Monday, 16 November 2015

Essential Equipment on your narrow boat

What is essential and what is merely convenient? Some things that seem not to be essential become so if there is an equipment failure or an unexpected problem.
Here's my attempt to describe the essentials. At the least it should provide you with a starter kit list.
I've divided the kit into food (dealt with in separate blog entry), tools (which may seem a very short list but could be almost endless), boat essentials, general and clothes.

Tools
multi-meter
standard tool kit including screw drivers (slotted, philips and electrical), adjustable spanners, gaffer tape, sealant, stanley knife,  ptfe tape, bulbs, fuses, superglue, oil, pencil …
if using logs for fuel, include saw and axe; secateurs and a small folding saw are valuable for clearing overhanging branches

Boat Essentials
Much of this should be permanently on board - but check frequently to be sure and renew if necessary:
windlass
fuel, gas, water and wood
two long poles - one with a hook
keys - BW, starter, boat doors, pump-out - all on a float (and check that it does, indeed, float!)
water hose with connectors
dipsticks to measure water and fuel levels
spikes, piling hooks, club hammer (painted in bright colour so it doesn't get lost)
ropes for mooring, centre ropes long enough for solo boating, spare ropes,
spare light bulbs and tubes for internal and external lighting
painting gear with brushes, small sponge rollers, paint (bitumen, undercoat, top coat, anti rust, red oxide), sandpaper (wet and dry), white spirit, tins and jars
oil, WD-40, multi-purpose cleaner
fire extinguishers
first aid kit
guides and manuals
life jackets
life belt
head lamp

General
radio
phone
matches / lighter
brush, mop, bucket, sponge, environmentally friendly washing up liquid
loo roll, kitchen roll
torch
batteries and chargers for all devices
umbrella
suncream, polarising sunglasses, toiletries
binoculars, camera
blu tak, pen and paper, boat log, sellotape
pans, kettle, cutlery, sharp knives, bottle opener,  mugs, plates, bowls

Clothes (in a flexible waterproof bag)

(I pack for the worst weather and am rarely disappointed ...)
two full sets of warm clothes
full set of waterproofs - trousers, jacket, hat, shoes or boots
cap with peak or brim
bedding - sheets, pillows, blankets, duvet/sleeping bag

Right, that's my list - what's yours?

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

General maintenance of a narrow boat

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Poor maintenance leads to breakdowns and system failures
Causes
Poor maintenance could be carelessness or lack of skill and knowledge. I am fortunate in having a boating partner who is a very careful engineer. However if I was alone I'd have to invest more in learning some basic skills as well as employing an engineer for regular servicing. It simply can't be skipped.
Solutions
Maintenance is ongoing but can be divided into:
  • continuous (battery levels, check engine noise etc), 
  • daily (bilges, weed hatch, grease gland etc), 
  • per journey (fuel levels, pump out, gas supply, food and water etc), 
  • monthly (pumps, oil, etc) and 
  • annual (winterising, anti-freeze, draining water etc).
Start with a survey by a qualified marine engineer, which is also the opportunity for you to look over the boat inside and out, and accept a thorough and informed report. Act on it! Learn basic skills and employ them in a regular regime.


Every boat must have a current BSC - Boat Safety Certificate, renewed every four years. Most problems can be avoided by regular inspection and maintenance and the BSC reinforces that. Start with a thorough survey of the boat in dry dock by a qualified marine surveyor - local names and contact details are in waterways magazines and from your local marina. The £500 or so paid then could save you thousands if you avoid buying a boat with problems or you can forestall likely problems. It will also inform you of future tasks which could improve your boat's safety and comfort.

If you know what you are doing you will probably enjoy maintaining your boat in top condition. If your interest is more in the enjoyment of sun and water, birds and bridges, you may have to push yourself in to a basic routine and supplement this with regular maintenance by a qualified mechanic.

You might even decide to choose a marina on the basis of on site engineering facilities rather than lovely views and landscapes. You should then back that up with a subscription to Canal and River Rescue, the AA of boating.
Make sure you have the bottom of the boat blacked every 3 to 4 years and use this opportunity to check its condition.
Always wash hands after contact with canal or river water - see Weil's disease.
Be careful around moving parts and the heat of the exhaust. Whenever practical when dealing with or moving near the prop, ensure engine is turned off. For double certainty place keys in your pocket so no-one else can start the engine.

And don't venture alone into the water tank! It may need a layer of paint with potable bitumen but fumes and dust in a confined space can be hazardous. Who would hear your cries for help if you got stuck down there?

Several websites have detailed what should go on to your personal maintenance list so I'll refer you to them (below). We recommend creating a personalised handbook for your boat - it will provide information for anyone wishing to use your boat, will push you to answer questions and find out answers to be collected together (local phone numbers near your moorings, local shops and pub opening times as well as details of your boat's plumbing, what is always stored there and what should be removed in winterising ...). It would also list your regular and essential maintenance issues.

View these sites for more on regular maintenance:
Practical Narrowboat Maintenance
Boaters Handbook
Narrowboat Info
The Fitout Pontoon
Canal Junction


Boat tilts in a lock

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Boat tilts in a lock
Cause
Caught on cill (see Boat caught on a lock cill) or mooring rope is too tight.
Single handed boaters are most vulnerable as they will need to leave the boat tied up in a wide lock while they open the paddles. A longer than usual centre rope might help here, so the solo boater can hold on to the rope while attending to the lock mechanism. Failure to watch centre rope and tying it too tightly will cause the boat to tilt and tilting can lead to a serious danger.
Solution
There are three solutions:
Untie centre rope, close paddles. In emergency cut centre rope.
If it is not yet an emergency untie the centre rope immediately.
Closing the paddles will decrease the urgency but will take a minute or so to take effect.
If the rope has been awkwardly wound or tied around a bollard it may now be too tight to undo, in which case cutting it may resolve the issue.
If you have crew, one person should deal with the rope while the other closes the paddles.
Avoidance
Crew must pay attention at all times in locks, whether on board or at the lock gates. Simply looping a rope round a bollard in a lock and crew holding it while paying it out, either on or off the boat, should suffice to keep it stable.
Use the engine to keep the boat steady in the lock while watching for water surges. Open paddles slowly and in stages to minimise surges. Be particularly careful if you have loads such as coal - or even passengers - on the roof, as this makes the boat less stable.
Use a Boatman's Hitch or a Round Turn and Two Half Hitches to moor up.
Single handed boaters might also consider an extended length of centre rope and carrying a sharp and stout knife for emergencies.
You don't want this to happen ...


Also think about your moorings in case of flood. Ideally you'll have a marina or a floating jetty to even out the highs and lows of water level. However if you are in an area likely to flood, care must be taken to allow for water levels, not tying moorings too tightly and placing mooring ropes at 45 degrees to the bank where possible. This allows the boat a little more flexibility to rise. This picture is from a boat that was moored on The Ouse at York in 2012.



Engine runs but prop doesn't turn

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Engine runs but prop doesn't turn when gear lever engaged
Cause
Broken cable to gear box, or broken drive plate, or gear box.
Possibly failure of prop shaft coupling.
Solution
Switch off, moor up. Check oil level and top up if necessary. Try progressing at half power. If all fails call for help and probably suggest bringing a new cable (and hope it's only that ....)
Avoidance
In regular maintenance ensure gear lever cable runs freely. Lubricate as required.

Fire or Smoke

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Fire or Smoke
Causes
Causes include engine problem, wood stove, gas cooker, electrical or general domestic reasons.
Solutions
Evacuate first and foremost. Life is more important than a boat.
Alert adjacent boats if possible to prevent fire spread.
If safe to do so, turn off fuel, gas, electrics at source.
The cause will dictate the solution - whether water (only for paper and wood fires), dry powder fire extinguisher (for solids, liquids and gases) CO2 fire extinguisher (for electrical fires) or to use fire blanket to smother flames.
If the cause is electrical, power must be turned off before acting further.
If it is safe to remove a burning or smoking item hold it at arm's length and walk carefully backwards (so flames are away from you as you move) and drop (don't throw) into water. Opening doors and windows can increase flames rather than disperse smoke.
Avoidance
Have main fuel tap and gas supply clearly marked so they can be turned off in an emergency. Install gas, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors - and check them regularly. Have appropriate fire extinguisher(s) clearly positioned safely near most likely sources of fire - eg near the engine room though not in it. Check dates and replace when they expire.
Ensure door on wood stove is a good seal with rope in good condition. Ensure stove flue is in good condition especially where it joins the stove. Keep inflammable materials well away from stove. Keep fire blanket readily available.
Have gas pipes and devices checked by a qualified gas fitter. Switch off gas at the bottle when not in use. Keep gas cylinders outside the boat in ventilated lockers. If working with an external mains appliance such as an electric drill always use an RCD (residual current device) circuit breaker to prevent electrical shocks and always use appropriate fuses.
Don't use candles or cigarettes in the boat. Avoid food using inflammable fats. On older boats especially check foam on beds and soft furnishings to ensure they are flame retardant.

Ensure you have an evacuation procedure and that exits are clear.

Theft, attempted theft, or vandalism

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Theft, attempted theft, or vandalism. Incidents include arson, theft, stone-throwing at windows, untying moorings.
Cause
Mooring in urban areas can be a temptation to thieves and vandals. Isolated rural moorings give thieves and vandals confidence of not being seen and having more time.
Solution
Photograph the scene in detail. Repair damage, report loss to police and give them a list of anything missing, with photographs and serial numbers where possible. Get a crime number from police. Give all information to your insurance company. Replace anything safety-related.
Avoidance
Always lock boat, close all windows, remove valuable items and tools from view and/or lock them in a hidden compartment where possible. Hide power leads too, which could be indicators of desirable electrical equipment.
A metal plate covering the gap between doors may discourage casual intruders.
Be selective about moorings. Take careful note of comments in Waterways World, in guide books or by lock keepers about areas frequented by vandals.
Mark belongings with security coding or smart water.
Record serial numbers of expensive items.
Regularly check home contents and boat insurances.
In the event of trouble-makers attempting to board or throwing items from the towpath or from bridges keep a phone and camera conspicuously (though safely) ready to record and report any incident.

Man Overboard

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Crew member falls overboard
Cause
Lack of attention, loss of balance through hitting an obstruction, slippery deck ….
Solution
Don't panic, don't jump in – and don't let others jump in. The water is very cold even in summer and the water depth is probably unknown. Keep sight of the person in the water at all times.
On narrow canals and slow, shallow rivers turn your engine off. It is crucial to avoid the rotating prop from coming near to the victim so don't reverse the boat if the person in the water could be dragged into the propeller.
Throw a line or a lifebelt, attach and hold on to the end of the line and tell them to try to stand up – if it's a canal they might be able to walk out.
Steer the boat slowly to the bank, using pole if necessary, and get one of your crew to help the person to shore.
On wider or deeper waterways throw a lifebuoy or line and steer your boat carefully to approach the person in the water. Keep a constant watch to ensure your propeller is well away from them. Stop the propeller immediately by selecting neutral gear if there's a risk of them getting close to it. Pull them to the side (not the stern) of the boat and help them aboard with a ladder, rope or pole. [from The Boater's Handbook]
Avoidance
Keep lifebelt and rope available, obvious and in good condition. Keep decks clean and clear of ropes and other obstructions, including autumn leaves. Wear non-slip soled shoes. Use a non-slip surface on the gunwales.  In tunnels and bridges keep within the form of the boat. Skipper should make all crew aware of protruding branches where the canal narrows
Be prepared. Make sure everyone on the boat knows the drill – and knows where to find the lifeline or lifebelt. In case it's the skipper who falls overboard, the crew should also know how to stop the propeller and steer the boat. Practice the drill. It's better to learn it before an accident happens.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Cast Adrift

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Boat cast adrift.
Cause
Mooring pins have come loose, casting boat adrift. Soft ground on towpath, pins not hammered in far enough.
Or tying to canal edging which has rotted away.
Or vandals have detached the mooring ropes.
Or passing boats travelling too fast have loosened your pins.
If you are drifting because of engine trouble read this blog entry.

Solution
Try to pull back to your moorings using the remaining mooring rope, if possible. Reclaim your mooring pins. Try again with double pins where one is at an angle to the other giving mutual reinforcement. Use firmer ground. Mooring ropes should extend from bow and stern at about 45 degrees.
If the boat is adrift and you are left on the towpath, if possible stay near your boat and wait for another passing boat to pick you up and transfer you. This gives you the chance of warning traffic of your stray boat, which may be an obstruction.
If your boat is causing a serious obstruction, such as blocking a lock or weir, contact CRT immediately.

Avoidance
Tie up to bollards, rings or secure edge shuttering  whenever possible.
If using pins hammer them home firmly and use double pins if necessary. Make sure the ground is firm - it can be weak near the edge. Move to a firmer ground if possible.
Piling hooks, also known as "nappy pins" slot into the shuttering and straight pins can have the mooring rope looped around them and slipped into the shuttering.
To discourage vandals once mooring is secure, tie end of mooring rope back to the boat.
Slow down when passing moored boats.
Don't tie up to trees, use centre line for mooring or cross tow path with ropes.
Do Fasten white cloth or half tennis ball or plastic bag to pins to make them obvious to passing walkers or cyclists.

Running aground

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Boat comes to a halt though engine still running and propeller still working
Cause
You've run aground
Solution
Prepare to push - hard. Check water level in the canal. It may be generally low or there is a particularly low spot. Test this by prodding with your pole, remembering that you may be poking into deep mud or silt. Having identified the area first try reversing while a crew member pushes from the bow with a pole. If this doesn't work but the boat seems to pivot, switch the engine off and use two pole, bow and stern from the same side at the same time. If you can reach to shore and a firm edge always prefer that to a soggy canal or river bottom. Don't get into the water.
Avoidance
Check water levels by eye and by examining the wash from the prop (more vigorous in shallow water). Keep to the mainly deeper central channel whenever possible. Keep clear of sharp inner corners on rivers, where silt accumulates. Always carry two long strong  poles. This one has a flared end which is very effective for muddy conditions. See more at Boat Poles and hooks.

When put under pressure (just when you need it most), one of our poles revealed a hidden area of rot and broke!


Engine won't stop when ignition turned off

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem  
Engine won't stop when ignition turned off.
Cause
Most likely cause is a failure of the stop solenoid in the injector pump, which cuts the fuel supply. 
Solution
The best (and probably only) remedy is to turn off the main fuel tap.
Avoidance
Make sure you know where the main fuel tap is. It's not always in an obvious place. If in doubt ask a qualified mechanic and label it clearly so it can be seen in an emergency.

Engine has poor performance

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Engine has poor performance, starting problems, smoky exhaust, sludge around fuel filters, clogged fuel pipe and pump.
Causes
Water in the fuel or diesel bug
Solution
Water will fall to the bottom of the fuel tank and so the best way to remove it is to use a pump and a length of pipe. Lower the pipe to the very bottom of the tank, and pump out all water and any fuel that looks cloudy. This is the area where the diesel bug creates mould or growth. Dispose safely of all contaminated fuel.
Avoidance
Buy fuel only from reliable sources which have a high turnover of fuel. Check fuel filters regularly. Ask supplier to test your fuel from your tank. If necessary ask them to "polish" it and filter out all contaminates.


Holding Tank Smells

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Holding tank smells
Cause
There are two types of toilet - one which pumps into a holding tank and the other which is encased in a removable cassette. In this case the holding tank is full, breather pipe is blocked or sewage is not being digested.
Solution
Short of converting to cassette toilet, first pump out the tank. Wash it through with water and pump out again. Add "blue" digester or similar chemical. Identify breather tank and ensure it is clear. Check under floor boards and round toilet to ensure there is no overflow. Clean thoroughly if in any doubt.
Avoidance
Pump out regularly. Install an external gauge to measure how much is in the tank. Use local conveniences where possible ....

Incidentally the "blue" in this picture should be in the tank rather than in the loo itself.

Boat caught on a lock cill

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Boat caught on a lock cill or other large obstruction in a lock, such as a hay bale.
Cause
Lack of concentration allowing force of water in lock to move boat onto cill when lock is emptying - and lack of observation that it has begun to tilt. The cill is a ledge on the lock doors. If the boat is caught on it it could tilt and sink or drop and crash.
We also know of a boat caught on a submerged hay bale in a lock.
Solution
Close lock paddles immediately. Start to fill lock slowly. Wait till lock is filled and boat is level to move boat away from cill. If the other end of the boat is too low, filling the lock could submerge that end with dreadful consequences. Call for help immediately.
Avoidance
Pay attention to cill markers and avoid them. Fill or empty locks in a controlled way. Watch out for obstructions at all times.

Read this report of the flooding and sinking of narrowboat Barbary Partridge, by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch.

Engine vibrates more than usual

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Engine vibrates more than usual
Cause
Unbalanced prop, or loose engine mounting.
Solution
Moor up, switch off and access prop through the weed hatch. Remove anything wrapped around it. Replace hatch lid.
With large spanner turn to ensure each engine mounting nut is tight. If problem persists take it in for a service to get the prop and engine mounted in balance. Check condition of the prop at the same time.
Avoidance
Listen to your engine while underway. Differences in engine tone may be caused by narrow canals, deep cuts, water flow, sympathetic vibrations at certain speeds, or something more serious with the prop or the engine. Monitor continuously.

Pools of water internally near window

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Pools of water found internally near window
Cause
Either condensation or leakage.
Solution
Condensation may form on cold windows - worse at night with warm bodies sleeping and giving off warm air, or otherwise when it's warm inside and cold out - and moisture is formed on windows and drips onto walls and floor. Mop up immediately. Make sure air vents and "mushrooms" are clear as a movement of air is essential to reduce condensation. There may be a small hole at the bottom of the window, internal, by the seal, which is intended to allow water to drip outside. It will get clogged up with moss so use a paper clip to clear it - if you can find it.
It's possible, at some expense, to fit double glazed windows, and a cheap alternative is to use film (cling film or something more substantial, see Wickes Seasonal Film) across the existing window frames. Cat litter is great at absorbing damp areas if that remains a problem (though tripping over cat litter becomes a further problem ....).
If the leak is from outside, ensure window seals are effective. Fill any gaps with waterproof mastic. If the problem remains unscrew window frame and apply rubber seal or mastic before replacing.
Remove bedding and food from immediately below the window.

Avoidance
Ensure vents and windows are open to allow circulation of air. Air the boat regularly.

Water won't pump away

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem 
Water from eg shower tray won't pump away
Cause
Failing pump, blocked drain pipe or blocked pump filter.
Solution
If pump sounds as if it is working but water still doesn't pump out, switch off, take off pump housing and take out the filter. Clear of debris. Re-assemble. To clear pump  use a manual plunger and briskly pump up and down. Finally, if necessary, poke stiff wire down the drain hole from the outside.
Avoidance
Clean pump filter as part of regular maintenance.

Solid fuel stove gives out smoke into the boat

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Solid fuel stove gives out smoke into the boat
Causes
Did you take the lid off the external flue?
Otherwise look for failing seals where the flue joins the stove, or blocked chimney. It's possible but unlikely that wind is blowing down the chimney. It's also possible that a substance such as wax or polish on the stove top is burning off.
Solution
Open doors and windows to clear the smoke. Ensure cap is removed from chimney. A rotating cowl and a taller flue can help disperse smoke if it is a recurrent problem. If you routinely have the fire on while travelling, consider a short chimney while underway (minimises hitting bridges and overhanging trees) and replacing it with a taller chimney when moored up.
Remove chimney (that's the outside section) and check it is clear. Check for blockages in the flue (that's the interior section), by eye or with a stiff wire. Ensure fire rope around edges of stove door  provides a snug fit when door handle is firmly closed.
If not, replace with approved fire rope and glue.
Experiment with lighting paper, kindling, logs and smokeless fuels. Start with ash tray open, then air vents open and finally adjust to a burn or a glow as required.
See also How to Replace the flue on a Morso Squirrel.


Avoidance
Remove external chimney cap before lighting fire and store safely. Keep wood fuel dry. Provide a supply of newspaper or lighter blocks. Keep all fuel away from contact with the stove. Clear stove and ash tray as part of regular maintenance. Never place items that could burn or melt (eg candles) on the stove top.

Interior lights dim or fail

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Interior lights dim or fail
Cause

Batteries failing.
Solution
Check battery charge levels with volt meter. Replace failing batteries asap and dispose of old batteries safely.
Avoidance
Install permanent battery level indicator and check regularly. See blog entry on battery condition monitor. Always switch between starter battery and consumer batteries, charging both together but using starter battery only for starting the engine.
Battery switch, using 1, 2 or both

Identify any appliance consuming significant battery power and use sparingly. Avoid toasters! switch off fridge at night.  Consider a wind or solar generator to top up regular running of the engine under load.
Battery condition monitor by ASAP

Progress is slow underway

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Progress is slow underway and increasing engine speed doesn't help. Tiller may judder or vibrate.
Cause
 Probably weed or other obstruction on the prop.
Solution
A quick reverse thrust might help. If not moor up and switch off engine. Remove weed hatch cover and feel for obstruction. Weed should be cleared by hand or with the help of a serrated knife,  and disposed off on the bank. Wash hands and arms before proceeding.
This is the biggest thing we ever had jammed in our prop
Avoidance
Minimise risk from large areas of weed by setting prop to neutral before approaching the weed. Note that even when weed has been cleared (see picture below) for some time afterwards loose weed is very likely to entangle your prop.

Weed clearing on The River Nene. Thank you weed clearer!

Engine won't start

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Engine won't start 
Causes
Several possible causes.
A Engine makes no attempt to turn over – may be faulty starter motor solenoid, starter motor or no electrical supply to the solenoid. The latter can be checked with a multimeter. If a click is heard from the starter motor, but it doesn’t engage with the flywheel, it may be a faulty gear mechanism, similarly if the starter motor can be heard rotating but the engine doesn’t turn over. If the batteries are completely flat, it will show up on the battery condition monitor.
B Engine turns over slowly but won’t fire – probably low battery (confirm with battery condition monitor). Could be general damp or a faulty alternator. Possibly discharged battery.
C Engine turns over at normal speed but won’t fire – could be that glow plugs not energised for long enough or a failure of one or more of the glow plugs or their power supply (this can be checked with a multimeter).
Could also be a fuel problem (no fuel, blocked filter, air lock in fuel system) as in this blog entry.  Generally speaking, if a diesel engine has a correctly timed fuel supply to the injectors and it’s heated by either the glow plugs or residual heat in the cylinders, it will fire.
Solutions
First allow at least ten seconds for diesel plugs to heat up before starting, in neutral, with high revs. For an obviously damp engine use a dry cloth over any damp surfaces then spray area with WD-40. The recurring problem is more likely to be caused by alternator, faulty leads, plugs etc which may need replacing.
Once started make sure battery gets a full charge, leaving it to run, in gear and under load, until the battery condition monitor shows a full charge. 
Check battery charge levels with multimeter. Clip your meter across the battery terminals and take an immediate reading. If more than 12 volts battery is probably OK but if less, battery may be undercharged.
If domestic batteries are discharged but starter battery is OK switch to starter and start engine. Then switch to "charge both" with engine running until batteries recover. If they do not recharge and hold their charge, replace asap.
If all batteries are discharged try to get a start from another boat by connecting their battery to yours with heavy duty jump start leads. If mains supply is available use a mains battery starter.
Avoidance
Install permanent battery level indicator and check regularly. Always switch between starter battery and domestic batteries, charging both together but using starter battery only for starting the engine. Keep engine compartment dry and well vented. Clear drains. Clear bilges with pump and finally sponge and cloth to limit condensation in the engine compartment. Start from time to time throughout the "off" season and leave under load in gear for a while to recharge batteries.

Standard ammeter showing charge slowly moving back to zero
See also blog entry on Battery Condition Monitor.
 

Water in the cabin bilges

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Water in the cabin bilges
Causes
Could come from a pipe leak, hull leak or rain entering from above.
Solution
Open the floorboarding to determine the extent and the source of the water. It is important to deal with this as soon as possible or damp will pervade the whole boat. Concentrate on pipe work and pumps as a likely source. Replace split hoses, pump gaskets or leaking pipes as a matter of urgency. Mop up residual water (a bilge pump if you have one there, then sponges followed by disposable nappies) and leave floor boards open until completely dry. If possible moor up in sunshine and leave doors and windows open to assist fast drying.
A really serious leak in the hull could come from corrosion or from hitting a rock. Obviously that needs fixing straight away, so don't delay and head, if possible, in order of preference, for a boatyard (so they can fix a plate over it), a slipway (so you can be hauled out of the water), canal side near a road (so your emergency team can get to you) or at least a towpath. Don't sink in mid canal, which is where the water is deepest, the difficulty of saving the boat is greatest, and the inconvenience to other users is greatest. If water is clearly pouring through an identifiable hole you might shove a bung in it to delay the inevitable. A stick for a small hole, Araldite or even a cloth dipped in Vaseline could gain you an extra minute. If you're interested, look up the word "careening" in the fashion of Captain Cook and his ship The Endeavour. It worked for him.
Avoidance
Check bilges from time to time. Ensure boat is fully winterised by draining water tanks and systems before the frost sets in. Air the boat thoroughly even when not in active use and don't keep loose bedding onboard. Consider a bilge pump that can suck up residual water, also remembering that for a serious leak the best bilge pump in the world is a terrified man and a bucket!

Water in the engine bilges


This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Excess water in the engine bilges
Causes
Hose leak, weed hatch, hull leak or rain entering from above. Condensation could be a contributory factor.
Solution
Check that it is just water. More than an acceptably small amount of anti-freeze or diesel could indicate a different source of the leak.
Use bilge pump if necessary, finishing with a sponge. Check all hoses and replace where necessary. Tighten weed hatch and check gasket, replacing if necessary.
A hull leak is unlikely in a modern steel boat but would be very serious requiring professional and expensive work in a dry dock. Seek assistance.
If caused by rain from above, clear all drain holes and gutters, but otherwise seal any gaps around the access to the engine room leaving air vents free. A firmly secure tonneau (this one is from Canvasman) covering the stern should also eliminate rain in the bilges.

The bilge pump will not extract the final half inch of water, for which a sponge (and rubber gloves) will be necessary. Disposable nappies are also excellent for soaking up the last half inch. Accept that a small amount of water is likely to come into the engine bilge and mop it up from time to time.
Avoidance
Keep drain and gutters free of debris.
Check weed hatch and double check for tightness after use, replacing gasket if necessary.
Check bilge pump from time to time.If it is automatic it should switch on when it senses water ingress, but remember that this depends on battery power, so heavy rains could drain your battery unless you have a solar panel to top them up. Where possible, personal inspection is the best solution.
Ensure boat is fully winterised by draining water tanks and systems before the frost sets in.
Check anti-freeze too.
A thin mat in the bilges can soak up oily water and keep the engine compartment clearer.

Water over-heating

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Water overheating - temperature gauge too high (eg over 80 degrees)  
Causes
If the red ignition light comes on the fan belt isn't doing its job.
It could be an air lock in the cooling system.
Water level is too low and/or engine running temperature is too high.
Possibly caused by travelling at excess speed.
Overheating can also be caused by a leak in a coolant hose,  a fault in a water pump, a loose fan belt (pull to check tension; a constant squeak also suggests it is worn) or a failed head gasket.
Solution
Switch off ignition and remove key. Moor up, using a pole to the bank if necessary.
Carefully unscrew bolt on top of water tank while covering it with a cloth to prevent boiling water spraying out. Wait for the engine to cool down then add water slowly. When full (check with a dip stick) restart engine and run engine in gear for a few minutes to check against recurrence.
Check water level regularly and if it lowers again look for leaks in hose. Replace where necessary. 
If despite filling up overheating continues look to replace hose, tighten or replace fan belt, pump,  or gasket.
Avoidance
Check water, oil and fuel levels routinely. Check fan belt tension. Always carry a spare fan belt and know how to replace it and tension it.

Engine stops suddenly

This is one in a series of A Guide to Narrow Boat Problems.

Problem
Engine stops suddenly when in gear and won't restart.
Cause
A major mechanical failure in a slow running, low stressed diesel engine is relatively rare - a fuel system problem would be the most likely internal cause of an engine stopping suddenly. It could be: A. Something wrapped around the prop
B. Fuel starvation
C. Mechanical engine problem.
Solution
A. Put engine in reverse, which may clear weed on the prop. If not, switch off ignition and remove key. Moor up, using a pole to the bank if necessary. If you have a cabin hook (short pole with hook on the end) this may pull away the weed. If not, remove weed hatch cover and feel for obstruction. Weed should be cleared by hand or with a serrated knife and disposed of on the bank. If the obstruction is large, such as a log, lever it off carefully to avoid damaging the prop blades. Have the blades checked as soon as possible. If fishing line, cut it off with a sharp blade. Don't forget to replace the weed hatch securely! If it is an engine problem such as an oil filter or ignition problem switch off ignition and call for assistance.
B. 1 Check fuel level with dip stick. No fuel? Fill up! 
2 Contaminated fuel could be the dreaded diesel bug which can usually be checked and sometimes cured by filtering and cleaning at a fuel filling point. 
3 A blocked filter might be fixable or replaceable if you can find the culprit.
4  Injector pump failure, broken fuel pipe would also starve the engine of fuel.
C. A mechanical problem could be broken timing chain, broken con-rod, broken crankshaft, camshaft, valve stem. Call a qualified mechanic.
Avoidance
When underway always try to avoid floating objects. Logs, weeds and shopping trolleys are hazards. Minimise risk from large areas of weed by setting prop to neutral before approaching the weed. If trapped in weed use pole to escape the area before mooring up, clearing and restarting. Fuel problems usually are avoided by regular servicing by a qualified mechanic. Also keep spare filters available and keep an eye on fuel levels using a dip stick. 
Fishing line wound round the prop could start to accumulate more debris

Narrow Boat Problems

Want this to happen to you?


Of course not! Here's something to help.

The pleasures of narrow boating are tremendous. The gentle progress through the landscape, the time to contemplate, views of wildlife, visits to pubs ... all these are great reasons for taking to the water.
Another side, however, is problems that can occur, many of which you will not have faced before and for which you may be unprepared.
We've faced a few of these over the last 6 years (see previous blogs on grounding, weed, jammed prop etc), so we've decided to share possible problems - and their solutions - with you. We hope you will be able to plan ahead to avoid the worst that boating can throw at you. We've experienced many of these problems and we wouldn't like you to endure them too.
This page is the list of contents, linking to separate blogs on different topics and updated as we go, all with sections on Problem, Cause, Solution and Avoidance, including the following:

1.  Engine stops suddenly when in gear and won't restart
2.  Water overheating
3.  Excess water in the engine bilges
4.  Water in the cabin bilges
5.  Engine won't start
6.  Progress is slow underway and increasing engine speed doesn't help
7.  Interior lights dim or fail
8.  Solid fuel stove gives out smoke into the boat
9.  Water won't pump away
10. Pools of water found internally near window
11. Engine vibrates more than usual 
12. Boat caught on a lock cill
13. Holding tank smells
14. Engine has poor performance - smoky, sludge ...
15. Engine won't stop when ignition switched off
16. Running aground
17. Cast Adrift 
18. Man Overboard
19. Theft or vandalism
20. Fire or smoke
21. Engine runs but prop doesn't turn
22. Boat tilts in a lock

And then there's General Maintenance! Don't let it put you off!
Perhaps you could contribute your own Narrow Boat Problem - with cause, solution and avoidance strategy. Just write in the comments box below.
Meanwhile you should also look at advice from ...
The Canal and River Trust Handbook for Boaters,
Practical Narrowboating Maintenance
and
Canal Junction.

If you have any doubts about coping, make sure you have a subscription to River Canal Rescue, the AA / RAC of narrow boats.