brendan, Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, plus lockdown restrictions, were the main reasons for the unprecedented rise.  Vessels across the UK were either battered by bad weather at the start of 2020 or suffered water ingress, due to a lack of maintenance, as people struggled to get to their boats.  

Another contributing factor was the failure of an Environment Agency sluice gate on the River Avon in September, when RCR recovered and stabilised 50 boats in under three days.  

In contrast, the number of general call-outs, such as electrical, fuel and engine issues, flat batteries, over-heating and gear box failures, fell by 17 per cent, from 3,450 in 2019 to 2,850.

Managing director, Stephanie Horton, comments: “Given the current situation, I’m not surprised by these figures; the storms were relentless - in two months we carried out 52 major rescues - and many people were unable to check their boats last year.”

It’s too early to say whether we’ve seen the last storms of this winter – Storm Jorge hit our shores on 28 Feb last year – but in the coming editions we’ll be running through all the things you need to know to get your 2021 boating year off to the best start possible.


Composting/separator toilets – your questions answered

In the last edition we featured an article about composting toilets (which are perhaps more accurately called separator toilets as the composting doesn’t take place in situ). A few of you wrote in with some questions. Below you’ll find the answer to those asked most frequently:

Why has your advice about the disposal of solid waste from composting/separator 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 composting/separator toilet, but we do need to ensure that our guidance complies with waste disposal regulations.

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

Will this new guidance be in force forever?

We are continuing to investigate the issue. At this point we don’t know if we will be able to identify a change that will allow an alternative disposal approach but want to try and work to find a better solution for those with composting/separator toilets.

If you have any further questions, or an idea for a sustainable solution, please do drop me a line.


Last date edited: 26 February 2021

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The boaters' update

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