A mother and father hired a 4/5 berth narrowboat for a Friday afternoon to Monday morning trip on the Kennet and Avon canal with their young daughter and two sons. This was to be their first boating experience. As part of the booking process, the hire company sent them British Waterways and Environment Agency’s The Boater’s Handbook. The handbook introduces the basics of boat-handling, helps people to spot risks and to avoid accidents, which includes the danger of hanging up on cills and the advice to close all paddles in the case of an emergency.
Barbary Partridge, which had been allocated to the family, arrived back at the marina later than expected, and also needed more time to clean than was normally necessary. The marina was busy with boats that afternoon and the staff were under extra pressure because of reduced staff levels. On arriving at the marina the family had to wait before the boat was ready. They were shown the ten-minute British Waterways Code for Boaters video and the marina staff showed the mother and father around the boat’s domestic arrangements before the marina manager carried out the formal handover procedures. They were then given instructions on how to operate the boat, negotiate locks and were shown the boat’s manual (kept on board for hirer’s reference), which included extracts from The Boater’s Handbook and emergency telephone numbers.
Barbary Partridge left the marina in the early evening and, about an hour later, arrived at the first lock. The transit through was made with another narrowboat, the crew of which operated all the gates and paddles. Later, the family moored for the night and then next morning continued on their trip to Bath. There were no other locks until Bath.
The boat approached the first lock in Bath in the early evening, and the mother and daughter disembarked to open the gates. The boat entered the lock chamber, the gates were closed and the mother and daughter opened the paddles to allow the water out and the boat to descend. The husband reversed the engine to keep the bow away from the bottom gates. The limits of the cill were clearly marked on both sides of the lock. As the boat descended, the parents noticed that the boat was trimming by the bow. The father told his wife and daughter to close the paddles; however, they were unable to do so. The father and his two sons disembarked the boat to the lock-side. The boat became jammed in the lock but was raised and refloated the following day with the assistance of a crane.
While ABC Leisure Group Ltd has taken a number of actions to prevent an accident of this nature occurring again, the Deputy Chief Inspector has written to the group on the following:
Hirers are probably more likely to watch and understand the Boater’s DVD than make use of the Boater’s Handbook, although the latter is a very good reference source. Therefore, ABC Leisure Group may wish to consider sending, as a matter of course, the Boater’s DVD to hirers.
Emergency situations which can develop when a boat is in a lock will often require the lock paddles to be closed immediately. Therefore, I believe it would be prudent to consider placing more emphasis during handover briefings on the actual operation of the paddle mechanisms. This will ensure that hirers are better prepared to operate the paddles in an emergency. When reviewing your procedures in this respect, consideration should be given to the provision of practical demonstrations using model paddle arrangements.