Boaters' Update 4 Dec 2020

This latest edition gives an update on how the latest coronavirus restrictions affect boating along with some winter boating tips, an appeal to support your fellow boater and an update on our water management strategy along with lots of ways to get digitally involved.

Sunrise photo of canal Montgomery Canal

Welcome to the latest edition. At this time of year our entire focus is usually on the upcoming festive period. The present buying, feast planning and home decorating will, of course, still go ahead but we all have to be more strategic in our planning with special rules in place for socialising.

In the meantime, now that we’re out of the national lockdown, we also have to adapt to the new tiered, and regional, approach to containing the pandemic. In the first article below you’ll find out what this means for boating.

Elsewhere in this edition, as some of you return to your boats for the first time in a month, you’ll find some winter boating tips along with an appeal to support the vital work of the Waterways Chaplaincy and an annual update on our water management strategy.

As always, the routine round-up of news and stoppages can also be found below along with details of upcoming regional user forums and Open Days.

If there’s something you’d like to see featured in a future edition, please get in touch.

Happy boating,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:


Coronavirus and boating

While there has been positive news about three potential COVID-19 vaccines, the Government in Westminster introduced, earlier this week, a new tiered, regional, approach to the pandemic.

During this period navigations will be open for you to cruise – and stay on board overnight – subject to ongoing government guidance – each area’s tier is to be reviewed fortnightly.

Walking along the Macclesfield Canal in winterThe Government advises that people should specifically try to avoid leaving or entering very high alert level areas (tier 3), other than for things like work or education so we would strongly advise against travelling to or from your boat, or boating for any distance, in these areas. In Wales leisure boaters should follow Welsh government guidelines to stay local and limit the times they leave their homes.  

If you’re a continuous cruiser you should generally boat as normal, following our guidance for continuous cruisers, and the government guidance above. If you have any specific issues, please contact your licence support officer.

We are aware that continuous cruisers may not be able to cruise their intended pattern because of the guidance to avoid leaving or entering tier 3 areas. This will be considered when reviewing cruising patterns and distances against our guidelines – please don’t worry. We do ask that people continue to move within those areas to ensure everyone can access support, work and education, and that mooring space is shared.

If you are in a high-risk group, need to self-isolate, or have any other specific concerns please get in touch via your licence support officer if you haven’t already told us.

We would ask boaters to follow good boating etiquette and think about others so everyone can get to the services they need. We ask everyone to be considerate and make sure at least a minimal amount of essential movement is maintained to keep vital boater facilities and services accessible to those that need them.

More information can be found on our boating and coronavirus FAQs page.


Top tips for boating in colder weather

Without meaning to tempt fate I think we’ve had a fairly benign winter so far. However, and as last February showed with storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, there’s still a long way to go until the spring.

For those able to get out onto the cut, the following tips might make Winter day in Melbourne Arm Moorings, Pocklington Canalyour time afloat that little bit easier and safer (and don’t forget that you can subscribe to the Met Office’s cold weather alerts):

Icy surfaces - Take extra care around and crossing over locks, when you’re getting on and off your boat and using lock ladders – don’t rely on anti-slip surfaces. Watch out for ice around the spindle when using a windlass. Don’t let it slip off – and never leave it unattended.

Get a grip - Wear gloves when handling ropes and frozen metal work. However, remember to take extra care if your hands or feet are cold or if you’re wearing very thick gloves, you lose some of the sensitivity you need to judge safe moves.

Men at work - Keep a look out for obstructions across the canal – either from maintenance operations, especially now our winter stoppage programme is in full swing (see below), or fallen trees. Check for any planned stoppages before your journey.

Ice breaking - Don’t cruise if the ice is thick. It’s hard work for your engine and may damage the hull of your craft and others. And of course, never be tempted to walk on the canal when it’s frozen.

Facilities - Freezing pipes may disrupt supply, so don’t leave topping up and emptying out jobs to the last minute – you might have to cruise on to the next service block or marina. If you come across any Winter on the Llangollen Canalproblems, please report them – don’t assume someone else already has (either call 0303 040 4040 or use our online contact form). Also make sure you turn the tap off properly after use to avoid creating a mini ice rink around the water point!

River levels - Thawing snow upstream will quickly raise water levels. Remember this especially when mooring up and navigating low bridges.

Keep yourself warm – After the disruptions to boating this year there may be an understandable urge to set off on a long cruise (if you’re not in tier 3) but don’t push yourself with ambitious cruising targets. Your body chills rapidly standing at the tiller in cold weather. Wrap up warm, insulate your feet against the cold deck and take shorter turns at the helm. Ensure hot drinks are at the ready.

Keep your boat warm - Make sure you have enough fuel in your diesel tanks to maintain the craft and remember to order enough fuel for your stoves to sustain you through the worst of the winter. Check any delays with coal boats particularly if the canal is frozen over.

And finally, thanks to @CanalTraveler Paul Morris on Twitter who has this tip - if you have to go down the weed hatch, a kettle of hot water poured down will extend working time no end, just keep pouring until the job is done! If you’ve got any more winter boating tips do let us know either by e-mail or tweet to @CRTBoating


Supporting your fellow boater

Throughout the pandemic we have been working hard to support boaters. But we don’t do this alone - the Waterways Chaplaincy offers much needed year-round support to those who use and live on our UK waterways.

The independent charity supports boaters in difficulty through Winter on the canaladvocacy, befriending and practical help. Chaplains are volunteers from local churches who regularly visit the waterways offering companionship and a listening ear to individuals and businesses on the canals. You can find out more about Waterways chaplaincy here.

With the arrival of the dark and cold winter days, we are now entering what can be an especially tough period for some. This makes the practical help and support that the chaplains give more important than ever. So, we’re asking you to donate to the Waterways Chaplaincy charity and help support fellow boaters in challenging circumstances.

Although the Waterway Chaplains receive grants from several Trusts and Foundations, they also require public donations to be able to continue their vital work. Your donation will help cover the chaplains’ training, assistance and travelling costs, so they can continue to support boaters who are isolated and challenged by this crisis. We’ve committed to match any donations, up to a total value of £10,000. Together we can ensure the chaplains’ vital assistance can continue through winter.

This year alone, the chaplains have provided over 5,400 volunteer hours and supported more than 2,400 people at a time when they need it the most.

No matter how small, any contribution you can give could make a big difference to a fellow boater – you can see how your support can help transform people’s lives in the quotes below.

You can make a donation in several ways:

  • Using our Workplace Matters online portal, adding Waterways Chaplaincy in the reference section
  • Via online banking or standing order – to the sort code 20-01-58 Account number  63249573 Reference WWC
  • By cheque payable to “workplace matters” and send to Waterways Chaplains, 41 Hollywell Hill, St Albans, AL1 1HE
  • By debit or credit card by calling Monday to Wednesdays, between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm on 01727 818144

Waterways Chaplaincy is part of Workplace Matters, a charity dedicated to bringing meaning and purpose to work and improving wellbeing to those engaged in work, wherever they are. You can find out more about Workplace Matters and the other work they do here.

The difference the help from the Waterways Chaplaincy makes:

“So I can’t stress enough that all of this kindness has been brought together to deliver what I needed when I needed it the most and has categorically SAVED A LIFE! God bless you all.”

“Life was great on the boat. We were out of the rat race. Then my husband lost his job just before winter set in. We also had a new born child and problems with our heating. We were too far from Citizen’s Advice and had no money to pay for transport or fuel to heat the boat.

We felt lost and alone, and our problems were compounding, we needed help.

We were so grateful for the day the Waterways Chaplain popped a card under our door. The Chaplain assisted with our immediate problems and stayed in touch with us until we were back on our feet”.

“The Chaplaincy have been amazing, I wasn’t going to speak to them at first but in the end I decided to make contact, and I am so glad I did they have helped me in more ways than I can say.”

“without the help of Richard I really don’t know how I would have gotten out of the situation I was in.”

“I had heard the chaplains where a great help but didn’t know if they could help me, they did and I now feel much more positive about my future.”


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:

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.


Putting the water into waterways

One of the more complex jobs of maintaining a 200+ year old network of canals and rivers is making sure the most essential resource for boating – water – is actually there.

In October 2015 we published our Water Resources Strategy, ‘Putting the water into waterways’. It set out our aspirations for the period 2015–2020 as well as looking as far ahead as 2050 to understand the longer-term pressures and challenges on water supply and use. Since then we’ve published an annual update of our progress over the preceding year against the strategic actions outlined within the strategy. Below you’ll find the highlights from this year’s update.

Navigational drought

Leeds & Liverpool Canal, MellingAn exceptionally dry spring once again led to restrictions and closures being implemented during 2020 in the North West and Yorkshire & North East regions of our network. The Peak Forest & Macclesfield (PF&M) canals and the Leeds & Liverpool (L&L) Canal were most severely impacted. On the PF&M canals, the ongoing engineering works at Toddbrook Reservoir following the spillway incident in 2019, coupled with exceptionally dry conditions in spring 2020, led to closures on the Bosley and Marple Lock Flights from the end of April to the beginning of July.

On the L&L Canal closures were implemented between Wigan and Bingley over the same period. From 6 July onwards, we were able to re-open the PF&M and L&L canals with restrictions in place. Our approach to drought management is to progressively implement measures to mitigate the impacts of dry weather on our canals and customers. We endeavour to engage with customers as early as possible. However, our decisions this year have been influenced by the coronavirus outbreak, with Government Guidelines restricting non-essential travel from the end of March to the beginning of July. On the PF&M and L&L canals, we therefore made the decision to close sections, rather than to restrict, in line with Government Guidelines and to hold our water resources in reserve until restrictions on travel were lifted.

Levels of service

We aspire to a level of service of 1 in 20 years, so that drought closures are implemented, on average, no more than once in every twenty years. We have been working closely with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales on new abstractions, variations to existing abstractions and alternative sources of supply e.g. water company abstraction licence trading, where our level of service does not, or is not predicted to meet our aspirational level of service by 2030.

Examples include schemes on the L&L Canal, the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal, the Peak Forest Canal and the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. We continue to support feasibility studies on the Rochdale Canal and have undertaken flow gauging on the Lancaster Canal to improve our understanding of losses and leakage so that leakage reduction works can be implemented. We have provided technical support to the Trust’s Resilience Projects for the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and the Kennet & Avon Canal, looking to improve the reliability of our water resources in these hydrological units.

Future pressures on our water resources

In the Water Resources Strategy, we identified the 2003 Water Act as a significant pressure, with the potential to reduce our water availability in the future. Our exemption for surface water abstractions into canals has now been removed and 155 abstraction licence applications were submitted by the Trust in 2019. The abstraction licence determination period began on 1 January 2020, with the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales having three years to determine the abstraction licences. In doing so, there is a risk that some or perhaps many of our existing abstractions will have conditions placed upon them that will restrict the quantities of water we can abstract. Over the past year, we have therefore been working collaboratively with both regulators to understand any impacts, such as the establishment of hands-off flows and significant limits to our abstractions. This work aims to mitigate the potential major impacts this could have on our water availability.

New marinas, restorations and new canals

The Water Resources Strategy stated that we would only give our consent to new marinas if their impact on water resources does not reduce the level of service below 1 in 20 years. Since November 2019 we have assessed five new marina proposals and five Business Boating proposals to ensure that the additional water demands can be met without reducing the level of service below 1 in 20 years.

We have continued to produce and contribute to water resource assessments for proposed restorations and new canal developments to ensure there is no net impact on the level of service of our network. In the past year we continued to provide support and advice to third-party led restorations on the Cromford Canal and Hatherton Canal, and have recently begun work to support the restoration of Bradley Locks, linking the Bradley Arm of the Old Main Line with the Bradley Branch of the Walsall Canal.

You can read the full update and find out what we’ll be doing over the next year here.


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. 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:

Hear from the boating team and/or your local team (and ask questions!):

  • On 10 December, from 6:30pm until 9pm, the North West team will share updates on some of its work over the past months, as well as discuss the priorities for the coming months. Register online and, if you have one, submit your question to the team by 28 November by emailing
  • As the lengthy list of stoppages demonstrates, we’re well in to our winter stoppage programme of major projects and, in more ordinary times, we invite you along to see the work we’re doing at our Open Days. This winter, due to the pandemic, we’re unable to do that so, instead, we’re hosting a series of virtual Open Days and we’d very much like to join us digitally!

Give your views:

  • Don’t forget that the consultation about boat licence terms and conditions closes soon. If you haven’t already, you can have your say by visiting We ask those who may need specific support to complete the consultation or without computer access to contact Customer Servicesto make arrangements to complete the survey. The consultation started on 28 September and runs for 12 weeks.
  • As mentioned in the previous edition, you’re invited, as are other stakeholders, to use an online survey, in writing, or via a virtual meeting,to share your views on what approach you think we should take to deal with the specific challenges associated with London’s busy waterways.
  • Please help us, and British Marine highlight the benefits, social and economic, of boating and paddling on our canals and rivers by completing this short survey. We’re especially keen to hear from boaters in the Wales & South West, Yorkshire & North East and North West regions and, as a thank you, you’ll be entered into a prize draw!


Bits and bobs

  • During the pandemic we’ve provided a list of privately operated boating facilities, sorted by region, on our website (alongside our own). If you’re a fuel boat or pump out boat and would like to be added to the list please drop us a line with your rough operating area and contact details and we’ll get you added so that boaters in your area know where to find you.

Last date edited: 4 December 2020

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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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