Boaters' Update 6 May 2022

Welcome to your latest edition where you can find out what we've done over the last year for boaters (and what we'll be doing in the next one!). After that read on to find out about the canal festivals and events happening near you over the summer - hopefully in the sunshine, which nicely sets up an article about solar panels, after which the edition finishes off with some exciting news about Crick Boat Show. The latest news, stoppages and some useful advice about tunnels can also be found.

Boating in Wales Boating in Wales

Welcome to the latest edition of Boaters’ Update. While the weather does not particularly match the month, we’re now well on our way towards summer. With this in mind, and especially if you haven’t made firm boating plans, read on to find out what wonderful canal events are happening on or by the network over the next few months.

In this edition you’ll be able to read about the major work we’ve undertaken for boaters over the last year as well as our plans for the coming months. You will also discover how some readers have fared after installing solar panels (and whether they think it was worth it). Finally, with only four weeks to go you’ll find details of a new feature at this year’s Crick Boat Show.

Read on to also be able to find our roundup of latest news and useful information in the regular “bits and bobs section”.

Happy boating,

Damian

PS It's really important to us that the people who are passionate about our canals and rivers have a say in how they are run. We do this in a variety of ways with one being our regional advisory boards. With this in mind we’re looking for someone who does their boating in Yorkshire to join the regional board. If this sounds like you, we’d love to hear from you - you’ll find more information and guidance on applying on our website.

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 21 Apr – More than 1,300 aquatic plants will be adding a wildlife-friendly splash of greenery to Reading this month with the installation of five floating reed beds on the Kennet & Avon Canal.
  • 22 Apr – People and wildlife are set to benefit on the Montgomery Canal as part of a unique partnership between us and ethical drinks company Belu Water.

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What we’ve been doing, and plan to do, for boaters

For many of us the last year has continued to be disrupted, in one way or another, by the pandemic. Notwithstanding its far-reaching impact and influence on how we worked and how quickly we could complete projects, for the most part we were able to get through our ambitious range of projects designed to preserve the network for boating.

Last year we set out to complete 78 major projects (on top of many more ‘routine’ works such as spot dredging, lock grouting, leak sealing) with spending forecast to be around £46 million. The challenges of maintaining a 200+ year old, interconnected and unpredictable, network of canals and rivers mean that unforeseeable problems and emergencies arise.As a consequence the Trust delivered 83 major projects and spent almost £50 million on its major projects.

This roughly breaks down to:

  • £18m on 16 reservoirs*
  • £7m on 19 dredging projects
  • £4m on embankment and culvert repair programme
  • £2.5m mechanical & electrical projects
  • £8m on unplanned projects**
  • £10.5m ‘core’ projects programme – waterway walls, sluices, bridges, locks etc.

*Some of the work we’ve been doing on reservoirs are classed as ‘Measures in the Interest of Reservoir Safety’. This is where an independent engineer gives a set timescale for remedial works to be completed within. Bosley Reservoir is a prime example of this. There we’ve relined the cast iron draw off pipe (which remove water from the reservoir) as well as carry out spillway repairs and valve improvement works.

Eshton Lock Leeds & Liverpool**Three notable projects have taken up a sizeable chunk of the investment. The first on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Rishton, covered a couple of editions ago, which cost £2.8m and the second also on the Leeds & Liverpool at Eshton Lock, featured in the last edition, which is expected to cost £2m when the project is completed. The third is the Ivy House Embankment on the Caldon Canal where planned repairs were brought forward to winter 2021/22 as a result of continued leakage from the canal into neighbouring business. When complete next month, the final cost will be around £2.6m. 

Tinsley pumping main replacementAnother major undertaking that’s worth mentioning is the replacement of a pumping main in the towpath of the Sheffield & Tinsley Canal. In replacing nearly a mile of pipe we’ve had to consider a number of complicated and significant challenges. Along with other obstructions these involved undertaking the work under three Network Rail bridges, a road bridgeand a high pressure oxygen main. In addition to these significant challenges, the site was broken into and equipment stolen. 

Investment in major navigation projects in the next three years

Over the next three years we’re planning to spend around £60m per year, with another £20-22m for priority projects. This is up from around £50m per year over the last few years. As well as the extensive and significant programme of winter works we’ll continue to work on a number of priority reservoirs to secure water resources for our canals in the longer term.

Hartshill Reservoir spillwayAs featured two weeks ago, the permanent restoration of Toddbrook Reservoir starts this summer. Our works at Hartshill Reservoir which is a complex project that includes a new spillway arrangement and upstream controls on both draw off pipes. 

The scale of many of our projects is demonstrated perfectly by Swellands Reservoir, which feeds the Huddersfield canals. Set on the northern edge of the Peak District, and in a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the reservoir is totally isolated and doesn’t have any road access. So, prior to doing any work on site we’ve had to get planning permission to build a road and that’s not an easy thing to do on a SSSI in a national park! Thankfully we’ve overcome that hurdle and work on the road will take place this year with reservoir works following in 2023.

We will be undertaking significant dredging (up to £7 million pounds worth) throughout the year, some locations you can expect to see us doing it are:

  • South Stratford Canal
  • Dudley Number 2 Canal
  • Trent & Mersey Canal, Barrow Bridge to Lock 3
  • Grand Union Canal, bottom of Hanwell Flight
  • Kennet & Avon Canal, eastern end
  • Oxford Canal – Knapton and Heyford

While the detailed plans for next winter’s stoppage programme are still being drawn up – and will be published on our website for your feedback – The numbers below are a helpful guide to the scale of our ambitions for repair and refurbishment in that period:

  • Bank Protection – linear metres – approx. 8400m
  • Gates Replacements – 136
  • Gate Repairs – 59
  • Other Leak Repairs – 15
  • Boundary/Retaining Wall Repairs – linear metres – 140m
  • Access Improvements – 20
  • Bridge Repairs – 63
  • Towpath Improvements – linear metres – approx. 3800m
  • Other Asset Repairs (Culverts, Weirs, Aqueducts etc.) – 42

So, as you can see and despite the exceptionally challenging previous two years, we’re planning to do more than ever to keep the waterway network navigable and preserve it for generations of boaters to come.

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Dates for your diary

Over the last two summers there have been small windows of opportunity for us to get out and enjoy ourselves on or by the water. However, for the first time since 2019 organisers have the confidence to properly gear up for a summer of events. In this article we look at what you might like to pencil in your diary.

Picture showing colourful canal artMay

Tall Ships at Gloucester taken by Jonathan GoldbergJune

July

August

The above list just scratches the surface of the hundreds of varied events and festivals that’ll be happening on a canal, or river, near you. Check out our events section for more ‘Activity on the Water’ events including a number of ‘Let’s’ activities such as Let’s Fish and Let’s Paddleboard.

As you’d expect, boaters’ are usually at the heart of any waterway event so if you’re thinking about holding your own then do please read our event planning guidance.

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Solar panels

In previous editions we’ve talked about the varied ways in which you can make your boating more environmentally sustainable and, in the last edition, I asked for your experiences with solar panels. Thanks to all of you who wrote in and, below, we start with a boater who, as joint owner of an electrically-propelled boat, has plenty of experience and knowledge in the field, erm, cut.

A brand new narrowboat, blue in colour with solar panels on top, shot from above on the canal“Our boat had 400W of flexible solar panels fitted from new and the experience enables me to offer the following thoughts:

  1. Horizontally mounted panels will only produce about half of their advertised output in the UK. That's because these are for light incident at 90 degrees while the best that we get is 60 degrees for a short period around the end of June. To better this it is necessary to spend time angling panels towards the sun.
  2. Some rigid solar panels extend so close to the edge that ropes could catch on them at a critical moment and walking on the roof, as is occasionally necessary, could be dangerous, both to boater and panels. I suggest a clear space of at least 1' (30 cm) inboard of the grab rails.
  3. Getting closer to personal experience, flexible panels largely overcome the above problem but are prone to premature failure. Ours just outlasted their 3 year warranty. (A different manufacturer's panels on our campervan failed after a similar time but, fortunately, had a 5 year warranty.) The output of all solar panels falls with increasing temperature but, while rigid panels can be installed with an air gap, mitigating this problem, and suffer little permanent damage, flexibles can't and don't. And we're all familiar with boat roofs hot enough to fry the proverbial egg. I suggest that boaters wanting to install flexible panels choose ones with long warranties and then read the small print carefully; many have so many exclusions that they aren't worth the paper they are printed on. 
  4. Bearing in mind that Ampère is all-electric so has power usage of 15-20 kWh per day, previous experience was that our 400W (nominal) provided about 15% of our daily usage in mid-Summer when usage was below average and a negligible amount in mid-Winter. Overall, our average was 4-5%. Not a lot but not to be sniffed at though, given the initial cost of our panels, the power from them would have cost about double that of power from our generator had they lasted the expected 10 years. Given their premature failure it was something over 6 times. 
  5. We are just about to get back into solar by having 430W of rigids installed. We expect this marginally to out-perform our flexibles because of the angling option and to be cost competitive with generator power (particularly given the current price of diesel). For a diesel-powered boat with a smaller electrical requirement a couple of similar-sized panels should provide all the power needed while moored for much of the year.
  6. Combined solar hot water/solar electricity panels are under development and may already be on sale in Australia. These should help with keeping panels cooler. If I were to commission another boat I would be looking to use flexible panels again but with a cooling system under them This could be a double-skinned section of roof with water pumped through it or, as in the Australian product, air blown through by a fan.”

More positive solar experiences were also sent in:

“When I bought my boat it had a large lead acid bank of batteries and no solar. I would have to run my built in genset an average of two hours a day and a longer run of at least four hours once a week. Three years ago I installed three 250W solar panels and a lithium battery bank half the size of my previous set. Since then I can happily report that my total genset running time has been cut to less than 40 hours per year! This is a huge saving in diesel costs, especially these days, and in exhaust emissions not to mention a much quieter environment to enjoy the peace of the waterways in. Whilst it was quite a big initial outlay the figures make more sense when you take in to account the longevity of lithium batteries.”

Summer boating“We've had two 120W solar panels fitted for the last four years. I wired them in series (potentially 24 volts) so that they would still provide some useful charge over 12 volts even on a cloudy day. On a sunny day they keep up with our electrical demands when moored and can even put a little bit back into the batteries despite our use of a mains fridge and small freezer. Performance is greatly improved by ensuring that the panels are tilted vaguely towards the sun - we often see 7 amps coming in if nothing is drawing current. That means we can stop for a day without running the engine for power, as long as the weather is sunny. That saves fuel, money and the environment, so is a triple win for me. It also meant that the panels kept the batteries charged over the winter - we didn't use a single KWh from the landline over the six months we were away from the boat!

For the techy readers, it’s worth mentioning that the charge from the solar panels passes through a 75 volt 15 amp MPPT (maximum power point tracker) controller, to ensure the correct voltage is supplied to the batteries.”

Hopefully that has answered your solar panel questions? If not, or if there’s something else you’d like to ask the readership (there’s a mass of knowledge in the boating community!), then do please send it in and we’ll look to ask it in a future edition.

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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:

When 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 get in touch.

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Upskill at Crick Boat Show

Those of you who’ve been to a Crick Boat Show will already know that there’s a broad base of seminars covering the big topics in boating. Everything from boat buying through to boat maintenance is covered.

Canal boats moored at Crick MarinaNew this year, however, are masterclasses. These highly focussed sessions delve deep in to the details of specific topics. And, as you’ll know, environmentally sustainable boating is high on the agenda for many licence holders. So, if this sounds like you and you’ve been wondering whether there are any shortcuts to trawling through hundreds of webpages to get your information then the answer is yes!

After attending a seminar on ‘green boating’, you’ll then be able to go to masterclasses on:

  • Low impact narrowboat designs
  • Choosing the right battery for your boat
  • Hybrid and electric drive
  • Series electrical propulsion

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, there’s a varied range of seminars, and the same can be said about the masterclasses. You’ll also be able to learn more about:

  • Water management (how we manage the water in our canals and rivers)
  • Paint technology, including recommendations, in the boating world
  • What small changes in the boat building world could have big benefits
  • Mobile broadband aboard your boat

If you’re all schooled out after the seminars and/or masterclasses then, as always, there’ll be plenty at the show to distract you. You can get some retail therapy from any one of hundreds of boat-related exhibitors, enjoy a real ale, beer or cider from local independent brewers in the Wheatsheaf Bar and then relax and enjoy the live music with David Bowie and Amy Winehouse tribute acts (depending on the day).

Crick Boat Show 2018We also hope you’ll find time to stop by our marquee for a natter too - we’ll have experts from all our boating teams (including boat licensing, leisure and business boating teams) as well as lots of information and displays on the wide range of work we do.

Advance ticket sales, giving a 15% discount over on the gate prices, are on sale now but do bear in mind that there are now less than three weeks to put your order in!

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Bits & bobs

  • Earlier this month a boater got in touch with our North West team to ask “What do I do if I breakdown in Saltersford Tunnel, which is single way, timed, and crooked?”. It’s a good question and, hopefully, it’s useful in sharing the answer here: If you break down in Saltersford Tunnel, or any tunnel, please call our emergency number in the first instance: 0800 47 999 47 (if the emergency happens during working hours, you can also reach us on 03030 404040 pressing the option for the North West Team). Our operations team will then close then tunnel to other users and we will place a notice online advising of the closure. You would then need to contact a recovery service, such as River Canal Rescue to assist you in exiting the tunnel. Whilst you are awaiting rescue, we would advise you to continue to keep yourself as visible as possible by keeping your navigational lights on. If this is not possible, a flash torch or phone torch would also be beneficial. It’s also good to plan for those times when you might not have a phone signal. Let someone know you’re planning to journey through a tunnel before setting off and tell them you’ll check in when you exit the other side. If they don’t hear from you within a predetermined timeframe then they’ll know to raise the alarm on your behalf. While we’re on the subject, why not refresh your general tunnel safety knowledge with the advice on our website. If you have a question that you think other boaters would will benefit from knowing the answer to, then please drop me a line.

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Stay safe, happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 6 May 2022

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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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