Funding crisis making canal holidays difficult

70% of boaters said they had to alter their cruising plans in 2023 due to the worsening condition of our canals and inland waterways. 

According to a recent survey carried out by the IWA 79% of reporting boaters thought the canals were in worse condition now than when they first started boating and 12% were considering giving up boating because they were no longer enjoying their waterway cruising.

UPDATE 27/06/2024:
CRT’s Annual Boater Survey taken in April also reports that the majority of boaters are now dissatisfied, rising 12% to 54% from 46% a year ago.

CRT comments; “We are greatly concerned to see the fall in boater satisfaction over the last year which continues a downward trend in satisfaction since 2017.

The Trust is committed to doing whatever we can within our means to provide all of our boating customers with the experience and service they expect. This disappointing result confirms that we need to re-double our efforts to improve this.” Survey results summary here.

The long list of cruising problems that boaters encountered included:
Infrastructure Problems: Many locks are in poor condition, with leakage, unbalanced gates, broken mechanisms, and inoperative paddles. Some locks require assistance to operate or are completely closed, causing delays and route changes. Swing bridges, lift bridges, and lock gates frequently malfunction, causing delays and disruptions to travel plans. Difficulty finding suitable winding holes for long hire boats.
Vegetation Overgrowth: Vegetation along towpaths and offside often becomes overgrown, obstructing visibility, reducing canal width, and making mooring difficult or hazardous.
Water Shortages and Depth Issues: Low water levels, silt build-up, and shallows pose challenges, causing boats to ground and impeding navigation.
Lock and Canal Closures: Numerous closures, whether planned or unplanned, force boaters to alter their routes, sometimes requiring long detours. Locks may be closed due to maintenance, breaches, or insufficient water levels. Difficulty obtaining timely information about stoppages and closures.
Facilities Issues: Sanitary stations, waste disposal points, and pump-out facilities are frequently out of order or inaccessible, posing challenges for boaters’ basic needs.
Limited Moorings and High Costs: Availability of moorings, especially for visitors, is scarce, particularly closer to London. The cost of visitor licenses is high, which may deter boaters.

Fund Britains's waterwaysIn support of the multi-organisational Fund Britain’s Waterways campaign (FBW), IWA asked boaters for their views on the state of the inland waterways network and how it impacted on their cruising in 2023. As with FBW, the survey covered all navigations in Great Britain and gathered crucial insight into various aspects such as condition of locks, depth of water, ease of mooring and provision of services. 726 boaters responded anonymously during March and a summary of the results is attached. Boaters were able to record specific problems, but the main purpose of the survey was to obtain a snapshot of the current overall state of the infrastructure.

A particular interest of the survey was how this had impacted on the enjoyment of their cruising in 2023 and their ability to complete planned routes within the allocated time. Nearly half of boaters responding reported that unplanned stoppages and major problems with waterways condition necessitated replanning. The survey results include a long list of recorded problems. Other responses identified problems with moorings, the need for more dredging and vegetation management and poor provision of service.

“These results totally prove the need for this survey as a snapshot of current condition and as a benchmark to enable us to identify future deterioration should funding reduce,” said Peter Marlow, IWA Trustee involved with the survey. He continued, “they add further strength to the multi-organisational campaign Fund Britain’s Waterways to secure adequate funding for all waterways across Great Britain. Without this we see a progressive decline in their condition with resulting lack of use as enthusiasts give up boating and we are in danger of some canals closing.”

Thanks to IWA for this information. For further information about Fund Britain’s Waterways, email

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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