‘Perfect storm’ causes closures and groundings

Years of reduced rainfall, summer drought and faulty dams are resulting in a ‘perfect storm’ of lock and canal closures and boat groundings. Canal water resources have been seriously depleted by the Toddbrook reservoir crisis closure in August 2019 and the heightened awareness that it brought for the need for more urgent reservoir maintenance closures.

River Canal Rescue attending to a grounded narrowboat on the River Nene in 2021

CRT claim that 89% of the network is open with restricted operating times, and 9% is closed (as of 11 August). However most boaters and holiday cruisers don’t just want water to moor their boat on, they want to be able to cruise! Popular cruising routes such as the Cheshire ring, the Four Counties ring and all the Pennine canals are no longer navigable. Long distance routes like the 3 Pennine canals are blocked. And it isn’t just a north west problem; both routes from the midlands to the south, the Oxford and Grand Union Canals, are seriously short of water and subject to lock closure restrictions The Kennet and Avon summit level is currently closed. North east river navigations and many other waterways are also suffering low water levels which affect trouble-free safe cruising.

CRT has the usual suggestions, ‘… be even more careful than usual to conserve water and to follow boating best practices such as sharing locks where possible, waiting if a lock is set against you, and closing gates and paddles after use’ and ‘… report any leaks by calling 0303 040 4040 or emailing via canalrivertrust.org.uk/contact-us’.

There’s no advice about finding alternative holiday routes without lock restrictions though. The Shropshire Union Canal and Staffs and Worcs Canal (fed by Wolverhampton Sewage works) and Llangollen Canal (fed by the River Dee and taking drinking water to Cheshire towns) are for instance are still open, though of course they are consequently busier and more congested than usual.

Running aground on waterways where levels are low is an increasing problem for boaters. River Canal Rescue do offer practical advice about how to avoid and deal with increasingly likely groundings: To reduce the risk of grounding, RCR recommends keeping to the deeper channels, do not cut corners and only travel where there is adequate water. If you do become grounded, empty your tanks, move ballast or people to the floating section and always reverse out the way you came in. And the same goes for other boats trying to help you, always pull back the way you came and use your own engines at the same time. RCR engineers have recently ben called to the same spot on the River Severn on the approach to Bevere Island from the north. This is a direct navigation to the lock, and due to a build- up of silt in the navigation channel, it’s resulted in three boats becoming grounded, requiring assistance.

RCR managing director Stephanie Horton says the situation is equally perilous elsewhere from the north to the south of England: “We are getting calls for grounded boats on sections we have never previously had issues with. Groundings are occurring at least twice a week compared to once a month in a typical year.”

Here’s a summary of closures and restrictions taken from CRT Notices up to 23/08/2022.
Other canals and rivers (e.g. the River Severn) are likely to be short of water and boaters risk groundings. The situation is continually changing, for updates check the CRT Stoppage Notices .

  • Ashton Canal – Closed
  • Caldon Canal – Closed
  • Chesterfield Canal – Closed upstream from Lock 41A
  • Coventry Canal – Restricted opening Locks 1 – 5
  • Grand Union Canal, Leicester Line – Lock restrictions at Watford and Foxton, restrictions Braunston 30/8, locks 39 – 45 restrictions from 30/8, Aylesbury Arm lock passage restricted 12/8
  • Huddersfield Narrow Canal – Closed
  • Kennet & Avon summit pound closed. River Avon and River Kennet low water levels risk of grounding.
  • Lancaster Canal Glasson locks closed 18/8.
  • Leeds & Liverpool Canal – Closed from Locks 30 to 85. Restricted passage through Bingley Five and Three Rise flights. Closed lock 1 River lock- lock 3 Newlay lock. Skipton pound risk of grounding
  • Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Leigh Branch – Restrictions in place for booked passage two days a week.
  • North Oxford Canal – restrictions at Hillmorton.
  • Peak Forest & Macclesfield Canals – Marple and Bosley lock flights closed.
  • Pocklington Canal – Cottingworth Lock to Thornton Lock closed.
  • Ripon Canal closed.
  • Rochdale Canal – Closed from Locks 1 – 45 (pre-booked passages to be honoured)
  • South Oxford – Restrictions at Claydon and Napton/Marston Doles
  • Trent & Mersey Canal – closed from Locks 41 – 71. Harecastle tunnel booking only, summit levels low.

Information from CRT Stoppage Notices and River Canal Rescue

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