Single Handed Boating

 Advice on being your own captain and crew from Colin Edmondson!

Colin Edmondson has been involved with boats for many years and living on and single handed cruising his 60ft narrow boat since 1995. He has written numerous articles for the waterways press and a number of books including Going it Alone - a boater's thoughts on single handed boating. We are publishing extracts here, and you can order the booklet from some boatyards or online from the Inland Waterways Association Shop.

Extract No. 8. Lift Bridges

Approaching the bridge you need to weigh up the amount and prickliness of the vegetation on the operating side, the opposite side to the tow-path. If possible nudge the bow of the boat almost up to the bridge and against the bank on the operating side. Walk down the gunwale and step off with the bow rope in your hand. If the vegetation is growing totally out of hand then you may have to step directly onto the bridge from the bow of the boat, although I have not had to resort to this yet. If the canal is a narrow one you probably don't need to tie the rope to anything, just leave it stretched out on the ground so that you can pull the bow back to the bank if it tries to get away. On a wide canal or a canal or river with a flow it is safer to tie up loosely. As you will probably have to tie to a railing, tie to an upright as close to the ground as possible to reduce the strain on it to a minimum should the boat snatch on the rope. Once you have raised the bridge, either by pressing buttons or by the sweat of your brow you can grab the rope, pull the boat close enough in to step or clamber back on to and walk back down the gunwale to steer the boat through, at all times keeping your body from between the underside of the bridge and the top of the boat. Once through engage reverse, bring the boat to a stop, tiller over and a quick burst forwards will bring the stern in to the bank and you can step off with the stern rope in your hand. Again if there is a flow you may need to take a quick turn round something to keep the boat from coming back under the bridge while you are lowering it to the amusement of all watching (Wrenbury on the Llangollen canal is one place that comes to mind, there is always a crowd hoping to see you get it wrong!). Once the bridge is back down you can step on board, coil up the rope and stow it on the roof out of the way and potter gently on.

I do not to trust kids to hold a bridge open for me, there is no way of knowing how many victims they have already claimed! I also don't trust a bridge to stay up, so I make sure that no part of my body is between the underside of the bridge and the boat, dropping down into the hatch rather than leaning forward to avoid bumping my head, if it does come down I don't want to be a human fender thank you very much.

A variation on the above, useful when the undergrowth is totally impenetrable, is to leave the boat against the towpath before the bridge and take the extra long bow rope across the bridge with you, looping it round a convenient handrail. When the bridge is up you can pull the boat towards you to get on (unless you have tied it up to a bollard out of habit). Don't pull too hard, you don't want the boat to hit the underside of the bridge before you can fend it off. I must admit that I try to use the engine whenever possible to move the boat, pulling it by hand is hard work.

We've got more advice about Boat Handling in our Visitors section.

We also have links to Boathandling  Training Course Providers.


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