Boaters' Update 9 October 2020

This edition starts with advice on how to prepare your boat for flood conditions and follows with news of a consultation about changes to boat licence terms & conditions, an update on the largest ecological project of its kind in Europe, some welcome news of a £1.6m award from the Government’s Heritage Stimulus Fund and, of course, the routine roundup of news and this weekend’s stoppages.

River Severn approaching Worcester River Severn approaching Worcester

Welcome to the latest edition. As the country continues its battle against the coronavirus, last weekend’s rain deluge reminded us that increasingly, with climate change, we’re all likely to be up against an additional challenge as we head into autumn and winter – the weather.

To help prepare for the more severe weather, this Boaters’ Update starts with advice on how to prepare our boats for flood conditions. You will also find news of a consultation about changes to boat licence terms & conditions, an update on the largest ecological project of its kind in Europe, on the River Severn, some welcome news of a £1.6m award from the Government’s Heritage Stimulus Fund. Of course, the routine roundup of news and this weekend’s stoppages can also be found below.

While there are many boating preparations to make before actually casting off for a cruise, don’t forget to check that you’re up to date with the latest instructions, including which areas are under local coronavirus lockdown. If you haven’t done so already you can now download the new NHS contact tracing app. Please note that slightly different rules apply in Wales.

Last but not least, when was the last time you checked the contact details on your licensing account? Please keep your contact details up to date (including email and/or mobile phone number if possible) so that if necessary, we can pass important coronavirus and/or safety information to you quickly.

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:

  • 24 September – An initial review of academic literature about canals and transatlantic slavery has been published.
  • 24 September – Leicester’s waterways could be set to welcome more boats as part of plans which will bring colour to the city’s waterways and provide a welcome boost to the local tourism economy.
  • 9 Oct – Tees Barrage £3 million major restoration programme, partly funded by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery reaches halfway milestone during 25th anniversary year.


Preparing your boat for a flood

We’re barely into October and we’ve already been hit with our first storm of the autumn, Alex, bringing winds of more than 70mph and over 80mm of rain in some parts of the country – more than most got in the whole of September (Manchester and Birmingham received 72 and 61mm respectively last month).

Flood water being run off through the lockAs we progress further into autumn and winter the frequency of storms usually increases so managing director of River Canal Rescue, Stephanie Horton, shares her top tips about how to safeguard boats and minimise the impact and subsequent damage caused by a deluge.

Check ropes

Build in some slack to accommodate changes in water levels. Tight ropes can be a real hazard; if water levels rise or fall they will cause the vessel to list, potentially putting the outlets under water, resulting in water ingress.

Mooring locations

Some mooring locations can place a vessel in danger, particularly where water levels fluctuate. Although it can be impossible to choose where to moor when a river is in flood, it’s worth taking time to check the bank and identify what the underwater bed is like. If there’s a steep fall or shallow bank, when the water recedes, the boat will list.

In addition, consider the flow of the water and how it will affect the mooring – will it push or pull the boat and could it cause problems with other mooring points? Several boats have sunk in recent floods because they were subject to water level changes which left them at an angle with outlets allowing water in.

Drain holes

Keep drain holes clear by regularly cleaning them out. Over time they can become blocked with debris and also corroded. If this happens, water may leak into the engine compartment and the alternators and starter motors, affecting charging and starting. If the bilge pump is manual, or the automatic pump fails due to a low running battery (which happens when worked continuously), the engine room could fill with water.


Ensure bilge pumps are working and install an automatic float switch. All bilge pumps provide some protection from water ingress but only ones with an automatic switch will protect the vessel if you’re not around. Bilge pumps without an automatic switch are reliant on the owner manually turning them on.

Unfortunately, most of the boat sinkings we attend are for vessels with manual pumps; had a switch been present, I suspect in many cases, they would still be afloat.

Top up your battery

If you’re leaving your vessel for any period of time, it’s vital the battery is in a good condition with a good level of charge. If you have an automatic bilge pump, its operation is reliant on the battery; most batteries with a good charge can operate a pump for one week to 10 days with a bilge pump continuously running. To charge the battery, frequently run the engine for a minimum of one to two hours.

It’s also worth finding out how long your battery will last on continuous use so if there is heavy rain, you can gauge how often to visit the boat.

Thanks Stephanie! Did you know that you can find water level and strong stream warnings on our website? Our SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system provides near real-time data from a number of rivers showing the local water level conditions. It normally updates every 15 minutes, however please check the time the last reading was taken at each location carefully. River conditions can change rapidly and with very little warning.


We are seeking boaters' views on license T&Cs

We are reviewing the terms and conditions of our private boat licence and we are inviting feedback from boaters on the proposed changes.

The survey

Most of the terms and conditions remain the same, but in a number of areas they have been made clearer or strengthened to protect both boat owners and the Trust. They were last updated in 2015.

If you’re a boat licence holder, and haven’t done already, it’d be great if you could complete an online survey which highlights the changes between the proposed and existing terms and invites feedback on the changes. The consultation got underway on 28 September and will run for twelve weeks.

Keeping up to date

Jon Horsfall, our head of customer service support, said: “It is important for boat owners and the Trust that licence terms and conditions are reviewed and kept up to date to ensure that the canals can be safely looked after and enjoyed. I encourage everyone to familiarise themselves with the proposed changes and let us have any feedback.

"The terms and conditions are there to ensure that the waterways are used fairly and safely by every boater who cruises on them, and to help us with the smooth running of the canals and rivers in our care.  We want them to be as clear as possible so that everyone understands the part they play in making the waterways a pleasant place for all boaters.”

You can get take part by clicking the link in the email you received on 28 September or by visiting We ask those who may need specific support to complete the consultation or without computer access to contact Customer Services to make arrangements to complete the survey.


Unlocking the Severn

It’s massive. If it ran in a straight line, the River Severn could stretch from Middlesbrough all the way down to London. And, given its flow rate of 107m3 per second, measured in Gloucestershire, it can fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in just over 23 seconds.

Photo of Sharpness Pier viewThe enormity of this gargantuan river is nearly matched by one of the largest projects of its kind ever attempted in Europe – Unlocking the Severn. 

Hundreds of thousands of twaite shad used to migrate up the River Severn each year to reach their natural spawning grounds. But weirs installed in the mid-19th century blocked the shad’s route and the population on the Severn crashed. Today they are one of the UK’s rarest fish.

Shad don’t have the ability to leap over obstacles in the river, unlike salmon, which have adapted to swim past boulders and waterfalls as they travel upstream to spawn. Whilst shad can swim through fast-flowing water, they avoid turbulent patches and are disorientated by complex flows.

The solution

Upper Lode Lock on the River SevernOur ‘Unlocking the Severn’ project, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and EU Life, is creating fish passes at six barriers on the Severn and its River Teme tributary. Fish passes provide fish with a route around an obstacle on the river, such as a weir. One example is a ‘deep vertical slot fish pass’. This is a series of ascending pools running along the bank next to the weir. It allows the shad to swim up above the weir in small, manageable steps.

In total the work will restore 158 miles of river habitat. As well as helping the shad, this will allow free passage for other important and endangered migratory fish species, such as salmon and eel. Having more fish eggs and very young fish (fry) in these higher areas of the river - including shad spawning for the first time in 170 years - will also provide more food for insects. More insects and young fish on the river provide food for other animals and birds. This positive effect cascades through the food chain and benefits all the wildlife in the river’s ecosystem.  

Above water

In bringing life back into the upper reaches of the river, we also want to deepen local peoples’ connection with the Severn. We believe that the river can enrich lives and provide a unique environment to boost wellbeing. We want to give local people, of all ages and backgrounds, inspiring experiences and new insights into the natural world and their relationship with it.

Fish pass works at Diglis weir, River SevernThe fish pass we’re building at Diglis, near the centre of Worcester, will be the biggest deep vertical slot fish pass in England and Wales. Most exciting of all, it will include a unique underwater viewing window. We’re hoping this fascinating perspective of the wildlife living in the river will inform and inspire scientists and visitors for years to come.

While progress has been hampered by storms over last winter and, of course, the pandemic, we’ve been able to develop safe ways of working to continue this project.

As a boater you may be planning on visiting the area over the next year (for the IWA’s Festival of Water, in Worcester, which coincides with the IWA’s 75th birthday), so you may get to cruise on the Severn but, in the meantime, there are other ways to get involved with this big project. In the coming weeks there’s:

  • 19 Oct - Virtual Talk - Monitoring salmon on the River Teme: We’ll be joined by Ed Noyes from Severn Rivers Trust who will be telling us everything we need to know about salmon - from the issues they face, to the work being done on the Teme to protect them.
  • 21 Oct - World Fish Migration Day – Unlocking the Severn for Shad – Virtual Event: Find out more about this ambitious conservation project and gain an insight into the life of the twaite shad in the UK’s longest river, including details on our recent research findings.
  • 26 Oct (half term) - River Kids’ Learning Hub: We join forces with Rivers Trusts from around the UK to bring you an exciting collection of learning resources and activities celebrating our rivers and the migrating fish who populate them.

Click on the links above to see more event details and, where necessary, book your place.


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 on a cruise 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

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:

  • Our Annual Public Meeting is coming up in just over two weeks – 28 October.  This year, due to coronavirus, the event will be hosted online with an opportunity to put your questions at the end to our chief executive Richard Parry and chair Allan Leighton. More details to follow in the next edition of the Boaters Update.


Trust to receive over £1.6m from Government’s Heritage Stimulus Fund

Historic England, via the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund, has awarded the Trust over £1.6 million in funding for 17 projects across the country. 

The funding will help our vital work to safeguard the nation’s historic canals and rivers, so the boaters and the public can enjoy the physical and mental health benefits of being on or by the water.

The projects to receive funding include Hunts Lock on the River Weaver, Sawley Locks 1 and 2 on the River Trent, Diglis Lock 1 where the River Severn meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, Soulbury Three Locks on the Grand Union Canal, and Wigan Flight Lock 71 on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, which all received grants of over £100,000.  The full list can be found below.

Richard Parry, chief executive, said: “The canals were built over 200 years ago and are a vital part of our industrial heritage: you can still use the locks, bridges, tunnels and aqueducts, across our 2,000 miles of waterways, that were great feats of engineering in their time.  The grant funding we are delighted to be receiving from Historic England’s Heritage Stimulus Fund will enable us to carry out important repairs to 17 waterway sites of social and historical importance, much-loved by those who use them, such as boaters, and the communities that live alongside. 

“This funding will be spent during our annual winter works programme, which is essential to ensure our canals and rivers can continue to provide a valuable resource to everyone. We are forecasting a reduction in income of around £20 million due to the pandemic and, while we have prioritised our spending to ensure we have a full programme, this funding will be valuable in helping us carry out all our planned works.

“The task of looking after our waterways remains a challenge: one we are committed to as we aim to keep them in good working order for the nation. We are delighted that the importance of our work has been recognised by the Government.” 

List of Trust projects funded by the Grants for Programmes of Major Works strand of the Heritage Stimulus Fund, part of the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund:

  • Coventry Canal, Coventry Basin, Weighbridge building
  • Grand Union Canal, Blue Bank Lock, Lock 37
  • Grand Union Canal, Soulbury Three Locks, Lock 26 conservation of side ponds
  • Grand Union Canal, Soulbury Three Locks, waterway wall repair
  • Hertford Union Canal, Parnell Road Bridge (Bridge 5), impact damage repair
  • Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Lock 58 (Johnson's Hillock)
  • Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Lock 89 Headgates
  • Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Wigan Flight Lock 71, Wigan Lock repairs
  • River Lee, Ware Bridge (Bridge 64), a.k.a Tumbland Bridge
  • River Trent, Sawley Locks, Sawley Locks 1 & 2
  • River Weaver, Hunts Locks
  • Shropshire Union Canal, Chester Dry Dock, Chester dry dock lock gate replacements
  • Worcester & Birmingham Canal, Coffin Bridge, repair steps, brick repairs, arch, new hand rail
  • Worcester & Birmingham Canal, Diglis Lock 1, Diglis Lock repairs


Bits and bobs

  • We’ve recently had an increase where ‘BW keys’, sold on eBay, have been used on some of our automated bridges and locks these poor quality copies are leading to keys getting stuck and snapped in the key barrel, damaging our key lock devices and ultimately costing around £700 to resolve so please don’t buy them! We, along with our 3rd party retailers who we supply with stock, are the only approved retailers of these keys. To buy slightly cheaper copies online is a false economy because they are of inferior quality and often they are copies of copies and not the genuine Yale Keys that can be bought from us. We’re frequently told that they do not work at all or only for a short period of time and we have to spend vital money in order to fix the lock which we, and I bet you, would rather we spent on maintaining the navigation!
  • How did you learn about boating? We’re asking as a customer got in touch to ask us to recommend (online) guides to living afloat for a complete beginner. More broadly we’re keen to understand where those considering boating, or are a complete novice, look online to learn more. If you fall into either group please do get in touch and tell us what online resources you used, thanks!
  • And finally, don’t forget that winter moorings are now on sale.

Last date edited: 10 October 2020

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The boaters' update

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