With the end of British Summer time it is suddenly going to seem very dark on the towpath in the evenings, so this is probably a good time to talk about personal safety and the security of your most precious things, like your boat.
It’s a sad fact of life that there are some people out there, who if given the opportunity, will take things from you and your boat, and might even try and steal your boat itself. So what can you do to minimise the risk, and what should you do if the worst happens?
If your boat is your home, you probably already take security pretty seriously and will have invested in decent locking systems and possibly even an alarm and GPS tracking system in case someone steals the boat itself. If you haven’t, it’s time to do it, there’s loads of good advice and systems out there if you surf the net.
Padlocks on hatches are always a dead giveaway to a potential thief that there’s no-one on board and it’s the work of seconds with a battery powered angle-grinder or a crowbar to open these. Try and replace padlocks with key, bolt and bar type systems that can be easily opened from inside the boat, but are much harder to break into from the outside.
"Beware of the Dog" stickers and alarm/tracker system stickers in the windows can also help as a deterrent, even if you haven’t got a dog or an alarm. If you do have a padlock system try to get the sort used on commercial vehicles and remember never, ever, ever have any padlocks on exterior doors or hatches if you are inside the boat. How would you get out in a fire?
When you moor up somewhere new have a good look around at the surroundings in daylight. Are there places between the boat and any exit points from the canal towpath where someone can lurk and potentially creep up on you? What’s the lighting like, if any? Does it look like a safe place to moor? Are there houses close by or not? Do you know the postcode or nearest street name in case of an emergency? There's some good advice on the Metropolitan Police website here.
Before leaving your boat always lock valuables out of sight. Some people recommend leaving all curtains closed so that the contents of the boat can’t been seen and others say the opposite (if there’s absolutely nothing of value on board). My personal preference is closed.
Never leave your boat key in the ignition and never have your boat keys on the same keyring as your ignition key. Carry a whistle or personal alarm. When I’m scared I can barely speak, let alone shout for help! If you have a long and lonely walk along a dark towpath try and have a buddy system with another friend via mobile phone.
If the worst happens call the Police first – 999 if emergency in progress and 101 after the event. Always report it and always get a crime number and ask them to forward the information to Project Kraken. If the Police don’t know there’s a problem on the towpath, they won’t be able to put resources into protecting us.
Your next call should be to your insurance company, depending on what and how much was stolen. They’ll need the crime reference number to process a claim which is why you should call the Police first.
Third point of contact should be the Canal & River Trust via our incident reporting form. Just like the Police, we can’t put resources into making things better if we don’t know there’s a problem. If your boat has actually been stolen we can even help you find it by checking our boat sighting data.
Finally use the power of social media and the internet to try and get your things back. There are lots of useful boating groups on Facebook such as London Boaters and many more. On Twitter use the hashtag #boatsthattweet and check out internet forums too. Use the internet to search Gumtree, Ebay, and local classified sales type websites to see if anyone is selling items nearby that look like your stolen items, quite a few stolen goods have been found this way. If your boat's been stolen try not to panic too much. To the best of my knowledge there’s only been one narrowboat stolen on the canal network that disappeared completely and wasn’t found via the power of the internet.
Take a few minutes next time you are on your boat to review your security and put in place an action plan if you find things that need attention. Then hopefully the only things that go bump in the night will be the water fowl nibbling weed from your hull.
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