Boaters' Update 26 Mar 2021

Welcome to the latest edition. Below, as we edge towards a return to boating, you'll find out stoppage information for your region as you plan for your first cruise. You can also read good news about booking passage on the Bridgewater Canal and details of a trial change in the way we mow towpaths as well as the curious cases of ‘sticky fuel’ and what to do if you come across the problem on your return to your boat.

Spring photo of Staffs & Worcs Canal, Coven

Welcome to the latest edition. In England, three days are all that remain of the Government’s ‘stay at home’ order before we take the next tentative steps out of lockdown. In Wales it’s even sooner. This means that, for many of you, you’ll be returning to your boat for the first time in a while.

In the last edition we covered some topics to help you prepare for your first cruise of the year (there’s another great tip from a boater in the ‘bits and bobs’ section of today’s Update). You can also read, region-by-region, what’s going on around the network that may affect your cruising plans. There is good news about booking passage on the Bridgewater Canal and details of a trial change in the way we mow towpaths.

Finally there’s a piece about the curious cases of ‘sticky fuel’ reported last year and what to do if you come across the problem on your return to your boat.

Don’t forget that the Virtual Crick Boat Show is well underway and you can still sign up for your free tickets – as well as the competitions, exhibitors and seminars you can catch our chief exec, Richard Parry, taking part in a Q&A session on Crick Radio at 3.30pm on Sunday.

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:


Planning your 2021 cruises

Since the beginning of last year we’ve had a series of damaging storms and, of course, we’ve all had a global pandemic to contend with. Despite this, our teams have worked year-round to do their best to keep canals and rivers open for navigation (when it’s been allowed!). Some work, as you’ll expect, continues and may affect your cruising plans. Below you’ll find a region-by-region report of what you need to be aware of:

London & South East

Banbury, Oxford CanalSouth Oxford Canal

  • Although hopefully complete by the end of March, a couple of underwater operations (one at Cropredy Lock 25 and one at Slatmill Lock 26) are planned which may result in delays of up to an hour at various times.

River Lee

  • Underwater work is also planned for Tottenham Lock, date not confirmed yet, with a restriction remaining on one side of the double lock. It won’t affect passage though as, if you’re going this way, you can use the other lock.

Grand Union Canal

  • Some ground paddle post replacements and small essential refurbishment works are planned for late April (exact dates not yet finalised) on the Hanwell flight. These will require navigation restrictions rather than stoppages.

Hertford Union Canal

  • Additional work was needed to the waterway wall so the stoppage between Bridge 54a and Lock 3 will have a delayed opening date of 9 April.

Yorkshire & North East

Aire & Calder navigation courtesy Steve FarehamAire & Calder Navigation

  • Last December’s breach at Newbridge is preventing access to/from Goole Docks but we are hoping to re-establish the Pollington to Sykehouse link soon – no confirmed date yet.
  • Dredging of Bank Dole and Beal locks is planned, possibly for May, but no confirmed dates yet.

Selby Canal

  • Tankards Bridge height restriction, due to a bridge strike, limits passage to vessels of 7ft.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal

  • Navigation at Whyther Bridge is not possible until safety works are undertaken following a bridge strike.

Calder & Hebble Navigation

  • Figure of 3 Lock repair works progressing well and limited booked passage is hoped to be possible from 12 April with normal use resuming sometime in May.

South Sheffield & Yorkshire Navigations

  • Water resource challenges as a result of pumping main failure (affecting Victoria Quays at Tinsley).
  • Ickles Lock dredging work being planned. 

Standedge Tunnel

  • Limited booked passage only available and COVID protocols still in place for tunnel operation and passage. 

West Midlands

Person walking along towpath by Walsall CanalWalsall Canal

  • Hempole Lane Bridge will have a restricted navigational width due to pontoons facilitating work to bridge abutments until 31 March.

Old Main Line

  •  Managed passage through works at Smethwick Railway turnover bridge until 14 April.

Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal

  • Planned works on Stourport Locks 1 & 2 from 28 June to 6 August – passage will be available on and off the River Severn through the broad Barge Locks during this period.

Worcester & Birmingham Canal

  • Work at Diglis Lock 1 should be finished before Easter but river levels have risen again in the last couple of weeks which have added further delays. There’s a chance this will go over into April.
  • University Station footbridge over the canal – expecting some Sunday stoppages during the summer, dates to be confirmed very soon.

Wales & South West

Bridge over canalBridgwater & Taunton Canal

  • Outwood Swingbridge (20) is waiting repair. It is operational but requires a bit of a knack – a person pushing on each end of the bridge should help to balance it so that it swings more freely.
  • There will be a temporary restriction of canal width in the vicinity of Albert Street Bridge to facilitate works by Wessex Water to upgrade their abstraction structure. Please navigate slowly and with extra care near the site.

River Severn

  • There is a jam of vegetation gathered above Worcester Bridge following heavy winter flows. Boaters are advised when navigating the area to look out for residual floating debris around the bridge and adhere to the following guidelines; when travelling upstream please use the 2nd arch (from left to right) and when travelling downstream please use the 4th arch (from left to right).

Sharpness Port

  • Until 12 April – The port is closed to all visiting craft. Travelling outside your local area is not permitted, and therefore we are unable to facilitate visits to the Port.  Vessels entering the port to access maintenance and repair facilities may do so only at the discretion of the Harbour Master.
  • No earlier than 12 April – Port will be open to all craft still subject to a maximum of four inbound or outbound vessels per tide to allow for social distancing.
  • No earlier than 21 June – All restrictions lifted.

North West Region

Lancaster Canal

  • Work at Bolton-le-Sands Embankment is running about two weeks behind plan due to additional earthworks (soft spots have been found which need removing and filling with clay). The stoppage has been extended to 9 April.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal

  • The need for additional works to the river entrance lock gates at Brunswick Dock Lock, have been identified and this has resulted in the stoppage being extended to 14 May.

Liverpool Link

  • Works to repair the Albert Dock gate, located between Albert Dock and Salthouse Dock, are running late due to a delay on shipment of parts. We anticipate the repair works will now be complete by Friday 23 April, with Liverpool Link Passages commencing Saturday 24 April.

Shropshire Union Canal

  • A breach caused by storms earlier this year, in between Lock 10 to Lock 11 is being repaired, with a target opening date this summer – exact date tbc.

Trent & Mersey Canal

  • The same storm, Darcy, caused an embankment slip at Nursery Cutting. The timescale for repairs is not yet known as the site has complex legal considerations to resolve before work can commence.

Those of you in the East Midlands may be wondering if your region had been forgotten! It hasn’t. At the time of writing there are no known stoppages that are likely to cause a major impediment to cruising. That said, things can, and do, change quickly so regardless of the region you plan to go boating in it’s always advised to check our stoppage notices before you head out on your boat.


Passage booking on the Bridgewater Canal goes live on 29 March

It’s rather timely that with a return to boating within touching distance, boaters can now book their passage on the Bridgewater Canal online.

An agreement between the Trust and the Bridgewater Canal Company means that boaters can now spend up to ten days cruising away from their home navigation free of charge. There are no restrictions about how far you can travel, but you will need to book your passage online and return to your home navigation authority within the ten days. You can revisit the other authority’s water again after a 28-day period.

Holiday hire boats, whichever waterway they are based on, will have unlimited access across both navigations.

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Trust, comments: “I am pleased that this agreement with the Bridgewater Canal Company will give boaters easier, and more, access to the canals of the North West – regardless of which navigation authority they are licensed with. We look forward to welcoming boaters from the Bridgewater Canal on to our network.”

Peter Parkinson, Director of the Bridgewater Canal, agrees: “It’s great that we’ve been able to come to this agreement. The Bridgewater Canal has a lot to offer, it was constructed over 250 years ago by the Duke of Bridgewater and is considered to be the first true canal in England. Built at one level, its route followed the contours of the land to avoid the use of locks. Attractions include the 12th Century monastic ruins at Norton Priory through to Worsley Delph, the entrance to the underground canals in the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines.”

More information on booking passages online (for a variety of waterway structures) can be found on our website.


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:

  • Some of you will already have ‘visited’ it, but for those who haven’t the Virtual Crick Boat Show has been underway since Wednesday. It is free, so if you want to whet your boating appetite then you have until 28 March to visit!
  • The regional London & South East team would love you to join its user forum on Thursday 15 April, 6pm – 7.30pm. More details of how to book your place will be posted on our website in the coming days.
  • In just under three weeks’ time the next, online, Disabled Boaters’ Forum takes place and tickets can now be booked online.


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 until at least 29 March):

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.


Trial of new ways of mowing to benefit boaters, birds and bees

I’m often told, by boaters, that one of the great joys of being out on the cut is feeling much closer to nature. This may be that unexpected encounter with a kingfisher or, perhaps more commonly, watching a damselfly skim along next to your boat or that bumblebee, well, bumble, along the hedgerow in search of nectar.

picture of a lock and mowed grassA mowing trial, starting next month, may help these little moments of joy become more commonplace as it seeks to balance the needs of boaters, anglers and others with the benefits to wildlife and biodiversity that a change in mowing frequency could bring. It could also save money which can then be used elsewhere on other maintenance tasks to aid navigation.

We currently spend over £2 million a year mowing over 2,000 miles of towpath every four to six weeks between April and October, leaving nearly 50 percent uncut at the water’s edge or back of the path. There is one ‘hedge to water’s edge’ cut in the winter to remove encroaching bushes and woody vegetation. 

The imminent trial will see the mowing regime altered across 375 miles of towpaths (almost a fifth of the network), with expected improvements to wildlife habitats, alongside cost savings.  Waterbirds nesting in reedbeds will be left undisturbed and it will create habitats for water voles, one of the UK’s most endangered mammals.  Leaving verges to grow will encourage a greater diversity of plants and better cover and foraging opportunities for insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles.  There may be an improvement in wildflowers, vital for pollinators such as bees. 

Freshly mowed towpathEnsuring the safety of boaters remains paramount, and the trial aims to formalise the navigation requirements for grass cutting at moorings, locks and sightlines on bends, and improve the overall service for boaters. It has been developed in conjunction with our panel of experienced boaters on our Navigation Advisory Group.

Peter Birch, national environmental policy adviser, says: “The canals have come a long way since their freight-driven origins, and are now havens for a huge variety of wildlife. This trial is an exciting opportunity to see if we can further improve the habitat for the species that make them home and reimagine the arteries of the Industrial Revolution as the nation’s wildlife superhighways. The waterways run through the heart of cities and towns and this is a great way of bringing wildlife into urban centres.

“The way we mow the grass hasn’t fundamentally changed in over a decade. We are testing various methods and standards to try and find the best balance to maintain safe use, minimise cutting, save money, and get a wildlife bonus as well.”

The trial will see different grass cutting options used to suit the characteristics of different areas:

Option 1: a single end of year edge to edge full width cut removing saplings and woody vegetation.  This regime will be applied on canals with very low soil fertility, of high elevation, or redundant canals where towpath use is low.

Option 2:  a single end of year full width cut with two added navigational cuts which ensures that grass growth where people walk and at key points, such as boating sightlines and approaches to bridges, are maintained.  This regime is ideal for limited use or disused canals. 

Option 3: a single end of year full width cut with four navigational cuts.  This is similar to the current mowing regime and is expected to be used across the majority of the network.  

Option 4:  a full width cut at the start and end of the growing season plus three navigational cuts, this regime would be best implemented in southern regions which experience longer growing seasons, more favourable climatic conditions, or sites with high soil fertility. 

The success of the trial will be reviewed at the end of September, considering colleague, volunteer, contractor, boater and other customer feedback, in-year monitoring, and by determining the effect on the towpath itself. Any alterations will be adopted over the winter period before full implementation of the new mowing approach in 2022. 

Throughout the trial period we welcome any feedback you’d like to give. You can do this via our website at:

A map of the areas covered by the trial can be found here


A curious case of sticky fuel  

Late last year, River Canal Rescue reported that there’s been an uncharacteristic peak in fuel-related component breakdowns not linked to diesel bug. It cites two identical jobs where fuel injectors were diagnosed as needing an overhaul, yet their replacements stopped working within a week, and injection pumps were found to have failed even though the diesel was clear and bright.

Repairing boat engine electricsUpon further investigation, RCR engineers found in both cases the injector pump racks had seized solid and the nozzles were blocked, and when replacing the plunger filter head, they found the fuel had a sticky, syrup-like substance.  Alongside stuck injection pump racks, injectors and filter head plunger failures, RCR is seeing cases of fuel filters blocking with wax inside them.   

Managing director, Stephanie Horton, explains: “Over the last nine months we’ve come across higher than normal call-outs for injector, injection pump and fuel problems not related to diesel bug. Our contractors are also reporting reoccurring issues with these systems and ‘sticky fuel’.  

“It’s definitely a type of contamination, but not one we’ve seen before. Samples have been taken and we’re trying to build a picture of the problem.  Our engineers are reporting problems across the UK and this particular issue is only becoming clear when a fault reoccurs, because the diesel on the whole, looks bright and clear. 

“Initially we suspected sugar in the fuel, but sugar stays crystalline instead of dissolving. We now believe it may be related to a reduction in FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) free fuel and a change in fuel and fuel treatment additives.”

In order to identify the culprit, Stephanie is keen to hear from boat owners and engineers with similar problems: “I want to learn more about their experiences, where they filled up and what treatments they may have used, and increase my sample size. The more I know, the closer I am to finding a solution.”

Stephanie believes the issue could stem from chemicals, now present in some treatments and red diesel, which replaced banned additives, and she’s looking into the farming sector’s blocked fuel filter problems reported around a year ago.

According to Farmers Weekly, in order to increase the proportion of fuel derived from renewable sources (capped at 7%), an increasing amount of biodiesel was blended with red diesel. Known as FAME, it’s made from a combination of fresh and recycled vegetable oils and some animal fats.

Stephanie is asking anyone experiencing ‘sticky fuel’ issues to send in samples or get in touch with River Canal Rescue: “Please give your name, email address, a date when the issue occurred, when you last filled up with fuel and where, plus information on whether any treatments were added to the fuel and if so, what type.”

Letters should be addressed to: Fuel Samples, River Canal Rescue, 11 Tilcon Avenue, Baswich, Stafford ST18 0YJ, email: with fuel issues in the subject line or call 01785 785680.


Bits and bobs

  • As mentioned in the introduction, and following on from the pre-cruise advice in the last edition, a boater has this handy tip for your waste oil: ‘As you stated, the Trust doesn’t have facilities to get rid of used oil or contaminated bilge water but many marinas do, especially where they have permanent residents. Boaters may have to pay a small charge but that is usually only a tad. On the other hand many local authorities are only running basic facilities. Disposal of oil in my locality has disappeared, hopefully temporarily, so my advice is to check.’

Last date edited: 26 March 2021

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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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