Boaters' Update 8 April 2022

Welcome to this bumper edition. It's jammed pack full of good news, interesting info and helpful tips. Read about the reopening of the Leeds & Liverpool at Rishton, tricky trees on the Mon & Brec, recent work on the cut, sustainable boating, separator loos and how your views are wanted on some website changes and plans for the Undercroft (part of the Rochdale Canal in Manchester).

A family on a boating holiday A family on a boating holiday

Welcome to the latest edition. Rather fittingly, as it’s spring, you’ll notice a green theme to this edition. But before getting on to that there’s great news, hot off the press, to be read about - the breach at Rishton on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal is now repaired and boats can now navigate through this part of the canal!

After that you find out about how we’ve dealt with a substantial number of storm-blown trees, some presenting big challenges, and an update on recent maintenance work and some interesting environmental trials.

The growing theme of sustainable boating is revisited with a roundup of tips (and a call for your opinion) and an update on composting/separator toilet information.

We always love you to get involved and are looking for volunteers to help test some proposed changes to our website. We’d also appreciate your views about how we can best use the Rochdale Canal’s Undercroft – a length of mostly subterranean canal and waterside space.

The regular roundup of news and useful information in the bits and bobs section can also be found below.

Happy boating,

Damian

In this edition:

News round-up

Recently you may have seen that:

  • 25 Mar – The Grand Union Canaland a chain of nearby green spaces in Southall are set to host a new Wellbeing Way, supported by Green and Resilient Spaces funding of £700,000 announced by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
  • 29 Mar – The permanent restoration of Toddbrook Reservoir in Whaley Bridge begins this spring, following planning permission granted by High Peak Borough Council.
  • 30 Mar – What is believed to be the UK’s biggest ever participation initiative to encourage people to enjoy the benefits of angling gets underway this month when we offer one-to-one coaching to encourage thousands of people to pick up a fishing rod and enjoy spending time by the water’s edge.

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Leeds & Liverpool Canal reopens to boaters at Rishton

At around 10.30am on Sunday 10 October our local teams were alerted to what was then described as a small leak in between Bridge 109 and Bridge 110. Our engineering team were on site quickly the same day to assess the situation further.

Rishton Leeds & LiverpoolThe team worked through the day and night to try and prevent the leak from escalating but, despite their best efforts, at around 5am on Monday morning the canal breached. 

Our North West customer support team started to contact boaters and marinas within a 20-mile radius to alert them of the breach and impending water loss. Advice was given to loosen ropes, secure any valuables, not to navigate and to call us via our regional direct line if they needed any immediate help.

Trackway Rishton Leeds & LiverpoolDams were installed and pumps, with around three quarters of a mile of pipe, set up to move water over the affected area to stabilise water levels either side of the breach. We also carried out a fish rescue for those left high and dry.

Six months later, almost to the day, and a huge amount of work, involving around three thousand tonnes of stones and other materials, has been done to get the canal reopened in better, and more robust, shape than before the breach.

Damaged culvert headwall Leeds & LiverpoolBeing quite remote access was an issue. Agreements had to be made with local farmers to facilitate access and, after that, trackways built, above right, to enable large machinery to get to site. We also needed to build a site compound for the many who’d be working on the repair.

Once the cause had been identified, a failed culvert, work started on developing the repair plans. It’d take a long time to read about all that’s been done but in broad terms we:

  • Built clay dams either side of the breach, access tracks and a silt lagoon.
  • Removed the damaged embankment and canal bed down to the failed culvert (which was seven metres below towpath level).
  • Uncovered, and subsequently protected with wash wall repairs, the abutment to a bridge, darkly named ‘Gallows Bridge’, dating from some time before 1843.
  • New headwall with brick facing Leeds & LiverpoolDismantled the damaged culvert headwall, image above right, and retained the bricks to face the new steel-reinforced concrete headwall which you can see in the photo right. The original masonry was initially too large for use in facing the concrete structure and was sent away to be cut and tumbled to match the appearance of the remaining masonry at a lower cost than using new.
  • Dug through the canal bed to completely remove the failed culvert pipe and replace it with a high density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe which was then given a concrete surround to protect it.
  • During the works, a new structure was designed and built to extend a local weir to increase the ability of the 24-mile long Burnley pound to cope with high local inflows and reduce the risk of overtopping in the area.
  • Trial pits were dug on an unaffected section of the canal bed to prove the depth of the remaining clay in readiness for constructing the canal bed that needed replacing. The bed clay was found to be more than 700mm thick and of a firm to stiff consistency.
  • In preparation for reconstructing the canal bed a stockpile of puddle clay was gradually imported and stored on site to spread the impact on local communities of delivery of the amount of material required to complete the works.
  • Rebuilt embankment and towpath with new piling to improve resilience.
  • Clay-lined the canal bed, removed clay dams and refilled with water.
  • Removed all access trackway and topsoil placed to re-instate the farmer’s field.

Working on canal bed Leeds & LiverpoolIt was a mammoth undertaking which had to battle through a Covid outbreak amongst the site team as well as dealing with a succession of storms that felled trees in the area and flooded part of the breach site. Despite this adversity the team were determined to get the cut open for boaters by Easter and they managed it!

While this news is a big step towards the Leeds & Liverpool being fully accessible for boaters during the peak boating period we appreciate that some of the repairs we're making elsewhere mean that a small proportion of the 127-mile canal still has work ongoing which blocks navigation. In the next edition we'll give a full update on how they are progressing.

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Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal team battle storm damage

Llanfoist fallen tree Mon & BrecThe extreme high winds of Storms Eunice and Franklin resulted in around 30 trees falling along the length of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. With the winter stoppage works coming to an end and the navigation due to reopen in mid-March the team swiftly mobilised,  over the stormy weekend, and continued working through a list that kept growing.

In early March, however, they became aware that there were significant complications with four locations.

As you can see by the photos, particularly large mature oak trees fell in the Llanfoist area, pulling up their rootplates, which measured around 3m in diameter.

Multi stemmed fallen tree Mon & BrecIn another remote location this multi-stemmed tree fell, again with the rootplate still attached. As well as being on a relatively steep slope with challenges getting the right machinery close enough to clear it, there was a concern that soil would fall into the water during works or even worse, the rootplate detaching and falling in blocking the navigation further.

Due to the size, weight and the potential instability of the trees, a decision was made to bring in specialist contractors and/or machinery. The most common solution is to use large machinery which has the ability to lift and stabilise the tree while it is cut. Unfortunately, due to the remote location, with access via narrow roads and tracks, through neighbours’ fields and over small bridges it needed additional planning and co-ordination.

Fortunately though we were able to work with our newly appointed vegetation management contractors, Ground Control, who were able to mobilise a highly experienced team to work on the trees. This team completed the removal of the trees ahead of their estimated schedule, despite some further complications regarding access, and the team were able to co-ordinate Aquaclear to remove the remaining debris from the canal to open the entire navigation on 1 April.

Storm damaged culvert Mon & BrecIn the fourth location, another large tree fell across the canal in a section that was drained for works over the winter. The tree was cleared, but several days later some of the team noticed a change in the bed of the canal and suspected there may have been damage to a stone culvert that carries water under the canal. A CCTV investigation of this 200-year-old ‘pipeline’ confirmed damage, which it was vital to repair before this section of the canal could be refilled.

With the installation of additional dams to completely isolate and remove remaining water from this section they were able to dig through the bed of the canal to expose the top of the culvert. There were two holes in the masonry which they repaired before re-instating the bed with fresh clay.

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Recent work for boaters (which also happens to help the birds and bees)

Graffiti North WestWith all but a few of the major winter stoppages now completed (see the last edition) it’s not too long before we ask for your initial views on next winter’s proposals! As you’ll have seen highlighted over the last several editions, we’ve been replacing a lot of lock gates, coping stones and doing a range of other jobs that not only keep the water in the cut but also make it last longer.

As a boater you’ll know that the wider environs of a waterway also have a big hand in making any cruise a good one. Of course, improving towpaths, hedgerows and other things such as offside vegetation doesn’t just make it better for boaters, it helps create, protect and preserve vital wildlife habitats; but we’ll come to that later.

Clearing graffiti North WestSome of the less glamorous jobs we do to improve the waterways are more about protecting what’s already there. The photo above right  shows some of the mindless graffiti tagging we have to deal with, on this occasion in the North West. The photo below it shows one of our apprentices using a thermolance to remove it as pressure and/or chemical based removal can be destructive to our heritage structures.

Lancaster towpathThis past winter’s large-scale works haven’t been confined to the line of the navigation. All around the network, long lengths of towpath have been improved, such as between Preston Centre and the University Sports Campus on the Lancaster Canal, photo right. When planned stoppages require the closure of a navigation we try to carry them out when the cut is quieter during winter. With towpath upgrades, though, we’re sometimes able to reroute foot traffic so we can continue to work on without hindering your ability to boat. You’ll continue to see us working to give you more stretches of improved towpath, largely funded by third parties, as we head into the warmer months.

Two such major projects, in the North West and externally funded, will see over six miles of towpath upgraded. On the Leeds & Liverpool Canal (two sections of towpath); Dock Lane to Buck Hill Swing Bridge and Strangford Bridge to Dobson Locks and on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal between Britannia Road Bridge in Slaithwaite and Library Lock in Milnsbridge, where it will connect with a previous phase of towpath improvements.

As with boaters – some are permanent, some temporary – we must also cater for a different group of residents… Wildlife! When carrying out any work we’ll consider its impact on habitats and local wildlife and, wherever possible, build in wildlife benefits at the same time. A perfect example is on the Cannock Extension Canal (a one and a quarter mile long arm of the Wyrley & Essington Canal on the Staffordshire/Walsall Boundary). The waterway is a quiet but important part of the BCN and also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for its population of floating water-plantain Luronium natans which has thrived in the clear water.

Coir rolls CannockAfter securing additional match funding we were able to carry out additional works to improve biodiversity and access. This included installation of coir rolls, shown right to benefit bankside habitat, extensive tree works to reduce shading, towpath enhancements to minimise puddling and installation of interpretation boards to tell the story of this unusual waterway.

While some of our recent works have been to promote growth, some have been to stop it (or at least the invasive kind). As the first year of the five year Canal & River Invasive Species Eradication Project draws to a close we’ve started work on a novel trial. The aim is to tackle the invasive Himalayan Balsam along the Penarth Feeder which is part of the Montgomery Canal SSSI/SAC.

Dredgings Penarth FeederThe project is an experimental trial, in conjunction with a feeder dredging project, to use natural materials to suppress the plant’s future growth and allow for the establishment of native plants. The concept is focused on using biodegradable hessian matting as a barrier on top of the plant’s seed bank, which will then be covered by material dredged from the feeder, shown right, and finally hydroseeded (a planting process that uses a slurry of seed and mulch) with native grasses to allow for a biodiversity net gain along a specific stretch of the bank.

The trial will use a very targeted area and will be the first of its kind ever conducted. As you’ll expect, with any new trial there is a risk that it won’t work, especially if the dredging materials contain a viable seed bank themselves. It is, however, an opportunity for us to trial a completely new method for Himalayan Balsam control. The site will be mapped for the next three years to record changes on site following its completion.

Herb box FoxtonOf course, a lot of the vegetation management we do is specifically designed to protect the ability to navigate the waterways. And one very recent planting initiative at Foxton Locks is super targeted at boaters – preparations for new herb and flower boxes are under way, enabling boaters to help themselves to a variety of herbs including mint, thyme, chives, rosemary, sage and fennel. The wood used is from old stop planks that have outlived their primary purpose but not their usefulness. 

In addition, there will be new flower boxes erected at top lock and at the entrance of the main drive. Many native herbs are great for attracting bees and they can provide valuable nectar and pollen throughout the year enhancing the wildlife and wider environment across the entire Foxton Locks site. 

Continuing the theme of waterside vegetation, from 1 April we have changed the contractors who do our vegetation management. Our successful 14-year partnership with OCS Fountains has ended after a competitive process and new contactors will be working around the network. These are Ground Control, CGM Group and Dovetail Group.

The main activity where you will notice a difference will be grass cutting – the teams on the bank will have different branding and may be different people to those that you are used to seeing around the system. CGM Group will be doing the grass and hedge works in our North West, Yorkshire and North East, East Midlands, and London and South East regions; Ground Control will be doing it in Wales and South West, and West Midlands Regions.  Both will be involved in our tree works.  Dovetail are focussing on the aquatic weed work in East and West Midlands, and London and the South East.

The contracts are being awarded for five years and we are looking forward to developing a great relationship with them. We welcome your feedback, both on how they are getting on and what you think of the new mowing approach that we’ve highlighted recently.

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Sustainable boating

The boating community has long been known for its willingness, perhaps eagerness, to adapt in the name of sustainability. Matthew Symonds, national boating manager, says that this trend continues to grow among boaters: “With environmental concerns increasingly on the minds of consumers, sustainability is a key area of innovation for the inland waterways sector.

“Each year more boaters are asking us about ways to make boating more sustainable. Their concerns range from the damaging effect on wildlife of plastic pollution in our waterways, to electric engine charging points and waste disposal. 

A narrowboat on a canal“Looking at our 2,000-mile network of inland waterways, we’re working with a range of partners and projects to support the Government’s decarbonisation agenda and tackle the physical effects of climate change. From water sourced heat pumps for heating and cooling canalside buildings and generating hydro-electric power on our rivers, to promoting active travel and the recovery of nature, there are many powerful ways our waterways can help the reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

“The Government’s Clean Maritime Plan states that by 2025 there must be a plan in place to ensure that all vessels, including those on inland waters, are able to meet the zero emissions target by 2050.

“We’re committed to working towards a zero-carbon future for boating on our inland waterways, recognising that this needs to be a collaborative effort involving boaters, businesses, local authorities and the government.”

While you’ll no doubt do lots of your own research here are 14 tips that you might find useful:

  1. Switch to electric or hybrid engines – electric boat engines are a vital component of our journey towards net zero in 2050, and for boats kept in marinas with electric charging points, fully electric engines are a great option. But while the electric charging infrastructure on our network is still in its infancy, one of the most efficient forms of propulsion is the Serial Hybrid system, which can reduce the fuel burned to one third of a standard diesel installation.
  2. Fit a generator – boaters can massively reduce their carbon emissions by fitting a 240V generator to their boat engines, making the power they produce more versatile and useful.  Using a diesel engine designed for motive power to heat the water on board is not an efficient use of energy.  But using the engine to run a generator to power on board electrical systems is much more efficient.
  3. Power sharing – one canal boat engine could be used to power the electrical systems of up to 30 boats, reducing costs and CO2 emissions. This only requires co-operation and simple equipment to distribute power from one engine to many boats. 
  4. Invest in Lithium batteries – replacing lead acid batteries with lithium batteries: they take less engine time to charge and they don’t need to be charged until full. Lithium batteries will do around 10 times more charges over their life cycle and they cost less to charge, particularly with careful charging management. So while their upfront costs might be higher than a lead acid battery, they save money and CO2 emissions over the longer term.
  5. Choose HVO fuel – the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) has been trialling Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) as fuel in a variety of boats.  For the short to medium term, the IWA believes that HVO is a viable alternative to diesel, and one that most boaters can use immediately, reducing CO2 emissions by 90 per cent. The Canal & River Trust has been trialling HVO fuel on some of its workboats and has begun rolling out the use of HVO fuel for all its workboats.
  6. Invest in solar panels – photovoltaic panels are increasingly efficient and boaters can choose from a wide range of solar panel products to heat their hot water systems and charge their batteries. Wind turbines can also help with battery charging.
  7. Save water – by catching the first litre or so of water when going for a shower and use for rinsing in the kitchen, and by using washing up water to flush the loo.
  8. Fit a water source heat pump – some canal boat builders are fitting water source heat pumps to their boats, transferring heat from the canal water to reduce other power consumption.
  9. Use eco products on board – use eco products with lower phosphates for washing up on board and washing your boat, and make sure your toothpaste and shower gels are micro bead free.  Avoid items with ‘polypropylene’ or ‘polyethylene’ on the ingredients list and go for natural biodegradable alternatives.  Use bees wax wraps instead of cling film, and try bamboo toothbrushes.
  10. Choose water-based paints – using water-based epoxy paint systems reduces the time between painting coats and lowers the amount of hazardous chemicals introduced into the water system.
  11. Reduce plastic waste – a staggering 80 per cent of marine debris comes from inland sources.  Reduce plastic waste by using refillable water bottles, coffee cups and shopping bags.  Also, make sure your rubbish is tied securely and put in canalside bins with closable lids. You will see increasing numbers of green Biffa recycling bins along the waterways but, even if you don’t, waste put in the red Biffa bins along our waterways is also sorted for recyclables.
  12. Control those fenders – a frightening number of plastic fenders end up at the bottom of our locks.  Consider changing to natural rope fenders and prevent your fenders adding to the plastic in the canal by making sure you don’t leave them dangling when cruising – except bow and stern fenders.  When your fenders are in use, normally only whilst moored up, make sure they are properly secured.
  13. #ActNowForCanals – join our #PlasticsChallenge by committing to pick up at least one piece of plastic litter each time you visit one of our canals, and take part in our ‘Spot that Habitat’ survey, showing us places where waterway wildlife would want to make a home.
  14. Help us clean up – join one of our Plastic Patrols or Towpath Taskforces and help us clean up the litter that is dropped along our waterways. There are lots of events to choose across the country, some involving paddle boarding and canoeing if you are feeling adventurous. Find out more by visiting our marquee at the show or on our website.

Finally, given that this edition has a strong ‘green’ theme, it’d be great to learn of any boating energy efficiency tips that you think others would benefit from knowing. Please do send them in and we can compile and publish them in a future edition. Thanks!

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Separator toilets (aka composting toilets)

Some of our research late last year indicated that just over half of boaters use cassette toilets, just over 40% pump out their waste, while the remainder use separator/composting loos (a small number use the relatively new incinerating toilets).

However, given the increasing focus, as mentioned in the above article, in sustainable boating it comes as no surprise that more and more boaters are researching separator/composting toilets (they’re called composting loos but they don’t actually do the composting, that’s the mesophiles).

Boat coming out of Blisworth Tunnel, Stoke BruerneDisposal of waste from one of the two most common systems is straightforward enough with facilities dotted around the network. With separator/composting loos it’s more complex. You need to be able to store and regularly aerate the waste until it reaches its ideal humus state. There are a lot of variables involved but this can take up to a year.

Do remember though, if you can’t keep it stored until it’s ready to use, it will still need to be disposed of in an appropriate way – for example a suitable composting site away from the canal. It should not be put in our bins – and absolutely must not be disposed of on or near the towpaths. Liquid waste can be emptied down an Elsan point.

For clarity here’s what we said in March 2021: “If you’re considering getting a separator/compost toilet for your boat, please only do so if you have the ability to completely compost the solid waste from your toilet yourself or have access to somewhere that will do this for you. If you don’t have the ability to do this, then getting a composting/separator toilet is not the best solution for you. Pump out and elsan facilities are available across our network that boats with tanks or cassette toilets can use instead.

“If you currently have a separator/compost toilet on your boat and are not able to completely compost the solid waste from your toilet yourself or have access to somewhere that will do it for you, then the alternative disposal method of bagging and binning it is not an environmentally sustainable way to deal with this waste. Bagged solid waste disposed of in bins can also lead to cross contamination of other content, which otherwise is sorted and mostly recycled, and can require that the whole content of the bin needing to be disposed of in landfill. Sending waste to landfill adds costs as landfill taxes are charged.

“If you have a separator/compost toilet on your boat and have been putting bagged and binned waste in our waste bins, you need to find an alternative way to dispose of this waste. No bagged solid waste from separator/compost toilets should be disposed of in Canal & River Trust waste bins. If you boat in London and have a separator/compost toilet but no where to compost the waste yourself then the pilot separator/compost waste subscription collection scheme might be the answer for you (see details in previous edition).

For completeness here are a few simple dos and don’ts for everyone using onboard toilet facilities. To avoid blockages and problems, no matter what type of toilet system you use, you need to remember just a few simple rules.

  • If you haven’t eaten it or drunk it, it doesn’t go into the toilet. 
  • Only use a small quantity of toilet paper, not half a rainforest! 
  • Only use smallest amount of chemical recommended, and try and use a ‘green’ chemical if you can (in pump out/cassette toilets).
  • The longer the better! Solid waste can take up to 12 months to compost. If you can’t store it for long enough, bin it at a suitable composting site away from the canal.
  • Never pour urine into the canal nor at other random locations along the canal – it may contain undigested medicines such as antibiotics!

If you’re interested in finding out more about composting toilets on boats, there are a whole host of interesting videos, with differing views, by boaters – here’s one, and another – who have installed them.

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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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Can you spare 10 minutes to help us test our website?

We’re working on some changes to the design and layout of our website, and we're calling out for your help to test our proposed updates.

You'll be given a series of short tasks to test out a new website content structure via a secure online tool. This should take around ten minutes and you'll be able to take part remotely from your own home. All you’ll need is a computer device.

The testing is being conducted using an online tool called Optimal Workshop and more information about how your data will be collected and stored can be found here.

With your help we'll be able to make our website easier to navigate. If you have any questions about the tree testing please contact webteam@canalrivertrust.org.uk.

Take part!

With your help we will be able to make our website easier to navigate, helping you spend more time afloat than online!

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Consultation begins to improve the Rochdale Canal in Manchester

We’re asking for views on potential improvements to the Rochdale Canal Undercroft in Manchester City Centre.

This stretch of the Rochdale Canal towpath runs largely underground between Dale Street and Minshull Street and includes the historic structure of the Undercroft itself, where the towpath passes below Piccadilly.

What has been done?

Photo of Farmers Bridge Lock 8Working with Manchester City Council and other partners, we and our volunteers recently improved the Rochdale Canal between Castlefield to the Aytoun Street Bridge, where the Undercroft starts, making it greener and cleaner. This considerable achievement is reflected in the vitality of this area today and in it being awarded Green Flag status, an international accolade recognising well managed parks and green spaces.

By contrast, the Undercroft has been troubled by anti-social behaviour in recent years, with access to the towpath now restricted by a Public Spaces Protection Order. Despite these challenges, we believe that this unique, underused location has the potential to be much more. This first stage of consultation on the Undercroft will open a conversation about how to realise the full potential of this space.

We want your feedback

Picture of a dark tunnel with a canal running through itWe’re keen to hear feedback and ideas from people with different backgrounds and interests in the area, from local residents and community groups, through design professionals to regional and national organisations, as well as boaters and anyone who is interested and wants to share their ideas.

The consultation is open until Friday 22 April and encourages people to highlight and take inspiration from examples of creative adaption and reuse of industrial infrastructure and challenging spaces, both internationally and closer to home.

Feedback from a range of stakeholders at this stage will help us understand how people perceive the space, what improvements people would like to see and what may be possible. This will help to inform options and proposals to be discussed through further stages of consultation.

More information about the Undercroft and how to get involved can be found on the consultation website.

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Bits & bobs

  • Longer days and warmer weather (we hope) often signal the return to boating for many. If it’s been a while since you last took to the tiller don’t forget that if you fancy brushing up on your boating knowledge then we got plenty of reading material on our website from the comprehensive Boaters Handbook through to a beginners guide to “driving” a boat! That last link is also a reminder that there may be some new to boating out on the cut over the next few months so please extend a hearty boaters’ hello to any newbies you come across and share the space as we were all learners once!

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Stay safe, happy boating,

Damian

Last date edited: 8 April 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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