For first timers - Page 2

Published: Monday, 13 April 2009

Article Index

Canal & River Trust

THE MAIN authority controlling the waterways and their usage is Canal & River Trust (CaRT), that 'took over' from British Waterways during 2012.

It is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the waterways under its jurisdiction, and also responsible for licensing boats.

It publishes many handbooks concerning the operation of the waterways, as well as many guides and maps, that are invaluable to beginners.

Some rivers, including the non tidal Thames and Nene are controlled by the Environment Agency, which undertakes its own licensing and operation.


BY FAR the best way to experience the waterways is to hire a narrowboat for a cruise. There are many hire companies situated on virtually all the waterways, and these companies usually give instruction on how to handle the boat and work the locks.

Usually the boats are very well equipped, with all the needed utensils and bedding as well as fuel both for the engine, cooking and heating.

The cost of hire varies on the time of the year and the length of the boat, and thus its accommodation, with the individual web sites or brochures giving the cost.

All hire companies provide information and plans of the layout of their boats, and from these it will be seen what would be a comfortable size of boat to hire. Do not make the all too usual mistake of booking a boat larger than what you really need.
A very large boat will be difficult to manœuvre and turning points will be restricted.


THOUGH canals do not usually flood, rivers do, and many canals use rivers both as part of the waterway and as feeders, which can and do cause flooding.

River navigations have to be treated with care in times of heavy rain, but now depth boards have been included at river locks showing when it is safe—or not—to proceed.


IT IS not such a good idea to hire a boat for cruising in the winter, owing to the many stoppages, necessary for the upkeep of the system, unless you are fully aware which passage is available over your chosen route.

Boat Safety Scheme

The Boat Safety Scheme is the method used by the participating Navigation Authorities to minimise the risks that boats may present to third party users of the waterways. Boats over four years old (and every four years thereafter) have to be examined and issued with a certificate before they can be licenced.

Although some controversy still persists, the scheme does provide a sensible framework aimed at minimising the risks which can lead to fire, explosion and pollution. While many believe that their Boat Safety Scheme Certificate (BSSC) is valid for four years, the reality is that the BSSC ‘has a maximum validity period of four years'. While this may appear to be splitting hairs, owners (and prospective owners ) should read the terms and conditions on the rear of the BSSC which clearly state that alterations/modifications to the craft may invalidate the certificate.

If you are purchasing a boat, it is essential to check that its BSSC actually reflects the configuration of the boat for sale. If, for example, the boat has had a galley re-fit or any of its LPG appliances changed/upgraded since its last examination, it is highly likely that the certificate will not be valid (which will have insurance implications). Accordingly, prospective purchasers should request the surveyor conducting their pre-purchase survey to establish the validity of any certificate and, should the need arise, they should budget for the eventuality that a new BSSC may be required to bring the boat into compliance before the purchase is completed.


The spiralling costs

SINCE this page was first included, the cost of narrowboating has increased, and during 2008/9 it has increased dramatically, and looks like doing even further over the coming years.

The mooring charge for a 55 feet boat in a marina can be expected to be over £2,000 a year, double that of around five years ago. In city centres it will be much more.

A year's licence is for this length of boat is now over £600. Then there is insurance.

Every four years is a Boat Safety Scheme, examination, which besides its cost, the result of complying can be anything from a few pound to hundreds. Or even thousands with an older boat.

Further dramatic increase in costs is due to CaRT having its government grant cut by millions of pounds, causing great increases to boaters in costs.

Victor's advice

THIS little bit of advice is not for you regular boaters, but for the many new visitors to the site, who perhaps are all excited at the prospect of their very first venture onto the waterways for a summer holiday.

'So everything sorted? All the literature well read? Can't wait to go? Oh yes, cruising the canals and rivers looks a doddle, with absolutely nothing to worry about, for you are well prepared and you know that every conceivable mod con will be provided on the boat.

Just one word of warning, my friends, it could well be ruined by a lack of just one thing—tuition. So my advice to you is to make sure that the people you are hiring from give tuition, especially at a lock.

Though there is no great difficulty in mastering the control of a narrowboat, and mooring is mostly a matter of practice, locks are not.

Simple though it may seem, I have seen many a hire boat in difficulty, and this site has published a photograph of one hung up in a lock. But worse than that, people have been killed in locks through crews either not knowing or not bothering what they were doing.

So ask your hire company if they give lock tuition, and if either: "Oh, you'll be alright." or "We show you how it's done on a model." is the answer—then go elsewhere.

Let me tell you of my own experience, many, many moons ago, when I first started boating. It was at Pitstone Wharf on the Grand Union Canal when my friend and I booked a boat for a few days, not even knowing what we were getting.

A 50 feet narrowboat was awaiting us. Oh, God, look at the length of it, it's massive. But the fella in charge was unperturbed, showed me how to start the engine then gave me the tiller, accompanying me just a few yards out of the boatyard.

Then together with my friend he walked to the first of the Seabrook Locks, showing us both what to do. We were obviously not up to his standard, so he walked to the next lock and did it all again.

We had a very good holiday—in fact were hooked!

The next time was a week on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal with a boat from Snaygill. Even though we told Chris Shave that we had done it all before, he set us off with the instruction to wait at Holme Bridge Lock the following morning to have instruction.

That is the sort of service you need if you want a carefree holiday. Believe me, nothing else will do'.