June Chairman’s column

Chairman’s Column

Mike Rodd has some thoughts on the K&A, and boat safety.

A beautiful little canal

Wasn’t April just wonderful for cruising? As we always do after my wife’s hectic Easter time, we had a lovely break on the Mon & Brec – just perfect weather, a good number of hire boats out (vital to the economy of South Wales, where the Mon & Brec is the most popular tourist attraction), and each morning brought another batch of new-born lambs. And, after much winter work (thanks, Nick and Kevin), this beautiful little canal is in great condition. I’m delighted to see that CRT is taking notice of the many appeals by both the hire boat companies and us private boaters, through the sensible consultation process, to modify the visitor moorings – having more 48-hour ones in the villages etc. and getting rid of some silly 24-hour ones way out in the countryside. Also, it is clear that CRT is now quietly making progress down there with enforcement actions against the boats that had gaily (but illegally) kept saying they had a home mooring, and then seemed to escape any enforcement despite sitting for months on the visitor moorings or in other popular spots.

Life on the K&A

And so it’s back to running trip boats for the K&A Canal Trust – great fun and the main source of income for this amazing organisation, especially important now, as it struggles to ensure the future of the world-famous Crofton Pumping Station. Despite the herculean efforts of the volunteers in keeping the 200 year-old engines in perfect working condition (such that they take over the work of the CRT electric pumps when in steam), the building itself is failing badly, so they need to raise £2 million as a matter of urgency and necessity! Being out on these boats far too often (we are short of MCA-qualified Boatmasters – hint, hint!) does give me a good chance to watch what is happening on the enforcement scene. There are certainly many boats moving more often than in the last few years, and that aspect of the K&A pilot exercise (which has just run its one-year course) has certainly worked. Up on our end of the waterway, however, there are still too many boats overstaying the 14-day requirement. It has to be said, though, that many of these are not liveaboard boats, but boats simply left moored somewhere for weeks on end as their owners are unwilling (or unable?) to pay for a home mooring. At the same time, it’s interesting to note that many of our marinas have spare capacity.

But it is worrying to speak to the many excited new boat owners (many of them with widebeams) passing through on their way down to the Western end of the waterway, blissfully assuming that they will not require a home mooring and will be able to live on the boat, nice and close to Bath, often providing accommodation for their offspring (and their paying friends?) while they are at university. “Are you aware of the continuous cruising requirements?” I ask. “Well yes, but the various websites say don’t bother, nobody checks up on you….” comes the answer. Of course, this latter situation is changing. NABO supported the initial proposals, although from the April edition of NABO News you will know that we weren’t happy with the changes that occurred between our agreeing to the initial proposals and the follow-up letters issued to all CCer’s. We watch this with much concern – NABO has always said that we support the concept of continuous cruising and believe that it is a very important part of our canal culture, but that (sadly) enforcement is essential because of the abuse by a very small number of so-called ‘boaters’. But enforcement must always be within the legal powers given to CRT.

Mains power and carbon monoxide

NABO’s very active role in the Boat Safety Scheme is proving to be a real eye-opener to me, ever since I was nominated to the BSS Technical Committee when my predecessor as NABO Chairman, David Fletcher, was appointed the BSS TC chairman. The learning curve has been steep but the work undertaken by staff and the many representatives from the supporting bodies is immense, especially over the past year when we have been concentrating on the revised requirements for hire boats. For me, a couple of aspects here have been very close to my own professional interests. First is the need to ensure that BSS keeps up with changing technology – for instance, the ever-increasing use of AC devices on boats. These of course require not the relatively simple little 12- or 24-volt supply, but seriously large AC support. And 240 volts AC is a killer so we must make sure that the users (and their friends) are protected in the same way as we are in our homes, through the work over many decades of my previous employers, the IEE/IET, and its famous wiring regulations. These don’t (yet) apply to boats, but the same risks apply.

The second aspect of particular importance to me at this time is the question of smoke and CO alarms. On the K&A we have too many incidents resulting from fires on boats – admittedly not on hire boats, but on private ones. One of our NABO representatives reports how his CO alarm was set off by a cruiser moored right next to his narrowboat, and just last week my own boat’s CO alarm fired off when a boat passed very close by with exhaust smoke pouring out from the engine. So this issue affects all boaters. Would you stay in a B&B without smoke alarms?  Well, if you did, the owners would be liable for prosecution. Do you have smoke and CO alarms in your boat? From a NABO perspective, the crucial issue is the extent to which changes in hire boat requirements need to be reflected in the rules for our private boats.  Lots to think about there!

Just a minute

Finally, our Council meetings are proving to be very lively – enhanced by several new council members and a regular number of non-Council members attending. The excellent work by Helen on providing regular and detailed financial reports is making us all feel far more aware of our financial position, where, incidentally, we are holding our own – a great credit to our Council’s action two years ago on reducing costs. David, Helen and Sue have also really got on top of our membership database, and David is hard at work rebuilding the website. But, as we said before, we really do need someone to be our minutes secretary! No pay, but a great team to work with!

Have a great May/June cruising, and if you are on the K&A and you see one of our KACT trip boats, please wave – there’s a good chance it will be me under the battered bush hat! Or on the Mon & Brec, watch for Faraday II – also helmed by a funny little guy in yet another well-worn bush hat!