Narrowboat Safety

Yesterday was the first day of the autumn with a below zero overnight low. There was a light frost on the grass next to the boat and a bitterly cold wind racing across the marina. It wasn’t really the best day of the year for me to take an involuntary dip in the marina.

I’m addicted to my smart phone. I love it, I really do. It’s a Samsung S2. It does everything for me apart from make the tea when I get up in the morning. I’m sure it can. I just haven’t worked out how to set it up yet.

I use my phone all the time to check my emails. That’s what I was doing yesterday morning while I was waiting for the dogs to jump onto the boat. I was walking along the pier reading a particularly interesting message not watching what I was doing when I stepped off the pier.

One leg plummeted into the water while the other stayed on the walkway. I stretched parts of me that I didn’t know could be stretched and flung out my arms to stop myself disappearing into the water completely. Unfortunately my phone was still in my hand at the time. I prevented a plunge into the icy depths but my phone flew out of my hand, into the water of course.

I stripped off to the waist as quickly as I could, lay on the pier and reached into the water where I could see my phone resting on the marina bottom. It was further away than I thought so I took a deep breath, put my head under the water and reached a little further. I still couldn’t reach so I wriggled my legs a little closer to the water and stretched my arm as far as I could. Unfortunately, I reached a little too far.

My legs slipped off the pier completely as I executed a perfect and stately dive into the mud through the weeds, grabbing my phone as I passed, before laying half naked on the marina bottom under the boat’s bow.

It’s not a view of the boat I ever expected to see. I pushed off against the mud with my feet and shot out of the water like a guided missile. In seconds I was back on the pier soaking wet and freezing cold but otherwise unharmed, which is more than I could say for my phone.

As you can see, it’s not very well at all. The screen is smashed beyond repair and the phone has a definite bend in the middle. Because of the protective case, very little water ended up inside but the blow it received has finished it off. I made a careless and expensive mistake. The replacement cost of the phone is about ?250 and then I’ve all the hassle of setting up a new one but I consider myself very lucky.

I consider myself very fit, but I’m not as young as I used to be. I fell with some force, and I fell into the water. I could have hurt more than my pride and suffered more than the inconvenience of having to find a new phone.

There’s always potential for accidents when you combine water, wood and steel, cold and wet weather and climbing on and off boats. Boaters are always falling off their boats. Falling off a boat into the water isn’t a problem in itself; falling off the boat – or onto the boat – and hitting something hard or something with moving parts can often have disastrous consequences.

I think all of our wharf staff have fallen into the cut at some stage. When this happens the only injury is to their pride. However, slipping on a wet or icy surface when working on a boat is another kettle of fish. A boat roof can be very slippery. Many have a non slip surface, a top coat of paint mixed with grit, which makes them much easier to walk on. Slipping on the roof and landing in its flat surface isn’t normally too much of a problem, but slipping off a boat roof can really hurt.

As a narrowboat owner you probably won’t be skipping from roof to roof as our wharf staff do when we’re preparing the hire fleet, but you may well step on and off the roof when your boat is in a lock. Be careful. Not only is your boat roof likely to be slippery during cold or wet weather, but so is the side of the lock. There are ladders fixed to the lock wall so you don’t have to step on and off the roof but you need to be equally careful with these. They are usually fixed only a few inches away from the wall so there’s little room to place your feet on the rungs.

Gunnels are also the source of many slips. The gunnel is the horizontal ledge that runs around the boat above the hull and below the cabin. Gunnels vary in width from almost nothing to four or five inches. A non slip coating is applied to the gunnel on some but not all boats. You need to make sure that you have two hands anchored to the roof rail or top of the cabin if you’re going to walk along the side of the boat. There have been two or three occasions in the last couple of months when we’ve had to fish wet boat owners out of the cut at our wharf. Some of them make a regular habit of it.

A couple of months ago a couple were reversing their narrowboat was reversing onto the wharf so that the owners could top up their diesel. The lady was steering; the man was standing on the gunnel reaching for a neighbouring boat so that he could tie up to it. He reached too far, slipped and disappeared under the water. The lady was totally unfased by it all. She heard the splash (didn’t even look in his direction), immediately put the boat in neutral in case the man came anywhere near the propeller, shook her head and groaned, “Not again! Not a-bloody-GAIN!” She later explained that he likes to go for a swim at least once every time they go for a cruise.

Slips and falls on either your boat or mooring are just some of the areas where you need to be careful. There are many more and they’re all covered in the excellent Boaters’ Handbook. You can download a copy for free from the Canal and River web site.


I don’t want you to think that serious injury lurks around every corner, but I do want you to where there’s potential for you to harm yourself. Read The Boaters’ Handbook, take it all in and enjoy your next trip out.


Useful Information
Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.

Laviajerasola - Monday,29 October, 2012

Timely reminder – off on a trip tomorrow! But I loathe my smartphone. I use a netbook much more and don’t carry it round with me unless I’m travelling (on land). I’ve often seen people glued to phones and almost run over on a road. I use an ordinary dumbphone for calls, mostly, and the netbook for emails, writing, research etc. Can’t wait for the smartphone contract to end. But it’s a very cheap contract on a Samsung Galaxy from 3, and I noticed yesterday in the 3 shop that prices have gone down even more – you could go into the shop and haggle. That’s what I did and they added free calls to other phones on the same network. Worth a try!


BrianBeaver - Monday,2 December, 2013

Putting safety aside, I think this storey is really funny! I went to look at my first narrow boat last week at Tattenhall marina. It was 9am and the morning frost was still visible. I did the splits as I put one foot onto the rear deck of a boat. Fortunately I grabbed the tiller to stop me falling and bashing my knee!  Its an early warning for me though to be careful. Cool





pearley - Monday,2 December, 2013

Certainly, this is the time of year to be extra careful.

I am surprised at how many marina, and CRT, pontoons have no anti-slip coverings and, of those that have, how ineffective it is. The decking type wood usually used is quite dangerous as soon as it rains, let alone when the frost gets to it.

The CRT pontoon we were moored on for a couple of weeks last winter had extremely expensive anti-slip strips added but they didn’t help when it got frosty unless you made sure your foot actually landed on on of them, and the aluminium strips at each edge are positively lethal.

The best anti-slip, and probably the cheapest, that we’ve come across is chicken wire. However, it is a good place to get rid of your stove ash.

Also, beware of locksides. It is not just frost or ice but leaves and that green lichen stuff that grows on the edges is also very slippery. I know from personal experience!

Consider a life jacket when cruising in the winter.





Paul Smith - Monday,2 December, 2013

Hi Brian and welcome to the forum. Yes, it was funny in retrospect but not so funny when I was laying on the marina bottom looking up at the underside of my boat!

Pete, I agree completely with you about slippery marina pontoons. At Calcutt we have about a third of a mile of wooden pontoons. We don’t have chicken wire fitted because of the claims that have gone in to other pontoon owners who have fitted chicken wire which has come apart and caused trips and falls.

We pressure wash our pontoons as often as we can but it’s a laborious task and is only effective for the first few weeks.


stlyon - Tuesday,3 December, 2013

Do be aware when opening locks that on some the steps down to the towpath from the lockside may well actually enter the circle of the arm as you push. Wife of a friend was using her bodyweight pushing backwards on the arm (apparently BW used to teach this method on course it used to run but CRT assert it is NOT the way to do it) when her foot went down the step and she took a tumble. Smashed her wrist and battered more than her pride!


Also I was out with them the other week and I realised that the number of trees blown down, banks collapsing and overhanging branches had seriously increased since I last cruised that stretch in “plastic pig” about 4 years ago. Cost me my hat on a branch as I maneuvered to avoid a tree fall on the opposite side.Embarassed  Thankfully head was not in it!Smile Given that CRT are keeping up the BW standard of benign neglect if you are moving around this winter “Be careful out there!”


Fieldfare - Saturday,11 January, 2014

Hi Paul. Your experience brought back many memories. A long time ago – a very  long time ago as I now 80 – I lived on a ex landing craft on the Thames at Windsor in the late 1950s. Every day my wife and I cycled to Windsor station to travel up to our jobs in London. We kept the cycles on the landing crafts’ ramp, a ramp that I liked to think troops must have rushed down on D Day on to the Normandy beaches.

Every morning after breakfast I would step across the gap between the ramp and land with our bikes while my wife prepared to depart. I worked in a violin shop in Bond Street so was dressed fairly smartly in a suit. It was October and the river was in full flood, Milandria, our boat, pulling alarmingly at her moorings. My mind on other things, possibly how we were going to pay for our next season tickets, I stepped across the gap with my bike and found myself to my amazement bobbing up and down in the river the mooring rope under my arm. I tried to call out but it was so cold that I only managed a half hearted croak. We laughed about it later as my wife recalled seeing my head appearing and disappearing above the ramp; she helped me out and eventually we arrived at work a trifle late.

It was only later I realised that if it were not for the sheer luck of falling with the mooring rope under my arm I would have been swept under Milandria and landed up down river against the gates of Boulters Lock. I couldn’t swim but then there was no question of swimming in that current anyway. I certainly would not have been writing this now.

We had five years on Milandria and many adventures and a great deal of happiness. Even now I am longing for the river – it never leaves you. Recently my wife and I talked about living on a narrowboat – selling the house – but reading your newsletter has made me think that I may be a bit past it; it can be a hard life in the winter unless one is young and fit.

We are still keeping the option open of owning one if the opportunity ever arose financially. I love your newsletter by the way and certainly envy your lifestyle. Many thanks Brian


Paul Smith - Saturday,11 January, 2014

Hi Brian. Welcome to the forum.

Most boat owners enjoy an involuntary dip every now and again. I’m pleased to say that most get away with no more than a dent in their self esteem, which appears to be the case with you. I actually like things like that happening to me because, once you take the short term inconvenience out of the equation, they’re great stories to tell in years to come.

With regard to being past it, I’m sure you aren’t. However, I agree that living afloat is far more physical than living on dry land. Restocking my coal supply is the job I like least. I buy ten bags at a time so once a month I have a mad ten minutes running up a twenty feet high bank with a total of 250kg. Looking on the bright side, I always have an appetite for my dinner afterwards!


Alan - Saturday,11 January, 2014

Hello Brian and welcome to the forum.

While there are undoubtedly plenty people your age and more living afloat, it does require a degree of physical fitness, as you are aware.  I just hope I am still able to contemplate the possibility at 80.




Horus (soon to be) Afloat - Friday,28 February, 2014

Hi all,

Wonderful story, and my limited time on the cut has seen me in the drink once, slipped stepping off the bow to the canal edge, and down I went. Anyway just a note on the Handbook which is at http://canalrivertrust.org.uk/…..ry/141.pdf as the link given redirects to the CRT homepage.

House sold, boat soon……..Smile


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