Saturday, 27 October 2012

Passport to the Canals

As the ever growing side effects of Health and Safety come into more prominence in everyday life. There is a periodic return of an old favourite onto various on-line boating forums and magazines. The old chestnut is should some sort of accreditation be made available for all boaters who will handle a boat. This is not rocket science or a new idea.  In many commercial operations involving water craft there is a requirement to demonstrate the necessary professional skills.

We have covered quite a few miles and negotiated a similar number of locks. In the main people in trouble that we have encountered have been first time hirer's. But not exclusively the first timers.  We have come across a couple of very experienced boat owners who seem to have experienced some sort of mind aberration. The best boat crew that we ever shared locks with were a crew of hire boaters on the Rochdale canal. They had honed their locking techniques to perfection and we learnt a thing or two from them. They had been hiring for years and were very proud of their skills. 

I wrote a bit about this over two years ago. Click Here

We have owned our boat for three years and we have hired boats prior to that. I can say that the level of hire boat handover the first time consisted of a ten minuet run along the canal as far as a winding hole and then a return trip back to the boatyard. During that time the controls were explained as were the workings of the imaginary locks. Further advice about locks was offered - it consisted of being told to "Go that way, its much further before you reach a lock."

The second time we were asked if we had hired boats previously. When we said yes we were just left to get on with it. We did however find a pamphlet on board that explained the controls and the things to check each morning before we set off. 

Our third experience of handover was more comprehensive the boat controls were explained. A copy of the Boaters Handbook was given to us to study and we were escorted to the first lock for some hands on tuition.  Mooring, locking and handling were discussed and explained. For the first time I was made aware during a handover of the hazard of the lock cill. 

Subsequent hiring handovers seemed to make much more sense but by then we already had much more of an awareness and understanding of the advice and tuition being given. In hindsight I wish that in the first few times we hired that there had been an option to elect for a few hours tuition in basic boat handling skills. I would have quite happily paid extra for the additional support. Years and many miles later and with experience of negotiating hundreds of locks. I now realise more than ever how vulnerable we actually were in the early days.

Using an analogy, would you take your family on a climbing trip with no knowledge of the basics of climbing. No awareness of climbing techniques and the correct use of safety equipment. Why would you want to do something that is dangerous without some training.

I still like the idea of a boaters passport, however I feel that there has to be a fixed curriculum based around the handover. That there should be a compulsory hands on escorted element. As well as an elective element for additional help.

Compulsory element: After the handover procedure has been completed. An escorted basic hands on steering, speed management, stopping and mooring element. Emphasis on safe lock operation where practical. With additional safety awareness for the whole crew.
Elective element: To redo the whole tuition curriculum or any part where the hirer feels they or their crew need help with their understanding.

I know from conversations I have had with a number of experienced retired boaters. Some who have done the RYA Inland Helmsman course who would be happy to give some of their time to help others. Maybe this is a revenue raiser for CART. As well as being a proactive step to raising health and safety awareness with all boaters.

Now for the vexed question - should this passport element be extended to the rest of the boating community as a minimum requirement. I know that people will claim that they have years of experience already. But if the passport was to be phased in with all new boat licence applications. Followed by second hand boats that change ownership and come up for licensing with a new owner. 


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