Boater’s Handbook DVD – Canal & River Trust

Boater’s Handbook DVD – Canal & River Trust


Our rivers and canals
provide something for everyone: enjoying the scenery, having fun on the water, learning new skills or just relaxing into
a whole new, slow pace of life. One of the most important contributions to your enjoyment
of this wonderful waterways world will be you and your crew’s ability
to handle the boat and operate the locks
safely and without stress. This DVD aims to take the worry out of
steering and handling a narrowboat and performing some basic manoeuvres to enable you and your crew
to enjoy your time spent on the water. Crewing a boat is a team effort with
everyone mucking in and doing their bit. However, someone has to be in charge,
and that person needs to ensure that everyone knows
what they’re expected to do. You’ll need to decide which
of your party will be the skipper. Before setting off, make sure that you understand
how everything on your boat works and that you can carry out
all the necessary routine checks. Also, make sure you know
the location of the fire extinguishers and how to operate them and that everyone knows exactly
what to do if a fire should break out. Although fires and explosions are rare, it’s important that
you’re aware of the risks. LPG bottled gas, used for cookers
and heaters, is heavier than air, and if there’s a leak, it will build up
in the bottom of the boat and could be ignited by a spark. Always keep ventilators open
and free from obstruction. If you smell gas,
immediately turn it off at the cylinder. If there’s an incident,
switch off the gas, steer the boat to the bank
and secure it, get all the crew ashore
and call for help. Lifejackets are recommended, especially for under-18s
and non-swimmers. Remember the water can be very deep
and, at times, extremely cold. Setting off is simple. Start the engine
and if you’ve used mooring pins, remove them by twisting
and pulling straight out so as not to damage the bank. If you’re in deep water,
untie the front rope and push off. Do the same with the back,
then motor away from the bank. Make sure you keep
the deck areas tidy. Loose items of gear
can be a trip hazard. Also, stow all ropes carefully. If a rope trails in the water,
it can easily foul the propeller. If you’re in shallow water
or moored close to other boats, it’s a good idea
to push the back out first and use reverse gear
to get well clear of the bank before engaging forward gear
to motor away. When travelling, always keep within
the profile of the boat; a steel narrowboat weighs several tons and you don’t want any limbs or heads between it and a hard place
or another boat. If you need to get from one end of
the boat to the other whilst under way, go through the boat
rather than walking along the side. When you need to stop your boat,
remember it doesn’t have brakes and it’s important to give yourself
plenty of time. Ease off the throttle, move into neutral and then use short bursts
in reverse gear to slow the boat down
and come to rest. Your boat won’t always stop
in a straight line, and may need a short burst of
forward gear to correct its position. Most canal boats
are steered using a tiller, which is quite simple
once you’ve had a little practice. Always stand in front of the tiller
so it can’t knock you if the rudder hits something
under the water and swings the tiller over unexpectedly. Likewise, keep crew members
clear of the tiller. Steering a 50- or 60-foot-long boat
down a narrow canal might seem a little daunting at first but if you remember a few basic things,
you’ll soon get the hang of it. Always think ahead and line the boat up
for bridges and locks well in advance. Don’t go on the roof of the boat
while under way. Bridges and overhanging branches
can easily sweep you off. When steering, there are
two main principles to bear in mind. Firstly, the boat can only be steered
when the engine is in forward gear, which creates a flow of water
across the rudder. Remember: no gear, no steer. Secondly, a narrowboat
doesn’t turn like a car, with the back following the front. Instead the boat will pivot around
a point roughly halfway down its length. The boat is steered by the rudder “pushing” the back in one direction
which, in turn, causes the front
to move in the opposite direction. So it’s important to allow for the swing
of the back when manoeuvring the boat. The secret is to let the front go past
the point where you want to turn before pushing the tiller over
to take the boat around, otherwise you run the risk
of cutting the corner which can sometimes
take you into shallow water and you may even run aground. On bends, keep towards the outside
where there is usually deeper water. If you do run aground, don’t panic;
it’s easy to sort out. Simply get your crew
onto the side of the boat opposite to where you’re aground, then gently reverse away
from the obstruction. Trying to go forward
will just make matters worse. Selecting reverse gear will flush water
under the boat, floating it off. If you’re in very shallow water,
you may have to use the pole to push the back out into deeper water
before reversing. Make sure you use the pole against a
solid object or the bed of the waterway, not against another boat or as a lever. Give yourself enough room to straighten
up and steer away from the obstruction. If you want to turn the boat round,
look for a turning place, which is called a winding hole and will be marked in the guidebook
by a curved arrow. Most winding holes have a rough V shape
cut into the bank opposite the towpath. To turn your boat,
put the front of the boat into the V, then use your engine in forward gear or use a pole to push
the back of the boat round slowly. When you’re far enough round, engage reverse to pull
the front of the boat off the bank until you can steer away forward. Watch out for shallow water
at the towpath edge. The cardinal rule with all manoeuvres
on the water is to think it through first
and perform the manoeuvre slowly. Slow right down,
just short of where you want to moor, with your boat parallel to the bank. Have a crew member ready at the front
and move forward slowly, steering into the bank. Before the boat touches,
use reverse to stop the boat and let your crew member step off
with a mooring rope. There’s no need to jump; it’s all too easy to slip
between the boat and the bank. If there’s a convenient ring or bollard,
use this to help steady the boat, but don’t pull it tight
or you’ll prevent the back coming in. With the tiller
pointing towards the bank, use the engine to bring the back in, then use reverse gear
to bring the boat to a halt, allowing you or another crew member
to step off the back with a rope. Pull the boat into the bank
and secure to the rings or bollards. It’s a good idea to take
the mooring ropes back to the boat rather than tying
to the ring or bollard itself. If there are no rings or bollards,
you’ll need to put in mooring pins, again, where possible, taking the line
back to the boat to secure. Pins should be kept away
from the water’s edge, but should never be positioned
across the towpath. Always tie up
with the ropes going outwards at roughly 45 degrees
from the ends of the boat. When tying up, you won’t need to learn
lots of complex rope-work; a few basic hitches
will be all you need. The most common
is the round turn and two half hitches, used here to secure the back rope
around the boat’s bollards. If securing to a T-stud,
take a couple of turns around the arms, then turn the rope under on itself
to form a locking hitch. A good way to secure a rope temporarily
around a bollard is the clove hitch. Form a loop in the rope, then take
the free end around the bollard and place the loop over it. These three hitches should cover all
the situations you’re likely to meet. Make sure you never place your fingers between the rope
and the bollards or rings. If the boat were to move, the rope
could suddenly trap your fingers. Locks allow boats
to travel uphill or downhill. They provide a chance for the whole crew
to get involved and are often a place where you will swap stories and
local knowledge with other boaters. Locks do come
in different shapes and sizes, but the principle of using them
is pretty much the same. A lock is simply a chamber with gates
to contain the water at either end. The flow of water in and out of the lock
is controlled by sluices called paddles which are operated using a windlass. The paddles at the top of the lock
are used to let water in and those at the bottom,
to let water out, thus raising or lowering your boat. Stop the boat well before the lock. Hold the boat with ropes and put one or more crew members ashore
to get the lock ready. If there are only two of you,
you may have a centre line. This makes it easier for one person
to hold the boat steady. But the centre line should never be used
for mooring up. The golden rule at locks is to take
your time and do things methodically. Remember that
some of the lock mechanisms can be stiff and heavy to operate. Consider getting your fittest
or strongest crew members to do the hard work. Make sure you lift any side fenders
before going into a lock. It’s important that the steerer
stays at the tiller at all times, with the engine running
so the boat is always under control. Children love to get involved
and help out at locks; it’s all part of the adventure. But locks are deep with strong water
flows, so be particularly vigilant and make sure
they’re always fully supervised. For younger children in particular,
the paddle gear is often at head height, so keep them well clear. A spinning or flying windlass
can cause a lot of damage. Never leave a windlass unattended
on the paddle mechanism. It’s important
that crew operating paddles stay by their paddle mechanism
until the lock is empty or full, and they remain in contact with
the skipper in case of emergency. Keep an eye on the boat at all times
and if anything goes wrong, close all paddles quickly
and sort out the problem. Some locks have anti-vandal devices
which you release with a handcuff key. Just a word about priority. Locks aren’t operated
on a first-come, first-served basis, but on whether the lock can be used
by another boat without wasting water. For example, if you’re going downhill
and come to a lock that’s empty, always check to see if another boat
is approaching from below the lock. If so, the lock would be
in their favour. Wait for them to enter and use the lock. You would have had
to fill the lock anyway, so you might as well do it
with a boat in it. Of course, if there isn’t
another boat coming, you don’t need to wait
for one to arrive. It’s a case of using a little courtesy
and common sense to save water. If there isn’t another boat coming, make sure the gates and paddles
at the far end of the lock are closed before lifting the paddles at the end
nearest the boat to fill the lock. Make sure the windlass is a snug fit on
the spindle by using the correct hole. All paddle mechanisms will have
a safety catch of some type. These should always be engaged
where possible. When the lock is full, push the gate
open, steer the boat into the lock and make sure the top paddles
are fully closed. Always wind the paddles back down; letting them drop can cause them to
break and put the lock out of action. Close the top gate. Then you can open the paddles in front
to let the water out. The steerer needs to keep an eye
on the back of the boat to make sure it’s always clear
of the top gate cill. If necessary, briefly engage
forward gear to keep the boat away. Make sure the front is clear
of the bottom gate and that the boat is floating freely. As the lock empties you’ll find that
the bottom gates will open quite easily once the water levels are equalised. Trying to force them before they’re
ready is a total waste of effort. Close all paddles and, unless another
boat is approaching, close the gates. Collect your crew,
unless there’s another lock close by, in which case it’s easier
for them to stay off the boat and walk ahead
to get the next lock ready. Going uphill is a similar procedure. If the lock is full, make sure
another boat isn’t approaching, then empty it and steer the boat in. On most canals,
you won’t experience strong currents but on some,
water flows round the locks quite fast. If you see water movement,
steer into the flow, as it will push the front of the boat
away, then back as it passes. Close the bottom gates and make sure
the paddles are fully down. To fill the lock,
open the top paddles one at a time. Do this slowly. It’s a good idea to initially lift
the first paddle just halfway to avoid a great in-surge of water that can throw the boat
backwards and forwards, making it difficult to control. If the lock is fitted with paddles
in the top gate, don’t open them
until they’re under water. Opening them too early can cause
water to swamp the front of the boat. Again, open them slowly and keep
a watchful eye on the boat at all times. When the lock is full,
the gate will open easily. Check that the paddles are all down
and close the gates after the boat, unless another boat
is waiting to use the lock. Sometimes you’ll come across
two or more locks joined together in what is known as a staircase, where the top gate of one lock
is the bottom gate of the next. Setting these locks is
slightly different from a normal lock. Make sure that all paddles are down. If you’re going uphill,
the bottom lock should be empty with the upper ones all full. You use the water from the upper locks
to fill the lower ones in turn, raising you up the flight. When going downhill, the top lock should
be full with the lower ones empty. You empty the upper lock
into the lower ones in turn. With staircase locks,
it’s important to check that another boat hasn’t started
in the opposite direction before you enter the first lock. The general rule is
one boat up, one boat down, unless local notices tell you otherwise. Broad locks, that is ones
which are wider than your boat, need a little extra care. Try to share with another boat
whenever possible to save water. And always use the front and back ropes
to steady the boat in the lock. When you’re using the lock alone
and going uphill, always slowly open
the top ground paddle; that’s the one on the lock side
rather than the one in the gate; on the same side as the boat first. This way,
the flow of water into the lock will help to keep the boat against the
lock wall, making it easier to control. When the lock is part full, you can open the paddles
on the opposite side as well. Don’t use gate paddles
until they’re under water. You’ll find many types of bridges
crossing the waterways. Most are fixed,
which you will pass under, and others need to be moved
out of the way. These are either swing bridges
or lifting bridges and will need to be operated
by your crew. Remember to check you have
sufficient headroom to pass through. Stop the boat well before the bridge. Leaving yourself plenty of room
will make it easier to line the boat up correctly
when you go through the bridge. Moveable bridges are usually locked. Make sure when you land your crew
that you have the proper key or windlass to unlock and operate the bridge. If the bridge carries traffic,
make sure the road is clear and close any warning barriers. Unlock the chain or catch and, for a swing bridge,
give it a good, controlled push. Be ready to slow the swing to prevent the bridge
from bouncing off the buffer stop. Once the boat is through,
close the bridge, secure the lock and raise any warning barriers. Lifting bridges will have a winder
which you operate with a windlass, or sometimes a chain or rope
to pull to operate the bridge. When fully open,
unless there’s an obvious latch, get an adult to hold on
to keep the bridge raised. Once you’re sure that the boat is clear,
gently lower the bridge, always keeping it under control. Some bridges are powered
and need a facilities key to operate. Make sure you always follow
the instructions and pay particular care
to traffic barriers, unlocking and re-locking them
when leaving. And don’t forget to retrieve your key. Some cruising routes include tunnels. These are quite easy and often fun
to navigate, but they do require care. Tunnels may be narrow,
only allowing one-way traffic, or wide enough for boats
to pass each other. Look for information
and instruction boards or traffic lights at the entrance. If you have to wait for another boat
coming through, stay well clear of the tunnel entrance
to give them room to pass. Make sure everyone is inside the boat, with nobody’s arms or legs
hanging over the side. Prepare the boat by switching on
the headlights and some interior lights. These will help to illuminate
the tunnel walls. Turn off any gas appliances. Many tunnels are damp, so put some
waterproofs on and have a torch to hand. As you enter the tunnel,
sound one long blast on your horn. Steer by looking at
one side of the tunnel only and keep to a moderate speed. Some tunnels allow canoes to use them. They won’t have navigation lights, so have someone as a lookout
in the front of the boat to warn the skipper if you see one. Always keep a reasonable distance
between you and any boat in front. If it’s two-way traffic,
watch out for oncoming boats and pass slowly on the right. If your route includes
a stretch of river, there are some additional factors
to bear in mind. You must follow any specific
instructions which are signposted. Unlike canals,
the water in a river is always moving. In dry weather,
this current is quite gentle, but in prolonged wet weather,
the river has to carry more water, and its speed will increase
and the water level will rise. It’s easy to tell if the flow is normal. At every river lock,
there are marker boards. At normal river level,
a green band shows. If the level rises, it goes into yellow,
which means take extra care. If the level is in the red,
navigation on the river is prohibited and you should stop and moor safely
until conditions improve. So all you have to do
is check at each lock. On some rivers there are flood locks; locks which are open at normal flows,
and closed in strong stream conditions. They’re only operated
by Canal & River Trust staff. If you come across a closed flood lock, you’ll need to wait for
Canal & River Trust staff to open it when the flood recedes. If you need to moor up on a river, always approach the bank
with the boat pointing upstream. If travelling downstream, go beyond
your chosen stopping place, turn around and approach the bank
against the current. This uses the current to slow the boat
down and helps to maintain steering. When tying up, always secure
the upstream rope first. And when setting off,
untie the downstream rope first. Always leave some slack in your ropes
to allow for water level changes. Don’t moor overnight
except at designated mooring sites, and always use fixed bollards or rings. When approaching bridges, look for signs
showing which arch to go through. Weirs, generally near locks, may have a
sideways current flowing towards them. Be ready for this. Watch for signs
and steer to counteract the current. All boats on rivers must carry an anchor
of adequate size and weight with a suitable length of rope,
secured to a strong point on the boat. The anchor should be stowed
in such a way that it can be deployed
quickly and easily in an emergency. Hire boats which go on rivers
will have a suitable anchor. The rule of the road on the canals is to
steer down the centre of the waterway, but to move to your right
when you meet an oncoming boat. Pass each other slowly. Going faster makes it more likely
that you’ll go aground. If you’re approaching a bridge
or narrow section, slow down, and if an oncoming boat is closer
to the bridge or narrow section, wave them through and keep to the right
until they’re well clear. However, on rivers, the boat
travelling downstream has right of way. The speed limit
on narrow canals is 4mph, which is equivalent to a brisk walking
pace. But this is a maximum speed. On many canals,
particularly if the water is shallow, you’ll need to go much slower. Going too fast pulls the back of the
boat deeper into the shallow water, making steering more difficult. The important thing is not to create a
breaking wash which damages the bank. If another boat is slower than you, it’s usual to keep your distance
and stay behind. If the other boat wants you to overtake,
the skipper will wave you on and pull over to one side
and leave you room to pass slowly. A final word here about horn signals. Give a single long blast
when the view ahead is obscured, such as blind bends,
junctions or bridges. On commercial waterways, two
long blasts from an approaching boat means it wishes you to pass
on the wrong side, that is, to the left of them. No one should ever end up in the water,
but it could happen, and if it does,
it’s best to know what to do. If you’re on a canal
or a slow-flowing, shallow river and someone falls overboard,
you should immediately go into neutral. If it’s safe to do so,
turn off the engine to prevent the person in the water
being dragged into the propeller. Throw them a lifebelt,
and then ask them if they can stand up. It’s more than likely that they’ll be
able to wade to the side of most canals. Guide the boat slowly to the bank and get one of your crew
to help the person ashore. If you’re on a wider river
or deeper waterway, throw a lifebuoy or lifeline
close to them. Manoeuvre the boat to approach them
very carefully from the front in order to keep them well away
from the propeller. If there’s any danger of them
getting too close to the propeller, immediately select neutral gear. Pull them towards the front and
side of the boat and help them aboard. But the best advice is to take great
care not to fall in in the first place. The canals are there for all to enjoy, whether boating, walking,
fishing or cycling, and you need to show consideration
for other users. Your speed is probably
the main thing to bear in mind. When passing moored boats,
slow right down to tick-over speed to avoid your wash pulling craft
away from their moorings and possibly pulling out mooring pins. Slow your boat down well in advance
to allow it to lose momentum before you reach the moored boats. The same applies to fishermen. Always slow down to tick-over and keep to the centre of the canal
unless asked to do otherwise. When mooring, always try
to leave room for other boats and never moor on the approach
to a lock or bridge, opposite a winding hole
or at a water point. Some of our bigger waterways
carry freight in big barges. They have priority over pleasure boats. Keep well clear
and watch for signals from the skipper, who may need you to move
to give him the deeper water. Barges make a big wash, so when
you moor on commercial waterways, use fixed bollards or rings. Barges also have restricted sight lines. If you can’t see the skipper,
he can’t see you. OK, that’s it. It may seem a lot to remember,
but if you take your time, tackle everything slowly
and think things through first, you’ll soon get used
to handling your boat confidently. And your time on the waterways
will be enjoyable and safe, for you, for your crew
and for other waterway users. Happy cruising!

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