Boaters' Update 6 Nov 2020

Welcome to the latest edition that has an important update on the latest national lockdown and how it affects boating. Along with that you'll find answers to the common questions asked at our digital Annual Public Meeting, news of the latest annual Boater Report and how you can get support and contact us in an emergency.

Canalside scene at Stoke Bruerne Stoke Bruerne canalside

Welcome to the latest edition. As has been widely publicised, in England we’re now on day two of a four-week lockdown (Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December) in response to rising coronavirus infection rates across the country.

We are keeping our guidance for boaters up to date on a dedicated webpage and, as with any dynamic event or situation, it’s worthwhile regularly checking back. See the article below to find out how this affects boating along with some advice, such as using our customer service facilities, for the remainder of the lockdown.

While you may not be able to get aboard until at least December, if you don’t live on your boat that is, Boaters’ Update hopes to offer you a link back to our wonderful waterways and boating.

First up in this edition we have a look back at last week’s Annual Public Meeting including the questions that were asked that relate to boating. Then you can read about the annual Boater Report that sets out how we generate income, including the contribution from boaters, and how that money is invested in the network. And we have some more information on the support that’s available for boaters and how to get in touch with us in an emergency.

As always, the routine round-up of news and this weekend’s stoppages can also be found below.

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

Stay safe,


In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 22 October – The Aston Villa Foundation has joined forces with us to help care for a stretch of the Tame Valley Canal in Perry Barr.
  • 23 October – With movement restricted during lockdown more of us will be heading to our local towpath for a daily dose of exercise and wellbeing. In Yorkshire, as with many towpaths, you’ll be treated to a dazzling display of autumnal colours. We’re asking everyone to respect social distancing measures, including keeping a distance from boats where possible.
  • 29 October – We published our Boater Report 2020 setting out how we generate our income, including the contribution from boaters, and how that money is invested in our network. More on this below.


How the national restrictions affect boating

While there may be a few differences between the current lockdown and the last one, such as places of education remaining open, the effect on boating is broadly the same. Boaters who are not currently Boats moored near Ellesmereoccupying their boat should not take short overnight breaks or undertake non-essential cruises on their boat during the period.

If you live on your boat please note all navigation in England should be limited to essential use only, moving only a minimal amount to access essential facilities or services when necessary – or to move along to a quieter mooring if you find the towpath too busy for you where you are moored. Boat licence terms & conditions regarding moving every 14 days are suspended for the four-week period.

Protecting yourself and other boaters

If you have any coronavirus symptoms or have had a positive test result then you should not use any customer service facilities (CSFs) and, as with anyone, regardless of whether they live on a boat or in a land-based home, you should stay inside and use your support network to provide, while socially distanced, for your essential needs. Please see the ‘Supporting boaters’ article for alternative avenues of support.

We have increased our cleaning regimes of CSFs but ‘covid secure’ principles should still be followed, as per our locally signed guidance. These include washing your hands before and after use as well as only using the CSF if it is unoccupied.

For more boating and coronavirus FAQs, such as about an expiring Boat Safety Certificate, please visit our dedicated webpage.


Annual Public Meeting – your questions answered

While we all, at the Trust, enjoy meeting boaters and others who use our wonderful waterways, the pandemic led us to conducting this year’s Annual Public Meeting entirely online. On the upside this does mean that if you weren’t able to catch it live, you can still watch it in full on our website.

If you don’t have time to watch the full video (although it is worth it if you can) I thought it’d be helpful to summarise some of the key boating-related questions that chief exec, Richard Parry, answered live after the presentations or that were answered by email after the meeting.


There were a variety of questions about dredging. Some asked about particular locations, and have had an individual reply, while others were more general. The following gives an overview of our approach:

Titford DredgingOur dredging priorities are assessed through hydrographic surveys (using sonar and physical dipping techniques).  The data is used to identify areas of accumulating sedimentation, by comparing the bed level against a ‘virtual’ navigation channel with a specified width and depth for each kilometre length of navigation.  This, combined with ‘notifications’ which are identified through Length Inspections and customer observations/complaints, helps prioritise investment, forms the basis of our dredging delivery programme. Note that some regular annual or bi-annual dredging is carried out on a number of our waterways, typically river navigations which are prone to rapid sediment accumulation

Our dredging expenditure is circa £7-8m per year, part of this is the regular annual dredging (above), part is mainline dredging, and the remainder is on spot dredging (bridge holes and flood deposits). The exact proportions vary each year depending on need.

This winter includes dredging on a number of canals including the Upper Peak Forest, Ashby, Bridgwater & Taunton, Caldon, Chesterfield, and Northern Reaches of the Lancaster.  Sections of the Rivers Ouse and Severn, Gloucester Docks, and Keadby and West Stockwith on the Trent will also be dredged, as well as Pymmes Brook in East London.  Additionally, a series of feeder dredging projects are being carried out to improve water flow at Shell Brook, Radcliffe, Boslet and Seend, with another three locations to be confirmed.

More broadly, but related to water depth, a question was asked about how we are managing water supply in the long term.

The long-term security of our canal water resources is critical to managing the canal network in the future. In 2015 we published our "Putting the water in to waterways" our water resources strategy. In summary, this document outlined our approach to water resources management to ensure we are meeting our aspirational ‘1 in 20 year’ level of service. In other words, we aim to close the canal on average, no more than once every twenty years due to drought. We undertake hydrological modelling to predict if the canal network will have enough water resources to meet demands in the future. Where we have identified sections of the network that become water-stressed in droughts (i.e. potentially failing to meet our level of service) we have identified water resource schemes and put them forward for implementation. We are due to update our water resources strategy next year. For more information regarding how we manage our canal water resource please see our Water Management team.

Boating in London

Boating in London is more popular than ever before so it’s no surprise that plenty of questions were sent in on the topic. Perhaps even less surprising given that we’ve recently asked for your views on what approach should be taken for managing very congested areas, and this was the focus for many of you. The passage below gives a bit of context, which answers some of the questions sent in, as well as what is set out for the future.

Moored boats on London's waterwaysIn the last decade, the number of boats using the London waterways has more than doubled. Although our 2020 national boat count (NBC) indicates a small decline in boat numbers in London, the count in March was affected by the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, some parts of the London waterways were not covered (with the pandemic affecting London earlier than other parts of the country).  Although the NBC data is a valid sample, for the purpose of calculating an annual benchmark for licence compliance, the absence of some data from some sections of the waterways means we don’t think it provides a complete picture of overall boat numbers.

The London Mooring Strategy (LMS) was adopted in 2018, and we made clear that it would take a number of years to implement all of the proposals. We’ve invested an additional £150,000+ (on top of annual repair/maintenance budgets) and a lot has been done already:

  • installed over 400 metres of additional mooring rings
  • improved existing refuse sites
  • added two new water points
  • improved three waste facilities
  • reviewed and updated short-stay visitor moorings
  • introduced pre-bookable visitor mooring in Paddington and soon an eco-moorings trial in Islington

The bulk of remaining actions will be done by the end of 2021. We have published two updates on progress in implementing the strategy and we will be publishing a third update soon.

The measures in the LMS are ways in which we might mitigate the current situation but for it to be sustainable we believe that more is needed – the mooring strategy alone would not resolve all of the issues and challenges we face across the capital’s waterways.

This is why, because we expect to still have to manage a high number of boats in any post-Covid scenario, we invited boaters, and other stakeholders, to share their views about what approach they think we should take to deal with London’s specific challenges, using an online survey, in writing, or via a virtual meeting. This initial engagement has already started and continues until early January 2021.

We are committed to engaging and working with all stakeholders to inform the development of any proposals, to be trialled next summer, and we will consider all of the responses and develop a formal proposal which we will further consult on before we pilot the final proposal.

Coinciding with the ongoing engagement about managing areas of high demand in London, Chair of the Trust, Allan Leighton, also mentioned regional meetings during the Annual Public Meeting.

On Wednesday 2 December, from 6pm, there will be a meeting of the London & South East User Forum, followed by a separate meeting, to focus on the specific subject of managing the increasing number of boats in London, from 7.30pm to 8.30pm. To join the meeting sign up to the Eventbrite listing.

Away from the ongoing engagement with all stakeholders we were asked about whether new boaters in the capital received any boating training prior to taking to the water as well as if we had any usage data on facilities and locks.

We encourage all new boaters to get experience (or even take a helmsman’s course) before they start boating, but we don’t have any powers to mandate it.  If you have a vessel and meet the basic requirements for insurance and a safety certificate then we are required to license it.  All new boat licence holders receive a copy of the Boater’s Handbook. We have previously worked with boating orgs and individual boaters to promote considerate boating, boater skills and etiquette and are happy to do this again in future.

The customer service facilities such as water, elsan and pump outs do not have the capability to count usage but we do have a good idea of which are busiest. We do publish an annual lockage report which highlights where some of the busiest locks are in the country.

Vegetation management

Always a perennial (no pun intended) topic, some got in touch to give their opinion on vegetation management and ask why this year seems worse than others.

Adoption works in BroxbourneWe spend nearly £8 million on vegetation management each year, but with this year’s spring/early summer Covid-19 lockdown we had a period when our contractors could only carry out essential works that maintained safety around locks and to ensure essential asset inspections. As a result, in some places, we have a backlog of vegetation growth that we are working through. Our teams are redoubling their efforts to address these areas and we’re also working with volunteers to compliment the vegetation management work our contractors are doing.

We were also asked if there are there plans to turn offside vegetation management into a continuous operation.

We have a programme of off-side vegetation work to make sure that trees, reeds and other vegetation don’t unduly interfere with the navigation but this is typically reactive (i.e. where it proves most needed) given the very high costs of a network-wide programme. If an area hasn’t been cut for a while it will appear much different to a section that has just been cut. Our contractors undertake a hedge to water’s edge cut every year to remove that year’s growth, and they are expected to take action if there is more established growth of saplings etc. from the washwall. If you see particular examples of this please do let your regional enquiries team know.


With much uncertainty about the months ahead, and what restrictions might be in place, we were asked if the coronavirus had affected our winter works programme.

In short, no.  We had to re-cast our plans earlier in the year but - despite the reduction in our income - we have been able to prioritise spending to maintain a full £45m winter works programme of 128 large-scale repairs across 50 canal and river navigations.

Along with this we were also asked about protection for liveaboard boaters during lockdowns.

We provided a lot of support and assistance to vulnerable boaters. I know there were some sections of towpaths where liveaboard boaters were concerned about towpath use and we urged people to avoid such sections where possible, both via our digital channels and by erecting signs at pinch points, asking to pass boats with care, giving them as wide a berth as possible. Our towpaths provided free local access to the outdoors in thousands of places up and down the country, available to millions of people for daily exercise and green space.  We saw a rise in towpath use in many places over the period which shows just how valuable they are to the communities they run through. 

Wide beam boats

The increase in widebeam boats was another subject raised and, specifically, what we’re doing to manage it.

White boat moored properlyThe Boater’s Handbook includes a map highlighting which waterways are suited for wider craft, and our published craft dimensions document on the website give more details, including pinch points.  We’re currently consulting on the boat licence terms and conditions which, if approved, will be clearer on the requirement to ensure craft are not used on waterways that are not suitable for them.

We’re working with our navigation advisory group to look at where we need to introduce other measures on the parts of the waterways unsuited for widebeams.

Separately, last year we started to introduce the widebeam surcharge on boat licences, this will be fully implemented by 2023 with the widest craft paying 20% more for their licence.


A boater asked about sometimes speeding cyclists not slowing down when passing pedestrians on the towpath and wondered what our plans were to get cyclists to respectfully share the space.

Share the space 2017 Slow downWe’ve been working for several years on our ‘share the space’ campaigns to encourage all users, not just cyclists, to show respect and consideration for others. I am convinced that it has to be through firm and clear messages, backed up by peer pressure, to change the behaviour of the minority who don’t respect the shared towpath environment.

We’ve recently launched a new ‘Stay Kind Slow Down’ behaviour change campaign aimed specifically at cyclists but with the message to all users.  We’ve also put up towpath etiquette signs at hotspots, and targeted social media messaging at cyclists with increasingly direct messages that pedestrians must have priority. The campaign has been supported by partners like Sustrans and Cycling UK who have shared the messages through their channels.

We’re also undertaking pilots of other measures including ‘traffic calming’ but we don’t want to turn towpaths into obstacle courses that impede wheelchair users, sensible cyclists or those pushing buggies. This problem is not unique to towpaths of course and we want to work in partnership with local authorities and others in hotspot areas to promote joint solutions and share good practice.

If, after all that reading, you want to mentally escape to your local waterway then skip to 1hr24m in the Annual Public Meeting video for inspiration. Of course, you could just watch the whole thing…


Boater Report 2020 published

Now in its third year, the latest Boater Report, created to give boaters an insight into how we generate our income, including their contribution, and how that money is invested in our network, has been published.

Boats moored on towpathThe Report will be provided as an emailable PDF which will be included with licence renewals and new boat licence applications. A small number of printed copies will be available for those boaters without email. A pocket-sized fold-out containing all the key information will be available as handouts for volunteer lock keepers to give to boaters.

It details how income increased by £6.1 million in 2019/20 to £216.1 million and spend on charitable activities increased by £10.9 million, largely due to the emergency repair works at Toddbrook Reservoir. Underlying expenditure on core maintenance, repairs and infrastructure works continued to grow, including £8.2 million spent on dredging (2018/19: £7.2 million) and £7.9 million spent on vegetation management (2018/19: £7.6 million).

This year the Report contains profiles of twelve colleagues and volunteers, so you can get a sense of the wide range of jobs carried out across the Trust to help keep the waterways safe and open for cruising, and ensure boaters’ needs are met. 

Boaters playing a central role

Jon Horsfall, our head of customer service support, comments: “The Trust’s core purpose is maintaining the 2,000 miles of canals and rivers we look after and making the experience of using them as good as we can. Boaters play a central role in helping to fund the work with around 10% of our income coming from boat licences. The Report is designed to give licence holders an overview of how much it costs to maintain the waterways, where the Trust’s money comes from and where it gets spent.

“In what has been a difficult year for everyone, we have worked hard to keep the waterways open within the Government’s coronavirus guidelines. We appreciate the impact this has had on boaters and have offered concessions on licence fees, and specific additional support for boaters and businesses with additional needs.

“It has also made us appreciate even more the vast range of skills held by our colleagues and volunteers whose efforts are vital to the safe operation of our canals and rivers. Without them, and their tireless work, during lockdown and beyond, we would not have a navigable waterway network.

"This Report celebrates just a few of these roles. Boaters’ feedback is important to us, with positive comments as welcome as constructive criticism, and we’d urge boaters to let us know when they’re happy with the service they’ve received from the Trust. Meanwhile we’ll continue working to make sure the waterways are open for boaters to cruise for years to come.”


Supporting boaters

Snow viewed from the bow of a narrowboatBoating is a great lifestyle, but it can get tough at times – more so as the days get shorter and colder. Then, on top of that, we have a global pandemic that means that, at best, ‘normal’ boating life is on hold.

In this article, we’ll explain what you should do if you’re struggling or you’re worried about another boater.

The first piece of advice is obvious but vital – talk to us. If you’re in need of help, or you’re concerned about a boater who you think might be vulnerable and in need of help, please contact your local boat licence customer support officer directly or call 0303 040 4040.

See our coronavirus FAQs for specific advice on how it affects boating or visit the government website for the national guidance.

If you are in financial difficulty or need advice on how you might pay a debt, consider contacting a debt advisor. The following organisations offer free, impartial and non-judgemental advice. As you may expect, during this pandemic, some services are heavily reduced as all organisations reconfigure their working practices:

Are you struggling in other ways?

We work with support partners such as local health services, council departments, or specialist charities to point boaters to the help and advice available to them if they have a vulnerability such as suffering from poor mental health.

Our boat licence customer support team can work with you to help you find and get the support available from local authorities, who have a duty of care to provide adequate services (housing, social services, benefit advice etc), and/or other support agencies.

Ultimately, we want all our customers to stay safe and enjoy our waterways so if you are struggling, or know a boater who is struggling, please do get in touch with our team. You can also download our seeking advice factsheet.

There’re plenty of other useful websites out there. You can check if you’re eligible for benefits at or

If you are homeless or facing homelessness contact your local authority – use this checker to find your local authority. You can also call a local directory enquiry service to find your local authority.

Other free help or advice:


Maintenance, repair and restoration work affecting cruising 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 for a cruise. 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.


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:

  • Don’t forget that we’re running a consultation about boat licence terms and conditions. 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 Annual Public Meeting article above, 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.


Getting in touch in an emergency

The ongoing battle with coronavirus means that many things in our lives are on hold or being done in a completely different way. There are some things, though, that are the same. Lock gates, bridges and other waterway structures continue to age and, although to a lesser extent, be used. This means that, from time to time, things will go wrong.

Most of the time, such as for a lightly damaged lock gate, a hole in the towpath, unlicensed or speeding boats, or facility breakdowns (water points, pump outs etc.) you can report it via our website.  

Sometimes, though rarely, emergency situations arise. If at any point there’s any risk to life, risk of serious injury or illness, or fires or an explosion on a boat then you should immediately call 999. The same goes if properties are at risk or a crime has been committed.

When the situation is urgent, but not a 999 emergency, please call our 24-hour emergency contact number 0800 47 999 47. Some examples of when you should use this number are:

  • If you come across a dangerously damaged bridge, lock or tunnel
  • A boat is trapped in a dangerous situation e.g. on a weir or a lock
  • A boat is causing a dangerous navigational hazard
  • There is serious flooding or a breach which risks lives or property
  • Serious pollution

If your situation isn’t covered by any of the above then you can always talk to our customer service team on 0303 040 4040 who are available Monday to Friday (8am-6pm) & Bank Holidays (9am-5pm).


Bits and bobs

  • The Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) has joined with the Marine Accident Investigation Board to reiterate that boaters need to install appropriate appliances safely and ensure they are maintained correctly and have at least one suitable working Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarm aboard. This comes after the investigation into the deaths of two friends from CO poisoning in a boat called Diversion in York in December 2019. There’s a wealth of CO safety advice and guidance on the BSS website.

Last date edited: 6 November 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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