Boaters' Update 29 Jan 2021

This latest edition includes information about accessing coronavirus vaccinations if you live on your boat, a summary of the havoc wreaked by Storm Christoph and an update on the London Mooring Strategy along with the routine roundup of news, stoppages and ways to get involved.

A snow-laden canal boat at Fenny Stratford A snowy boat at Fenny Stratford

Welcome to the latest edition. With January drawing to a close and the widespread snow across the network receding, the national vaccination programme continues its momentum. As we’re all coming to expect, this doesn’t mean we can predict what will happen in the next month, or even week, and we remain firmly locked down with a roadmap of our route out of the restrictions not expected until at least 22 Feb.

The first article relates to the above with some advice about accessing your vaccination as well as a reminder of the key principles we all need to follow when out on the towpath and talking to Trust staff.

Vying for column inches over the last week has been Storm Christoph, so you’ll find a roundup of how we prepared for it along with the damage it left in its wake and our response. With a fair chunk of winter still to go you’ll also read how we need your help when the next storm rolls in and how best to get help if you’re on your boat when it happens.

Finally, for those in and around London or those looking to visit as and when restrictions allow, you can read a progress update on the London Mooring Strategy. As always, the routine round-up of news, stoppages and ways to get involved can also be found below.

There’s also a treat for those of you who listen to podcasts – our chief exec, Richard Parry, was interviewed by Waterways World and discussed our achievements and setbacks in his seven years at the helm as well as how both the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and climate change are posing new challenges to our work.

Stay safe,


PS Thank you to all those that have responded to the Waterways Chaplaincy Appeal and don’t forget that donations, to support your fellow boater in need, are still being accepted.

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 15 Jan – The Trust and Strictly Come Dancing winner Bill Bailey are calling on people across England & Wales to boost their health and happiness and make a difference in their local communities at the start of 2021 by joining the fight against plastic pollution.
  • 18 Jan – Starting in early February, our Active Waterways Cheshireteam invites the county’s residents aged over 55 to join a waterways inspired free weekly one hour health and fitness session delivered direct into people’s homes.
  • 26 Jan – We are providing an update on the latest progress of the London Mooring Strategy which, over a number of years, aims to improve the number of moorings and facilities available to boaters. More on this below.


Coronavirus vaccinations and chatting to your local team on the towpath

By the middle of February, the Government is aiming to have around 15 million people in the most vulnerable groups vaccinated against COVID-19. In order to get yours, regardless of whether you fall in to one of the groups classed as vulnerable, you will need to be registered with a GP surgery. 

Sunrise photo with iced up boat and canalIf you’re not – perhaps because you are continuously cruising - you can temporarily register with a GP near to you. You do not need proof of a ‘bricks and mortar’ address to register. Visit the NHS site for more information, and if you are having problems registering, call the NHS England Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 22 33.  Appointments are being arranged by text and/or letter, so please make sure your details are up-to-date and your post is being checked.

Some parts of society, specifically those adults least at risk, aren’t expected to receive their first dose of the vaccine for some time. It’s also not yet known whether you continue to spread the virus even if you’ve had the vaccine. For this reason it’s important, as reiterated at every daily government coronavirus briefing, that we all continue to follow the social distancing principles.

There’s some good ‘Hands-Face-Space’ advice on the Government’s website which also states that ‘Approximately 1 in 3 people who have coronavirus have no symptoms and could be spreading it without realising it’. With this in mind, when you come across a member of our team on the towpath please follow the social distancing principles of Autumn leaves on the towpathstaying at least two metres apart.

Even though we’re working hard to complete the winter works programme, some of our plans have been delayed directly due to the virus, so we need your help in minimising the risk, not only to our maintenance plans but, more importantly, our teams working on them.

If you have any other coronavirus-related questions question then do please read our FAQs as the answer may be there. If you do need to get in touch with our customer service team - available 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday (0303 040 4040) - please bear in mind that it may take a little longer to answer your call due to the current circumstances.


Storm Christoph damages waterways

It would have been hard to miss the coverage as Storm Christoph swept through the country last week. Flooding, storm-force winds and snow played havoc across swathes of the UK and the waterways were no exception. Below you’ll find a summary of some of the damage it caused but, first, here’s an overview of how scores of colleagues across the network helped to prepare for it:

  • Coordinated with multiple Tactical and Strategic Coordination Groups to ensure a joined up response with local emergency services, councils and utility companies
  • Cleared out hundreds of grilles and culverts, adjusted feeds and sluices and removed weir boards.
  • Closed flood gates
  • Primed colleagues who were available around the clock including, where needed, overnight sluice management
  • Posted colleagues onsite 24 hours a day to ensure the management of water levels at Toddbrook Reservoir.
  • Where possible, removed water from the network to create additional capacity and reduced river feeds to a minimum

The damage

Shropshire Union breachSince the storm we’ve been walking every stretch to assess the damage. In some places we still need the water to recede further before we will know the full extent of the damage. The following list highlights just five, to show the scale and range, of some of the major impacts the storm has had and doesn’t cover every fallen tree (of which there were many) or dislodged coping stone, scour damage etc.:

  • Shropshire Union Canal - between Lock 10, Wharton's Lock, and Lock 11, Beeston Iron Lock, the canal suffered a breach. See above right.
  • Trent & Mersey slippageTrent & Mersey Canal – there was a significant slip of material from third party owned land resulting in the navigation and towpath, between Bridge 200, Soot Hill and Bridge 201, being closed. See photo right.
  • Macclesfield Canal – Several culverts affected by embankment slippages and scour damage from flood waters.
  • Weaver Navigation – High flood waters entered the Anderton Boat Lift plant room and damaged the lift pumps. Not far away, in Northwich, the retaining wall at Town Bridge Services was damaged, knocking out the water point and pump out station. 
  • Rochdale Canal – a retaining wall collapsed blocking the towpath between bridges 56 and 58. See photo below right.

The response 

  • Rochdale Canal slippageShropshire Union Canal – work has been done to install a dam around the affected area between Lock 10 and Lock 11. This will allow us to feed water to the canal downstream and minimise the impact to boaters in the area. Our teams are now looking at access to the site and designing a method of repair.
  • Trent & Mersey Canal – a narrow channel has been created to ensure water can feed through the site, however surveys will need to be carried out to assess the current risk, including to a gas main at the site, which will guide our efforts to remove the remaining material without causing further damage.
  • Macclesfield Canal – Remedial works identified include rebuilding wingwalls and headwalls, removing more fallen trees and clearing extensive debris.
  • Weaver Navigation – At Anderton, the flood water has now receded sufficiently to enable access to our equipment. The flood damaged pumps are being removed from the lift and will be transferred to a specialist contractor for repair. Plans for repairs to the customer services at Town Bridge are being drawn up.
  • Rochdale Canal – the towpath has been closed but cautious navigation of the waterway (for essential journeys) is possible. We are working with adjacent properties to draw up a plan to rectify the slippage.

As mentioned above, these five examples only scratch the surface of what we’ve been doing since the storm hit – inspections of every culvert, weir, lock, embankment, bridge (and so on) continue as the water recedes and teams have already been out around the network starting to fix some of the damage caused by Storm Christoph.

The cautionary tales

When disruptive storms roll through, we benefit from the help of boaters. Our storm weirs, and other structures, used to combat the deluge work best when good boating practice is observed on the cut.

Two unfortunate examples from last week best highlight what we mean:

  • A single-handed boater got into difficulties while going through a lock during the peak of the storm. Thankfully it didn’t end tragically although the potential was there – not only for the boater but also those who may have attended the scene to perform a rescue. Under no circumstances should cruising be attempted at night in such conditions. If you ever feel unsafe on your boat during a storm the safest course of action is to seek refuge on land. In this case, and after calling us* and managing to get through the lock unscathed, we were then notified that the gates and paddles had been left open. This in turn meant that an additional flow of thousands of gallons made its way unnecessarily down from the Llangollen Canal towards Hurleston.
  • Someone lifted the paddles on Tilston, Beeston & Wharton locks which negated the capability of Tilston Storm Weir to take effect as there was a free flow of water through the canal down to Chester. This may well have contributed to the breach at Wharton on the Shropshire Union Canal (see above).

*If you’re caught out on your boat in the wild weather and things are turning into an emergency situation then your first action should always be to call 999. When you have received a response from the emergency services, then inform us on 0800 47 999 47. A more detailed description of who to call and when 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 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, I thought you’d like to know about other ways you can get involved:

  • If you use the waterways (when the global pandemic permits) in our Wales & South West region then you might want to attend our virtual User Forum on 10 February. Submit your questions by Monday 1 Feb to ensure they get covered!
  • In a little over a fortnight, on Monday 15 Feb at 4pm, we have our next Disabled Boaters Forum (follow the link to book). The main topic will be towpaths but if you have others that you’d like to discuss at the forum then please email Rachel Hayward.
  • The biggest, most popular inland waterways festival in the UK is back (at least virtually!). After an 18-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic Crick Boat Show is back as Virtual Crick and between 24 and 28 February you’ll be able to enjoy:
    • Interactive puzzles
    • Relaxation and wellbeing videos
    • ‘How-to’ videos from waterways experts
    • Virtual tours and exclusive behind-the-scenes footage
    • Videos exploring the heritage and history of Britain’s canals and waterways
    • Live Q&A sessions with technical experts, waterways leaders and senior members of the Canal & River Trust team
    • An online radio station broadcasting throughout the festival, with music, chat and interviews


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.

We’ve also improved the stoppages mapping and resolved an issue where the historic notices appeared on the canal maps.  However, the best way to check for stoppages that might affect your cruising plans is via our stoppage notices webpage.

If you have any questions about a specific closure, or spot an error in our system, please just get in touch.


London Mooring Strategy update

Last October we featured an article about how we’re working to manage the capital’s increasingly busy waterways. Quite a few got in touch as a result and said you’d be interested to read updates as the project progressed. Well, here it is!

Before we get in to the detail, did you know that, each year, we invest around £2.2m[1] in maintaining and managing London’s waterways. To date, around £125k has been invested as part of the London Mooring Strategy. There is more to do, and we are committing a further £190k to continue with customer service facility improvements, including water points, bin stores, and boater waste facilities, and putting in new mooring rings, in 2021/22.

The Strategy

We will be carrying out dredging survey work and wall inspections in the spring, installing new mooring rings from summer with the aim of completing the majority by the end of the year.

Moored boats on London's waterwaysThroughout 2021 the team will be laying down plans for the new customer service facilities, including onsite investigations, service searches, and developing specifications for the sites, with additional funds allocated in the 2022/23 budget for their installation.

The Strategy, which was published in 2018 to help manage the increasing demand for boating in the capital, acknowledged that if boat numbers continued to rise then additional measures would need to be investigated to ensure the waterways are managed safely and are available fairly for everyone.

Improving our waterways

Ros Daniels, our regional director, says: “The London Mooring Strategy is a collaborative effort between the Trust, boaters, and other waterway stakeholders, to facilitate best use of London’s increasingly busy waterspace for all types of boating. 

"Over the past few years we’ve been able to put into place a number of improvements suggested by those who use the capital’s canals, and we London eco-mooring zone trialhope that’s gone some way to making the London boating experience smoother.

"Being on and by the water makes people less stressed – something the current times have shown us is needed more than ever – and we want to make sure we’re doing all we can to ensure boaters’ time in London is rewarding.

“We continue to face challenges from the growth in boat numbers, with little sign of this trend reversing. This makes the fair and safe management of London’s waterspace more important than ever.

"With that in mind, we are continuing to carry out the works identified in the mooring strategy, and we have started a new discussion with boaters and other stakeholders about how we, and they, may be able to address the issues caused by more boats trying to fit into a finite space. 

"Thank you to everyone who has contributed to the initial online engagement sessions or by completing the online survey. We’re reviewing the initial feedback before we publish details of the next steps in this work.”

Improvements already made

Physical improvements already made as part of the London Mooring Strategy include:

  • New mooring rings at: Yiewsley; Limehouse Cut; West Drayton; Alperton.
  • New/improved canal-side bin stores at: Feildes Weir; Stonebridge; Harlesden Steele Road; Pickett’s Lock.
  • New/improved water points at: Atlip Road, Alperton; Sturt’s Lock, Angel; Paddington; Slough Basin; Greenford.
  • New Elsan points for boaters to empty waste from their boat at Sturt’s Lock and Norwood.
  • Re-opened the Elsan point at Hazelmere after successfully resolving long-standing problems with the pumps connecting to the mains.

Improvements already made to moorings to fairly share waterspace between different types of boater:

  • Eight new long-term moorings created and a further 25 in development.
  • Low-impact living: development of Eco Mooring Zone in Islington.
  • Six new pre-bookable visitor moorings on former commercial boat moorings in Paddington Basin.
  • New trade moorings at Sweetwater, East Wick, Stratford Waterfront.
  • Winter moorings offered in outer London to protect central London for cruising boats.

[1] Total operational spend for London & South East region in the financial year 2020/21: £3.6m


Last date edited: 29 January 2021

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