I come from a Police and Army family and thus have a deep and abject
hatred of authority, rules and committees. Maybe that’s why I have
worked on the canals of Britain and the Continent all my life? In my
teens our canals were a professional environment. Everyone knew the few
rules, and, in any case, most of the boat people couldn’t have read them
anyway. Middle class media people crept into a world they ‘discovered’,
and today in Britain our canal system supports more boats than it was
ever intended to.
Despite the little devil lurking in me that whispers, “let them blow
themselves up or drown”, I attend meetings of British Waterways’ Boat
Safety Scheme, and the Training Standards Panel of the National
Community Boats Association. We make rules and award certificates. The
variety of obtainable certificates is sufficient to allow a game of
whist to be played with them. A new one will soon pop its head above the
water and hint that you must have it to avoid an incident (something
entirely different to an ‘accident’ – something invented by St. Pete and
God when bored on the Heavenly Golf Links, and about which we can do
Much as I have hated the idea the idea of training, I now see people
getting so much out of their boating because they understand what a
propeller does to the water passing under a boat, how a lock fills,
other users’ rights, or how to change an oil filter or gas bottle
safely. Despite the Motorway Manners that some have brought with them,
incidents are kept to a minimum.
‘Best practice’, ‘health and safety’, ‘empowerment’ and ‘training’ are
the new buzzwords. Training is more necessary than ever in what has
become the amateurs’ playground. Whether we are on our own boat, or a
hire cruiser, or responsible for many people on a jolly, knowing what is
happening all around us, and why, changes what was an alien environment
into a safe and perfectly harmonious one. We are at home, and as one
with our surroundings…eyeball to eyeball with the ducks.
Recently I listened to a youngster in a wheelchair (he had cerebral
palsy) taking his Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze Award on a boat. He
explained exactly the effect of the water from the prop on the rudder. …
Training! I watched a group of homeless teenagers from Surrey leap from
the boat to assist a dying man on a rural towpath. They instantly acted
as a team, putting him in the recovery position, covering him with a
blanket, summoning and directing an ambulance to a spot on a map. They
saved his life…..Training!
At the Pirate Castle at Camden on the Regent’s Canal in London we have
been training people to enjoy themselves safely on the water for 40
years. The late Viscount St. Davids lived close by and was our
inspiration. His mission was to bring inner-city kids from the streets
and give them a purpose on the canal. Robin Knox-Johnson and Prince
Charles came along later to give us their blessings, lay the cornerstone
of our Castle, and launch our residential boat – ‘Pirate Princess’.
Today our staff can train you for and award certificates from the
British Canoe Union, and the Royal Yachting Association (The Inland
Helmsman’s Certificate and the International Certificate of Competence).
The most comprehensive certificates that we can ‘offer’ are those of the
National Community Boats Association (we were founder members). These
include their Certificate in Crew Competence (this can count as a GCSE),
or the Certificate in Community Boat Management. These certificates are
approved by British Waterways. We can arrange for candidates to be
trained for and to take the Boatmaster’s Certificate (for those wishing
to take more than 12 passengers on a boat).
How do we train, and how much does it cost? BCU Certificates should be
discussed with our Centre Manager, Giles Higgitt. RYA Certificates are
usually completed in the day and cost £95. If you are coming from a long
way off we can often offer you a bunk bed on one of our community boats,
and you could combine your visit with other London attractions. Camden
Market is the Capital’s second most visited site. The NCBA Certificates
are residential and intense. The CCBM is recognised and insisted upon by
many local authorities for leaders/carers bringing groups on the water.
It is the benchmark among boating certificates, and worth studying for,
even if you have no interest in working with groups. It involves
practical, hands-on work at the tiller, through locks and tunnels, etc.
We will have sent you the course-book in advance for you to study at
home. A maximum of 5 people (usually less) start to appear on a Friday
evening (or Saturday morning,). After breakfast we move the boat and
discuss the course-book modules together. We have four sessions like
this, plus Saturday evening discussing the day’s work over a beer. We
tend to finish at about 4 on the Sunday. Hopefully everyone will have a
certificate, but it’s not guaranteed! In any case you will have learnt a
lot, had some fun, and met some new people! We provide beds (not
bedding), cooking/washing facilities, and tea/coffee/biscuits.
Supermarkets, foodstalls and the restaurants of the world surround us.
How, what and when we eat is usually a matter for yet more lively and
important discussion. We also provide course-books, registration and
certification. The fee for this course is £150 per person, but there is
a reduction of £50 for any successful candidate who subsequently (within
one year) hires “Pirate Princess” for a minimum of one night.
We can come to your boat if you prefer, or we can even Train the
Trainers at your project, wherever that may be.