iwa's word on the waterways - winter 2019

The clocks have now gone back, it is getting dark by mid-afternoon and the temperature has noticeably dropped, which can only mean one thing... winter is upon us.

While many people think of boating as a fair-weather pastime, there are some who are on their boat come rain or shine or even, for the very hardy, through snow and freezing conditions.

Boating in the winter brings some challenges, but as long as you are well prepared, it is a wonderful time to be out on the water, there are very few queues for locks for one thing! Boating in the dark also requires a bit more thought and preparation, but brings a peace to the water which is quite magical. Here we look at some tips for boating both in the winter and in the dark.

winter boating

There are a few practical things that boaters should bear in mind, especially if you’ve not been boating in wintry conditions before.


Llangollen canal above Grindley Brook in snowTake extra care when working locks and stepping on and off the boat in rain, ice or snow, as surfaces are likely to be slippery.

Wear shoes with a good grip and even if you don’t wear a lifejacket the rest of the year, it can be a good idea for winter boating, particularly if boating in the dark or in very cold temperatures. Make sure you’ve got plenty of warm clothes, waterproofs, food and supplies for hot drinks on board.

Nothing beats a cosy cabin at the end of a cold day’s boating, so whatever type of cabin heating your boat has, make sure you set off with plenty of fuel. You don’t want to get iced in somewhere without enough fuel to keep you warm.

Never be tempted to block up your cabin ventilation, however cold it is outside, due to the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. IWA advises that all boaters fit a carbon monoxide alarm on their boats. With diesel heaters, it can be a good idea to clean out the fuel filters before winter boating and with solid fuel stoves it’s important to sweep the chimney.

boating through ice

boating through ice Grand Union CanalBoating through ice can be fun – there’s a lovely distinctive tinkling sound when breaking through relatively thin ice. It’s important to take it steady past moored boats and be extra careful if passing GRP or wooden boats.

Breaking ice at the sides of the boat (from the bows) can be helpful if you are concerned about any damage to moored boats.

When the ice gets a bit thicker you will find it hard to steer, especially around bends. You will need to stop, and manually break the ice (using a boat pole) in front and to the side of the boat in the direction you want to turn, and on the opposite side at the back of the boat. If the ice is too thick, it is safer to moor up where you can.


Rivers, and even some canals, can be affected by strong flows and flood conditions. Keep a close eye on conditions and plan ahead to identify safe locations where you will be able to moor up until water levels reduce. Navigation Authorities including Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency will issue stoppage or restriction notices whenever flows reach a level that could be hazardous to boaters. The best place to find out information is on the relevant navigation authority’s website. If the weather is bad, we advise that you check the website on a regular basis and ensure you sign up for any messaging system (text, email) on the route you are taking.

winter stoppages

Don’t forget to check for other stoppages for maintenance works which often take place over the winter months.

boating in the dark

With shorter days at this time of year, you might find yourself boating in the dark. While boating in the dark is allowed under Canal & River Trust byelaws, and by most other navigation authorities, most hire boat companies prohibit it so if you are on a hire boat holiday in the winter you will need to make sure your schedule allows for you mooring up before it gets dark.

There’s nothing to stop privately owned boats boating through the night, and it can make an otherwise uneventful stretch of waterway much more interesting!

But you need to be extra careful – allow plenty of time and make sure you are prepared before you set off.

Ensure your boat has a good headlight, as without it you won’t see where you are going and could cause damage to your own or other craft. If it is difficult to see which way the canal goes ahead of you, use the towpath as a guide as you are more likely to see the towpath in low light levels.

Should you come across a boat coming the other way, be aware that your headlight might dazzle them and vice versa, so be prepared to turn your headlight off if you think it will help the oncoming boat.

Try to consider moored boats and the people on board – especially if boating late into the evening, through the night or very early in the morning.

Sound travels on the water, so avoid shouting to your crew, and slow right down passed moored boats (even slower than you would when boating during the day) to minimise disturbance. Head torches are great inventions and extremely useful when boating in the dark, especially when operating locks.

Don’t forget plenty of batteries for your torches.

All in all, with a bit of common sense and some good preparation, winter boating can be a safe and enjoyable experience. We wish you all the best, should you be setting off any time soon.

inland waterways association logoThe Inland Waterways Association is the membership charity that works to protect and restore the country's 6,500 miles of canals and rivers. IWA is a national organisation with a network of volunteers and branches who deploy their expertise and knowledge to work constructively with navigation authorities, government and other organisations. The Association also provides practical and technical support to restoration projects through its expert Waterway Recovery Group.

Call: 01494 783453 Write: email Visit: website  #LoveYourWaterways


heritage and restoration

canal camps and eradicating himalayan balsam

iwa’s word on the waterways – autumn 2019

The year is flying by and it really makes us think about time and the passing of the ages. This year, The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) has launched its new Heritage Campaign, which is celebrating all that is unique about our waterways, especially the canals with their industrial past.

As anyone who has spent any time on the canals knows, each waterway has its own individual features. There are bridges, locks and canal-side buildings that add to the story of the canal’s rich history, but more than that, there are smaller assets that help to build up the bigger picture of the canal such as signage, canal furniture and other remnants from the past.

IWA Heritage Tracker

Heritage BridgeIWA is asking people to fill out an online survey which asks for examples of areas where waterways heritage has been saved, where it has been lost due to unsympathetic development and where it may currently be at risk. It asks for views on the importance of waterways heritage, does it help to draw visitors to a particular stretch of canal, does it help bring economic benefits to a region?

In another question, the survey asks if respondents feel that there is any place on the waterways for modern structures to replace the old. An example of this is the Falkirk Wheel which, although modern, is a stunning addition to the waterways. So far, it seems that people feel that, where possible, the original features should be replaced, using traditional crafts, skills and materials. However, where it isn’t financially viable, or where circumstances have changed, there is a place for sympathetic replacement with a more modern design. The waterways need to evolve and change with the times and while the past needs to be remembered, new designs shouldn’t always be overlooked.

IWA has set up a Heritage Advisory Panel and is currently looking at commissioning some research into the value of waterways heritage, with a view to ensuring it is protected and respected in all future development plans. If you would like to fill out the survey, please visit the website  or send your comments to Jo Henderson's email.

Restoration Experts

IWA Canal Camps Summer 2019 group photoIWA has been involved in canal restoration in one form or another for close on 75 years and through its Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camps we have the potential to achieve huge things in a short space of time with all volunteers working together. Already this year alone, volunteers have spent over 8,000 hours on restoration projects, working alongside canal restoration groups to move projects forward. Also this year, IWA has added more Family Camps to the calendar, inviting young people to find out more about the waterways and especially the wildlife that it attracts. Family Camps are open to parents and children aged 6 -14 years. At a recent Family Camp on the Uttoxeter Canal, one family brought along three generations, grandparents, parents and grandchildren were all working together to clear vegetation, remove Himalayan balsam and build bat boxes.

The IWA Restoration Hub is looking at providing expert help to restoration projects across the country. Expert engineers, planners and most recently, heritage advisers are on hand to help canal restoration groups to overcome any issues that arise on their projects. The aim is that IWA Restoration Hub can help remove obstacles that cause a project to stall, whether that is planning matters with the local council, complex engineering issues or restrictions due to fragile heritage assets. For more information on the expert advice available, please visit website

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iwa's word on the waterways - summer 2019

Now that the weather is warmer, our thoughts happily turn to spending more time outside. For many of us, the lure of the water is strong and we look forward to taking time out of our hectic lives to relax on or by the many rivers and canals across the country.

Working Together to Make a Difference

If you are planning a ‘staycation’ in the UK but are hoping for a holiday with a difference this year, why not take a look at IWA’s Waterway Recovery Group Canal Camps? These week-long working holidays offer volunteers the chance to meet new people, learn new skills and leave a legacy for the future. At just £70 for the week, full-board, volunteers can find themselves carrying out various activities such as clearing vegetation, bush-whacking, bricklaying, stone walling, restoring locks, re-lining canals or creating towpaths. With 25 different Canal Camps to choose from, there are dates, locations and activities to suit everyone and this year, there are also three Family Camps running, so children are welcome too. Basic accommodation is provided, usually in a village hall or scout hut. Volunteers need to provide their own camp bed or sleeping mat. All transfers to and from the accommodation to the work site are included but volunteers will have to make their own way to the Canal Camp. If travelling by public transport, volunteers can be collected from the nearest railway station.

iwa canal camp 2019The Canal Camp working holidays attract volunteers of all ages from students through to the retired and from all walks of life. The aim of the Canal Camp programme is to support the work of local canal restoration societies. The largest projects that need support in 2019 are based on the Grantham Canal in Nottinghamshire, the Cotswold Canals and the Wey & Arun Canal in Surrey and West Sussex.

If you’re interested in volunteering on a Canal Camp, visit the website www.wrg.org.uk to see a full list of all 2019 dates and locations. Camps are open to anyone aged 18 and above (Family camps age 6 years plus) and no experience is necessary. All personal protection equipment is supplied. You just need a pair of steel toe cap boots.


Pull Snap Stomp: Eradicating Himalayan Balsam

All along the towpaths this summer, you will probably spot the pink-purple flowers of Himalayan balsam. Although it looks pretty, this non-native, invasive plant species is causing lots of problems with erosion due to the fact that it has no root stock and dies back over the winter.

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) has launched its annual Pull Snap Stomp campaign which aims to stamp out the spread of Himalayan balsam along river and canal banks during June and July.

Himalayan balsam stems are easy to pull out and leave the ground with a very pleasing ‘pop’ which makes it a fun family activity. IWA is seeking volunteers both young and old to help remove the plants from towpaths before it has a chance to go to seed and spread its stranglehold even further. Volunteers are being asked to take just five minutes out of their walk to PULL up the stems, SNAP off the root and STOMP down on it to speed up the rotting process.

Himalayan balsamIWA is asking members of the public to either sign up for an online information pack in order to pull up Himalayan balsam on a family walk or join a local IWA branch Balsam Bash work party. These packs will include a leaflet to help people identify Himalayan balsam and a pair of branded pink work gloves* to keep hands clean. To see where the Balsam Bashes are running or to request an information pack, please visit website

Alternatively, IWA branches are running Balsam Bash work parties in a number of different locations across the country. If you would be interested in getting involved with these, please check the website.

More information on this non-native, invasive species can also be found on the IWA website. If you find Himalayan balsam and pull any up, please post a photo on social media using #PullSnapStomp.

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