Sunday, 11 October 2015

Ten Things I Have Learned About Narrow Boating

The original purpose of this blog was not so much the diary of events that it has become, but to describe how we use a boat and what lessons we learn as we go along.
Now, six years after first dipping our toe in the waters I wrote down these ten things I've learned in the process. If you're new to boating I hope they are useful. If you're an experienced boater I hope you agree.
1. Make sure you learn some basic engineering / maintenance skills - or, like me, have a boating partner who is skilled in practical engineering. It's not all swanning about through green avenues of trees and light twinkling on the waters, more's the pity. It also involves anti-freeze, oil, sludge, battery charging, air locks and odd things wrapped around the prop.
2. Solo boating requires special  skills and techniques. Learn about boating first with an experienced crew before attempting lock flights on your own. A longer than usual centre rope can help by holding on to the rope while working the lock gates. More info at Canal Boat - Going It Alone.
3. Cultivate a tick-over mentality. Go slowly. Really slowly. 4 mph is an absolute max when cruising, far far slower in locks, at blind corners, near moored boats etc. If your wake is breaking on the water's edge you're going too fast. No doubt a helpful liveaboard boater will be out on deck shouting at you before long.
4. There is no brake. You can only progress cautiously then engage reverse. Even in an emergency give it a moment when shifting from full steam ahead to full speed astern if you don't want to lose your gearbox. Narrow boats often misbehave in reverse, which may mean you swing around more than you'd like and steering backwards is a guessing game, but reverse gear is your only means of slowing or stopping.
5. Effective steering is only possible when you are under way and the engine is in forward gear.
6. Canals and especially locks are full of hazards. Always be aware and think how you can avoid risk or escape from a problem. Ask yourself and your crew how you would cope with running aground, getting stuck on the lock cill, become adrift with engine problems, man overboard ....
7. The centre rope is your friend. Use it to pull the boat to the mooring or keep it in place in a lock. A single mooring rope at bow or at stern will leave the other end waving around. The centre rope will pull in each end equally. Make sure centre ropes on both port and starboard are immediately available at the tiller. Extend them if boating solo.
8. Wear suitable clothing before you set off, anticipating imminent weather changes. Waterproofs, non-slip shoes, warm clothes, hat with a brim or peak against direct sun or rain. Plus a complete set of clothes to change into if the first set become wet.
9. Share the load. Alternate steering and locking, all crew need to know what to do.
10. Always greet oncoming boaters and thank lock keepers (usually volunteers) and any fellow boaters who help with locks. But beware a gongoozler who offers to help in locks, they could be very valuable but you shouldn't rely on them.

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