Boating – what could possibly go wrong? When you’re at peace with the world, your boat meandering through the countryside, it is difficult to imagine that any problems exist. And with a bit of judicious planning, you can certainly do your bit to ensure that problems are kept to a minimum. But inevitably, the odd problems arise, and knowing how to deal with them can make all the difference between a good cruising experience or hours of misery.
Often one of the most common problems is picking up floating debris from the canal, and having it wrap around your propeller. This usually manifests itself in a loss of power, juddering at the tiller, or in extreme cases a complete loss of propulsion.
Virtually all narrowboats have an access to the propeller through the weed hatch. This is a metal box above the prop shaft in the engine compartment. If a small blast of reverse thrust is insufficient to clear the debris, boaters have little alternative than to disappear into the murky depths and cut off the offending material. Take care – moor up and turn off the engine. Do not simply disengage gear, as any accidental re-engaging of gear whilst the engine is running could have disastrous effects.
Feel, carefully, for the nature of the material you need to clear – don’t just wave your hand around under the water. I have seen people cut their hands badly on a length of barbed wire that had become entangled around the prop. An old serrated knife (a bread knife, for example) is often effective at removing plastic bags or binder twine, but use whatever is needed for the job. Once cleared, replace the weed hatch cover and screw down the securing bar securely to avoid any water entering the engine compartment once the prop starts to rotate. Finally – remember to wash your hands and arms – (see Weil’s disease below.)
Another hazard – easily avoidable as long as attention is paid – is the catching of the boat on a lock cill. Regrettably this does happen occasionally, and is almost always the result of carelessness. Catching a boat on a cill when going down in a lock can lead to tragic and disastrous consequences. Pay close attention that the boat is well clear of the cill markers in any lock, and remember – a boat will move about in a lock as it fills or empties.
Skippers should ensure their boat is kept away from the gates at both ends of the lock. And single handed boaters who tie their boats up when filling or emptying locks should keep a close eye that their ropes are neither so tight the boat is left hanging high and dry, or so loose, it drifts about in a dangerous manner.
Finally, there is the question of can I swim in the canal? The simple and emphatic answer to this is NO. Apart from injuring yourself on hidden obstructions below the surface, there is the possibility of contracting Leptospirosis (sometimes known as Weil’s disease) – caused by infected animal urine entering the bloodstream. This can lead to kidney failure and has led to fatalities.
BUT – and this is the most important thing of all – almost all problems are avoidable and knowing how to handle them will ensure you have a great time on the water.