Safer to wind down paddles with just one hand?

CRT wants boaters to wind down lock paddles with just one hand but the IWA and others see this as being dangerous.

For many years there has been differences of opinion on the operation of lock paddle gear between boaters and navigation authorities. It is a difficult line to tread between maintaining the various styles of historic gear and the requirements of safe operation. A particular aspect of this is the types of pawl – the catch that holds the paddle rack up – and over the past 20 years there have been a number of consultations; some resulting in new, expensive, and subsequently abandoned paddle gear designs.

Modified lock pawlNow the Canal & River Trust (CRT) is meeting with boaters to discuss new designs for pawl catches and to understand boaters’ thoughts. This is a national project to make locks safer for boaters.  The project will involve replacing damaged spindles and making changes to ensure all CRT’s locks have working pawl catches, which prevent the windlass from slipping out of control. Waterways teams will be running trials of modified pawl catches at different locations across the country and CRT will be keen to hear boaters’ feedback. (Right, modified pawl on the Llangollen canal, image Waterway Images.)

CRT head of customer services Ian Rogers said:  “Locks are part of our industrial heritage and are still used by boaters every day, and we have to make sure that these historic structures meet modern safety standards as far as possible”.

The IWA has already responded by writing to Tony Stammers, Head of Safety at Canal & River Trust, welcoming CRT’s plans to replace any damaged spindles and repair damaged paddle pawls but expressing its ‘significant concerns over one specific aspect of any new paddle design’. Read letter here.

For some time IWA has argued against proposals for installing paddle pawl stops that would prevent the paddle pawl from being completely moved out of the way whilst a paddle is being wound down. ‘Not being able to fully remove the paddle pawl means that one hand is needed to hold it up in order to lower the paddle. Whilst on some paddle gear on many canals this is not a problem, it becomes a problem in certain situations when both hands will be required to wind down the paddle, such as when the person lowering the paddle is a child or someone not strong enough to hold the weight of the paddle with one hand, when the paddle gear is particularly stiff, and when lowering the paddle against a difference in water levels because someone has fallen in or a boat has got stuck and the water levels need to be reversed urgently. Having to hold the pawl with one hand also adds another hazard, which is the proximity of the hand, arm and clothing to the moving paddle gear and rack with the potential for injury if anything gets caught.’

Boaters should contact the CRT project manager at with any comments or suggestions.

Update 17 July 2015. A recent near sinking on the Llangollen canal has been attributed to boaters not being able to drop the paddles in an emergency. See report.

Thanks to Harry Arnold at Waterway Images and the IWA for information.

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

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