New lock paddle pawls nearly sink narrowboat

A boat sinking partly caused by the trial pawls being fitted to lock gear by CRT was narrowly avoided by a quick thinking boater recently, reinforcing the concerns of many experienced boaters that CRT did not take into account the emergency dropping of paddles when stops were fitted.

The pawls which must be held up with one hand prevent boaters from using both hands to wind down bottom paddles quickly in an emergency, when the pressure of water against the paddle in a fairly full lock means it will not simply fall because of its own weight (see our earlier report). This report of a near accident is taken from the IWA Mid-July Bulletin

Boaters who regularly visit the UK’s waterways from New Zealand were boating down Baddiley No3 Lock on the Llangollen canal. Two ladies were operating the difficult lock, needing two hands to move the paddles just one click at a time. The boater left his boat to assist them but suddenly noticed that the bow was hung up on the lock. He asked for the paddles to be dropped as quickly as possible, which proved very difficult as the ratchet on these locks cannot be thrown back but must be held back as the paddle is lowered. Those operating the lock struggled with this as they had insufficient strength in just one hand to lower the paddle. Fortunately, the boater had the foresight to open the upstream paddles whilst the other paddles were lowered, which put more water into the lock than was going out and avoided disaster. A less experienced boater may have been less fortunate.

The boater readily admitted that they should not have had the boat so far forward but also highlighted that if the paddles had been easy to operate he would not have left the boat to help and those operating the lock would have seen the boat was hung rather than putting all their energy into moving the paddles. Furthermore, if the ratchet lock had been like most that can be lifted clear the paddles could have been lowered with two hands more quickly.’

CRT are trialling the pawls because of the problem of  injuries caused by flying windlasses when paddles drop unexpectedly. They have responded to the concerns saying, “Just to clarify, we don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all solution available and we appreciate that any intervention will require a full appraisal of the circumstances such as how the lock is used under normal conditions, as well as in an emergency situation”.

Update 7 August; CRT says it ‘has stopped rolling out changes to pawls following feedback from around 100 boaters, as well as from its Navigation Advisory Group and the Inland Waterways Association.  The charity will work together with the IWA and NAG on any future proposals, to gain valuable insight from experienced boaters.’

Grindley Brook locksHowever it seems to me that the issue is compounded by another equally important safety concern highlighted by this near sinking. The emergency was initially caused by the boat bow becoming trapped under something on the bottom gates. Why did it get trapped, was that due to poor gate maintenance?

The report says the boater ‘readily admitted that they should not have had the boat so far forward’.

Is this really something to feel guilty about? I don’t! Don’t most traditional narrowboats sit against the bottom gates going down a narrow lock? Don’t we do it because that is the safest place to be, away from the danger of sitting on the top cill and not trying to hold a heavy boat on engine or ropes in the centre of the lock with the chance of ramming the bottom gates if something goes wrong? Yes, because of poor maintenance, you do have to watch that you don’t get hung up on all manner of projections and missing guards, and if you do then you have to be able to drop those bottom paddles quickly.

(Of course boats and boaters are different and this isn’t the only downhill technique, but for good reasons it is very commonly used.)

So is the poor state of lock gates, which at one time would have had no projections and proper guards to allow boat bows to ride up and down, now being made even more dangerous by paddles which cannot be wound down with two hands in an emergency? Perhaps flying windlasses are rather less of a problem than boats being sunk by missing guards and projections on lock gates?

Thanks to the Inland Waterways Association for the initial report.

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