Canal Cruising Skills - Narrowboat Cruising In Bad Weather
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Wed Dec 10, 2014 at 10:30am

With the winter in full swing, knowing how to deal with adverse weather conditions will make for a pleasant and trouble free winter.

Steering a narrowboat on a dry and wind free day in the summer is an easy task once you get used to the boat’s length and how to operate the tiller, but steering the same boat in wind, rain, snow and ice is a different ball game altogether.

It is best to be prepared for the change in weather as you can expect every winter to be cold enough to freeze water and freezing water is a problem when you are on the canal. The other problem is stoppages; this is where sections of the canal closed off for essential repairs and maintenance.

An overnight frost will have little impact to the water in the canal, however continuous frosts and sub-zero temperatures during the day will cause the canal to ice over.

If you try and cruise your vessel in anything over half an inch of ice you will be causing a strain on your engine.

An inch or more and there’s a possibility of tearing a hole in your boat.

More than two inches on the canal and you’re stuck!

The weather doesn’t have to be that cold for it to snow, and as pretty as it is covering the landscape like a white blanket, its treacherous when it covers your boat and you are trying to get around the outside of the boat.

If you intend to keep cruising, and many boaters do like to continue cruising over the winter due to the fact there are fewer boats around and less queuing at the locks. Make sure you know where the stoppages are and pay attention to short and medium term weather forecasts. Then get to the nearest location which has services you will need before the weather sets in.

Take the precaution of pumping out your toilet tank before the bad weather hits, the contents isn’t likely to freeze and cause problems, but the water around your narrowboat will!

Being stuck on board with no toilet facilities isn’t ideal any time of the year, but in the depths of winter it’s not fun at all. If you are at a marina you can of course use their facilities, but if you are on the towpath you will have a serious problem.

A way around this situation is to carry a cassette toilet in case you need it. This is something most boaters do in case of emergencies.

Most gunnels are safe to walk, providing of course you keep both hands firmly fastened to a rail or the top edge of the cabin side. A snow covered gunnel is a dangerous place to walk, extra care needs to be taken if you are going to attempt to do this.

As is the same if you are venturing onto the boats roof ,if you have to go onto the roof crawl along it rather than trying to walk it will be a much safer option.

Other hazards include ropes that you can trip over, narrow steps, planks, gunwales, all become potentially an accident waiting to happen especially if you add some ice to the situation. In the winter the ice, snow and rain can make your boat a very dangerous place so you need to be extra careful.

Preventing Frost Damage

If you are going to be cruising, you won’t need to winterise your vessel, but if you are planning to leave your boat in the cold weather without any heating, winterising your boat is a must! There will be trouble ahead if you fail to do this.

When the temperatures drop there is a risk that tanks, pumps and pipes will freeze which causes them to burst which leads to the water flooding your boat. You will agree I’m sure that water damage is very destructive. There is a simple prevention – Winterise your boat!

If you live on your narrowboat, just make sure that you top up the antifreeze in the keel cooling and water systems and radiators.  It is also a good idea to lag your water pipes too.


Winterising a narrowboat is quick and easy. The general idea of this exercise is to prevent water from freezing in the pipes and bursting into the boat. Find out how to winterise your boat here 

Some marinas offer a winterising service, check with your marina to see if you can organise this with them

And Finally

Being prepared is what will see you through the cold days and nights. Have plenty of goodies on board as well as the practical items, carry a little extra solid fuel, make sure you have plenty of diesel. A few extra crates of your favourite tipple wouldn’t go amiss either!!    

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