Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Preparing for a flood; tips from River Canal Rescue

Flooding was once termed a ‘weather event’, but as it continues to occur with increasing regularity, River Canal Rescue is advising how to safeguard boats and minimise the impact and subsequent damage caused by a deluge.

Managing director, Stephanie Horton, comments: “Check ropes and build in some slack to accommodate changes in water levels. Tight ropes can be a real hazard; if water levels rise or fall they will cause the vessel to list, potentially putting the outlets under water, resulting in water ingress.

“Some mooring locations can place a vessel in danger, particularly where water levels fluctuate. Although it can be impossible to choose where to moor when a river is in flood, it’s worth taking time to check the bank and identify what the underwater bed is like. If there’s a steep fall or shallow bank, when the water recedes, the boat will list. In addition, consider the flow of the water and how it will affect the mooring – will it push or pull the boat and could it cause problems with other mooring points? Several boats sunk in the recent floods because they were subject to water level changes which left them at an angle with outlets allowing water in.

“Keep drain holes clear by regularly cleaning them out; over time they can become blocked with debris and corroded. If this happens, water may leak into the engine compartment and the alternators and starter motors, affecting charging and starting. If the bilge pump is manual, or the automatic pump fails due to a low running battery (which happens when worked continuously), the engine room could fill with water.

“Ensure bilge pumps are working and install an automatic float switch. All bilge pumps provide some protection from water ingress but only ones with an automatic switch will protect the vessel if you’re not around. Bilge pumps without an automatic switch are reliant on the owner manually turning them on. Unfortunately, most of the boat sinkings we attend are for vessels with manual pumps; had a switch been present, I suspect in many cases, they would still be afloat.

“Top up your battery. If you’re leaving your vessel for any period of time, it’s vital the battery is in a good condition with a good level of charge. If you have an automatic bilge pump, its operation is reliant on the battery; most batteries with a good charge can operate a pump for a week to 10 days. To charge the battery, frequently run the engine for a minimum of one to two hours. It’s also worth finding out how long your battery will last on continuous use so if there is heavy rain, you can gauge how often to visit the boat.”

River Canal Rescue runs a series of boat & engine maintenance and electrics courses at Alvechurch Marina, near Birmingham, throughout the year, or its team can run courses anywhere in the country,. To find out more visit


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Too much water sinks boats and closes canals

Flooding doesn’t usually wash out canals, locks and bridges or sink & strand canal boats. Over flow weirs and lock by washes can normally manage to get even heavy downpours away.
But December rainfall in parts of Northern England was two to three times the monthly average and falling on saturated ground over short periods the water rapidly flooded rivers across Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire. Towns and villages were inundated, and where those rivers were navigable there has been some severe damage to them and their structures. Closures may be for several months where significant engineering repair works are needed.
Also many canal boats have Stranded boat at Elland Wharfbeen sunk, stranded ashore or damaged. River Canal Rescue River reports (8th January) that it’s been inundated with calls to help raise and refloat sunken craft and remove vessels that have been swept onto land or each other by unprecedented water levels and are now trapped. The breakdown and assistance firm is currently dealing with 20 cases and notifications are coming in on a daily basis from agencies and boat owners across the UK. The widespread damage to the canal and river networks in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester, particularly the Aire, Calder, Hebble and Rochdale canals, has resulted in a concentrated area of devastation spanning 20-30 miles.
RCR managing director Stephanie Horton and her rapid response  teams have been on the road since 27 December looking out for stricken craft, where possible making them safe and if they can, notifying owners who may be unaware of their vessel’s fate. With speed the utmost priority, some craft have already been raised, pumped out, refloated using air bags and divers and taken to safety, others have more complex logistical needs, such as cranes and winches and approval for remedial works from the Highways Agency. For craft trapped in the woods, as below at Park Nook, there a requirement to liaise with tree surgeons.
Boat in woods
Broken locks bring with them water level issues and damaged bridges and roads present access issues. However, in the face of adversity, Steph and her team remain focused in endeavouring to clear the navigation channels as quickly as possible and help boat owners minimise their claims costs.
The following reports and photos provided by River Canal Rescue.
Sunken boats on the River Calder
Two boats on the River Calder (above) had been carried over locks, collided with bridges and sunk. Due to be refloated using divers and air bags Friday 8 Jan. One refloated, second boat had to be left after broken glass lead to an injury.
Beached boats on the River Calder
More stricken craft on the Calder & Hebble above,  caught on camera while out assessing the damage. Vessels now on books but weight restriction on bridge hampering recovery.
Capsized boat near Bingley Arms
Capsized boat at the Bingley Arms on the Calder & Hebble near Wakefield. Righted and refloated on 6 Jan.
Stranded boat near Todmorden
‘Juno’ was lifted from its winter mooring near Todmorden lock onto the towpath. Cranes are being arranged to lift it back into the water, liaison with Highways Agency. The lift was booked for 9 Jan, but road into town has collapsed so recovery on hold.
Capsized boat at Elland Wharf
Numerous vessels are jammed in at Elland Wharf  – these will have to be craned as there are weight restrictions on the bridges in the area (due to their flood damage). RCR is working with the Highways Agency and crane firms to resolve.
Thanks to River Canal Rescue for this report and images.

Monday, 16 November 2015

RCR Technical column – 12 days of Xmas

We’re all aware of the 12 days of Christmas song, but rather than buying your loved one a partridge in a pear tree, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, golden rings etc, we thought the following might be more useful. Available from our website and other sources.

Day one – RCR membership.  It’s amazing how many incidents are incurred by advocates of ‘it’ll never happen to me’. We’re here to help 24/7, whether it’s a breakdown or an emergency, and with annual membership starting at £55, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind when cruising.

Day two – a place on a RCR weekend boat and engine maintenance course.  Held at Alvechurch Marina near Birmingham, the 12 hour course, split over two days, costs £100 and is ideal for those who are keen to know more about the specification and maintenance of marine diesel engines and boat systems. Electrics for boaters courses are also available at £130.

Day three – a place on a RYA course.  You wouldn’t drive a car without knowing the rules and what to do, so why do set off on a boat without knowing the basics? Royal Yachting Association approved courses are run across the UK at all levels for the helmsman and crew covering personal safety, on-board communication, boat handling basics, throwing a mooring line, locks and tunnels, lock operations, collision avoidance, how to be a look-out, what to do in an emergency, looking after the environment and introductory engine maintenance.  The cost varies depending upon the number of days, people and course taken

Day four - waterways maps and apps. Have the inland waterway system at your fingertips. The Water-Way map and app is the essential boating companion, containing everything you need for route planning and sat nav when boating in GB. It details over a thousand points of interest and 100+ service providers, from doctors, dentists and vets to pump-outs, diesel, gas and shops – and everything in-between.  Priced at £93.60, you don’t need an internet connection to use it.

Day five – an automatic bilge pump.  The automatic version is far more reliable than a manual.  It immediately responds to water ingress with the float switch dictating when it should pump. Should a leak develop from cooling system, hull or other source (or there’s a build up of rain water), this will keep your vessel safe. Prices start at around £60.

 Day six – a water detek alarm. Internal water leaks, caused by loose or sheered domestic water pipes, a hull breach, or failed shower pump, can be devastating. And water in the engine compartment due to a loose weed hatch, leaking stern gland or ineffective bilge pump can result in potential sinking or engine damage. This compact alarm has a two metre sensor at its tip and is fitted with a watch battery, lasting for a year and sounding for many hours.  The detector costs £15.

Day seven – carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer, so it’s vital you’re able to detect these noxious and often fatal, gases. An alarm with a seven year battery is available at £27.21.  

Day eight - a fuel locking cap. Prevent the theft of fuel from your boat with this ingenious device. Brass and chrome versions are available from £14.77 (black)

Day nine – an engine service kit.  This box, containing a basic service kit has oil and fuel filters, the correct oil, fuel treatment and essential mop-up mats. If you need anything it can be added for an additional charge. Prices vary between £35-55, depending upon your engine 

Day ten – mini tool kit.  Always handy (you never know when you might need them), this small kit is ideal for minor emergencies and easy to store and access. Prices start from £15.

Day eleven – a lock windlass.  This L-shaped tool makes the job of winding the canal lock paddle mechanism up and down so much easier.  Even if you already have one, a back-up is always useful as they can easily be left at a lock or dropped in the water. A double-headed version is available at £9.10.

Day twelve – a year’s subscription to a magazine or newspaper.  Who doesn’t like a good read? Whether it’s finding out more about your favourite pastime or just general interest, we all benefit from additional knowledge.
If none of these suggestions provide a source of inspiration for that Christmas gift, you can always resort back to the ’12 days of Christmas’. The swans and geese however, might be easier to find than the maids-a-milking, ladies dancing, lords-a-leaping, pipers piping and drummers drumming.  Merry Christmas to all from River Canal Rescue .

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Winterising Tips

How to winterise your narrowboat

With winters getting colder and sub-zero temperatures becoming more common, River Canal Rescue has put together some tips on how to winterise your narrowboat and so avoid costly repair bills.

Cooling systems

Just like vehicles, any ‘closed loop’ cooling system needs to have anti-freeze added and replaced (per manufacturer’s guidelines).  Not only will this minimise the risk of splits or fractures associated with freezing water, it will improve the engine’s cooling efficiency and minimise corrosion risk to the engine.

Where raw water (drawn from the river) cooling systems are in place, drain down by briefly running the engine when out of the water to ensure the system is empty.  If afloat, the quickest and simplest solution is to ‘shut off’ the inlet valve (seacock) and drain as much water from the system as possible.

Where no drain plug is available, disconnect a hose, drain the water from the system and leave disconnected.  Although this will not empty the system completely, it will allow for expansion should the water freeze and reduce the risk of ruptured pipes. It’s also worth insulating any accessible tight bends as this is where fluid will collect even after draining. Once you’re ready to start cruising again, reconnect any pipes, refill the system and open the seacock.

If the engine’s winterised or seacock’s closed, clearly mark the engine and its controls; it should prevent accidental operation. 

General checks

Check lockers, cockpit and other areas to ensure all drain holes and plugs are clear of debris, leaves, dirt etc. These areas block easily and in heavy or prolonged rain, can cause a vessel to take on water causing corrosion where the water’s left sitting or even worse, sinking.

Always test the bilge pump and if possible, invest in an automatic one – it’s far more reliable than a manual. Many of the sunken vessels attended over the summer would still be afloat if they had an automatic pump fitted. An automatic bilge pump immediately responds to water ingress with the float switch dictating when it should pump. Should a leak develop from cooling system, hull or other source (or there’s a build up of rain water), this will keep your vessel safe.

Regular checks to ensure batteries are charged are vital. Test the battery charge levels before leaving the boat and when you return or before a long journey. Heavy rainfall, leaking stern glands and issues with weed hatches can result in water ingress that quickly fills the boat and causes it to sink. If batteries go flat at a critical point it can be devastating.

Grease the stern tube before leaving the boat, this will prevent water ingress.  Although most stern glands leak once the propeller turns, the grease acts like a seal whilst not in use.

Water in a boat will cause it to be lower in the water, placing outlets such as those for a shower, sink or air vent, nearer to the water level (leading to catastrophic results!). 

Ensure boat mooring pins and ropes are secure, yet slack enough to deal with the normal rise or fall of water levels. Where possible attach a long rope to a tree or higher ground, so that if flooding occurs, or the boat becomes loose in high winds, the additional rope could provide a much-needed safety line.  In extreme weather or prolonged rainfall, visit the boat regularly to adjust mooring ropes and check bilge pumps and batteries are coping with the situation.

It’s also a good idea to run the engine for an hour every time you visit as this pushes oil around the engine and prevents rusting, plus it tops up the battery if left running long enough (beware of doing this if you’ve drained the cooling system!).

Spray terminals with a silicone-free lubricant and grease all available grease points on the engine and drive, plus electrical connectors. Also lubricate linkages and gear/throttle slides, this will prevent rusting/corrosion and give these components a longer life.


If not in use, store in a gas-tight locker – the same regulations as Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) apply.

Water and heating

Freezing temperatures can cause split or fractured pipes which, if left over a gradual period, can lead to complete or partial flooding.

Drain down the water system (including drinking water and cistern) and leave taps in the open position.  Most water heaters have a screw plug at their base and can accommodate an old-fashioned cycle pump which makes the emptying of water that much quicker.

Taps should be left open because if any water is left in the system and it freezes, the pressure on the pipes will be less due to air coming out of the taps.

An unnoticed pipe split and flooding will almost certainly lead to sinking which may not be covered by insurers (not all cover frost damage and a gradual incursion of water may not be classed as accidental). If covered, insurance policies normally insist ‘machinery is winterised according to manufacturers’ recommendations’.  If not available, the advice of a qualified engineer should be sought.  Taking no precautions is asking for trouble.

Lag your hot and cold pipes and top up anti-freeze in keel cooling and other sealed heating systems (such as radiators connected to the boiler).  This point is repeated because it’s the single most important thing to do, whether your narrowboat is being used over the winter period or not.    

Protecting possessions

Remove or put out of site any alcohol, valuable and electrical items.  If you have a secure mooring this might not be such an issue, but if in doubt, take it out.

Invest in decent locks, your insurance policy requires this and it’s more likely to deter thieves. Ensure all windows and access points are firmly closed and locked before leaving the vessel and visit regularly.  Prevent the theft of external items, such as mushroom vents, solar panels and chimneys, by fixing with extra-strength sealant and invest in security shear nuts.  Ask neighbouring boats to call if they have any concerns.

Diesel treatment

Excessive water in the tank can lead to water feeding through the fuel system (RCR regularly removes large quantities of water from fuel tanks in the early cruising season). To prevent this;

Regularly check your filler cap seal and replace if worn, cracked or damaged. The cap sits lower than the deck so if it’s been raining wipe away excess water before opening the cap.

Either leave the tank empty during winterisation and remove any water on your return or leave the tank full and treated*.

*Fuel treatments remove water and deal with contamination such as diesel bug - where enzymes, bacteria etc live off the water in diesel and affect the diesel properties.  Inactive boats are more at risk of growth developing in the fuel tanks so treat with Marine 16 Diesel Fuel Complete. 

Freezing weather & ice

If the boat’s encased in ice and you’re worried about the effects on the hull take care…breaking the ice can result in more damage than simply leaving it. The only time the ice should be broken is if you need to move, and this should be only undertaken with caution.  The stress on the hull from a large surface area of ice is huge and at a minimum will  cause damage to the blacking.

Don’t forget to de-winterise

Having gone through the winterisation process, it’s important to do the reverse when the warmer weather arrives.  This means closing the taps, replacing the plug in the water heater and switching the water pump on.

Prior to cruising, run your engines up to ‘running’ temperature (if a gauge is available onboard) or for approximately 1/2 hr.  Check every inch of the cooling system for leaks or escaping steam and if something is found, immediately call-out a qualified engineer.

For domestic water supplies; once the water pump is back on, open and run water through each tap.  Start with those closest to the pump and work through to the one furthest away – this’ll push any air locks through the system.  Drain any water in the tank out and refill with fresh drinking water.   

Remember servicing, including the engine, LPG and electrical systems, plus fire extinguishers and escape hatches.  Everything should pass Boat Safety Scheme scrutiny.

Although no action is needed for gas pipes at the start of the winter, it’s a good idea to paint connections with 50% soap liquid and 50% water using a small artist’s brush – this will show up any minor gas leaks at the joints.

Before you run the engine, check water trap filters and remove any excess water.  If water is present or there are signs of diesel bug (black dust or jelly), dip the tank to identify the severity of the issue and then treat with a fuel treatment or have the fuel polished accordingly.

The easiest way to check for water in the tank is to use a clear plastic hose.  Drop it into the tank (being careful not to disturb the fuel) and when you feel the bottom, place your thumb over the end to seal it and withdraw the hose. This should provide you with a sample of the tank (plus an indication of any diesel bug contamination) and show the amount of water present.

River Canal Rescue runs boat and engine maintenance courses throughout the year, to find out more visit email or call 01785 785680.



Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Summer maintenance tips

If call-outs recorded last year during the summer months are anything to go by – 140 per week - River Canal Rescue predicts a busy season ahead. By the end of June, monthly call-outs already topped 500 and the first week in July had RCR’s engineers working flat out.

Call-out logs show fuel problems, alternators, electrical issues, batteries and cables are causing the most problems for boaters, followed by cooling systems, gear boxes, starters and fouled propellers.  To help reduce call-out numbers, RCR Managing Director, Stephanie Horton, offers the following tips:

“Fuel problems – these are mainly caused by diesel bug and contaminated water. Diesel bug is an enzyme that lives off water in the diesel. It either appears as black dust or soot (mildest form) or a black slime or jelly (at its worst). Once in the system it clogs the engine’s fuel arteries and stops the engine working. Mild cases will response to a fluid ‘Marine 16’. It prevents bacterial growth and kills anything that may be forming in the tank so is also a good preventative measure. More severe cases will require a diesel bug shock treatment. Blocked filters and fuel contamination due to dirt and debris getting into the fuel system are also culprits. Avoid this with regular checking and servicing. Some marinas offer fuel polishing which cleans the fuel without having to treat or dispose of the contaminated fuel.

“Starter motors and alternators – alternators operate in a damp, hot environment which is not good for any electrical product. The damp winter resulted in a lot of water left sitting around these components and if your bilges are full of oil and water when the engine is running, it will be thrown over the engine, hitting the electrical components.  If left for a long period of time, rust can also develop and affect their operation, so check the bilges and run your engine as frequently as you can.

“Electrical issues – these are mainly caused by a lack of attention to connections. Check for corrosion, any wires coming away, loose connections or disconnected wires before starting a journey and use a water resistant spray or petroleum jelly to stop damp getting into isolators and block connectors.

“Batteries – make sure you have the right battery linked to your starter system. A cranking battery delivers a high output quickly while a leisure battery delivers a lower continuous output, but needs to be charged regularly to maintain capacity. If in a good condition, each battery in your bank generally requires two to three hours charging to get back to full performance once fully discharged.  Each battery cell can affect the whole battery bank so to prevent deterioration, regularly check and top up the water levels in the cells using de-ionised water. If one cell’s water level drops to below 50% it will bring the battery bank capacity down to the same level, irrespective of how good the other batteries are. Never mix batteries and always replace a whole bank of old ones with new ones.

“Cables – this is primarily due to their exposure to the elements as most of the cable terminus is set outside. If not used regularly, cables will rust so to prevent this, grease the end of the cable, particularly if leaving the boat for a long period of time, and when you do set off, check for any roughness or stiffness. If fitting new ones, keep any cable bends to a minimum as these are the areas likely to suffer high stress and so may fail in the future.

“Cooling systems – overheating problems are usually caused by an air lock in the system. To identify this, feel the top and bottom of the swim tank – if everything is fine there should be a difference in temperature – if there isn’t, find and unscrew the bolt that sits on top of the swim tank. This will release the air locked in the system. Overheating can also be caused by a coolant hose rupturing, a water pump failing, a fan belt shredding or at its worst, a head gasket failing.

“Gear box and drive plates – general wear and tear is the main call-out reason so regularly service the gear box. If you hit an underwater object the drive plate is usually the first victim. If you damage the drive plate however, it’s unlikely you’ve damaged the gear box.

“Fouled propellers - loss of propulsion is commonly caused by the prop being covered in debris such as weed or leaves.  By putting the engine into reverse you should be able to clear it.”

To find out more about River Canal Rescue, search for the firm on Facebook, visit or call 01785 785680.

River Canal Rescue wins Customer Service Award

Breakdown and emergency assistance firm River Canal Rescue has won the Customer Services accolade at this year’s Express & Star business awards. The event, held at Wolverhampton racecourse on 11 June and run by the local paper, recognises outstanding businesses based in the ‘black country’ and south Staffordshire.    

More than 120 companies entered 12 categories in the hope of picking up an award; these were then whittled down to 37 finalists. River Canal Rescue scooped the Customer Service gong after impressing judges by repeatedly achieving ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ ratings during its 4,000 plus call-outs last year, peaking at an average of 140 per week in the summer.

Judges, councillor and deputy council leader Peter Bilson, Express and Star editor Keith Harrison and Wolverhampton City Council managing director Keith Ireland, congratulated RCR and the other shortlisted finalists on their unrivalled levels of customer service, which they said ‘demonstrated a desire to put customers’ needs as the very heart of their decision-making’.

RCR’s initial submission detailed its customer service policy - ‘to go above and beyond the call of duty’, service standards - with customers within four hours, update on ETA within 45 minutes and courtesy call following call-out within 24 hours, customer service ratings – ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ near on 90% more for every month in 2014, including 100% in three, staff training/well-being initiatives – appraisals, mentoring, progression plans, courses, competitions, training and ‘time-out’ days, employee loans/team events and IT innovation – a web-based database, waterway mapping system and cloud computing.

During the judging process, managing director Stephanie Horton hosted an onsite visit, gave a presentation and undertook a Q & A session. She comments: “We’re all so thrilled; this is a team effort and the Award is recognition of the all the hard work we put in over the year – and every year – to ensure boaters are moving again as soon as possible with the minimum of disruption and cost. We’re very proud of our customer service ratings and will continue to endeavour to improve them.”

The event was compered by Midlands Today tv presenter Nick Owen who described the finalists as the ‘cream of the crop’. This year, River Canal Rescue has been shortlisted and ‘highly commended’ for its customer service and skills development in  the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Awards and ‘commended’ in the Staffordshire Business Awards.

To find out more, search for River Canal Rescue on Facebook or visit

Monday, 22 June 2015

River Canal Rescue frees boat trapped on Trent & Mersey Canal

River Canal Rescue is getting a reputation as THE company to call to raise submerged boats trapped in locks. On 11 June the emergency assistance firm was contacted by the Canal and River Trust to raise a sunken boat stuck in lock 53 of the Trent & Mersey canal.

The call was logged late afternoon and with a CRT decision to close this part of the canal until the rescue was completed, time was of the essence for RCR’s team.  By 9am the following day, engineers were on the case and three hours later the vessel was raised and the lock and canal was open for business.

RCR managing director Stephanie Horton explains: “While in the filling lock, a boater realised his rudder was stuck in the lock gates. By the time he got his friend’s attention, who was operating the lock, it had filled and completely submerged the 55ft, 6ft 10” craft.  The CRT’s decision to close the lock and manage public access was greatly appreciated; it ensured the area was secure and safe for us to work. As the boater is an engineer, he is sorting out his engine and remedial internal work.

“This is a classic example of our ethos in action which is to get boaters moving as soon as possible with minimum disruption and cost and to keep the navigation clear, reducing the likelihood of further incidents.”

In November last year, RCR took two hours to raise a boat that was stuck in lock 10 of the Kennet & Avon canal; contractors spent two weeks on the task.

To find out more about River Canal Rescue and its call-outs search for the firm on Facebook or visit