Residential Boat Owners Association

Life as a Continuous Cruiser

Tips on Boating in Winter

Out and About:

Towpaths, bridges and lock-sides can be particularly slippery in winter, and snow can conceal trip hazards such as mooring rings close to the water's edge.  Remember BW's message from previous years: "Stay SAFE - Stay Away From the Edge."

Padlocks and other Locks:

Always try t keep all your own padlocks, Yale locks, mortise locks, etc. well lubricated, especially in winter.  Spray grease works well, as you can direct it exactly where you need it, using the applicator tube.  However, if you find yourself in a situation where you are on the move, and cannot open a water conservation lock because it is frozen, it is always handy if you can nip into your boat and emerge with a can of de-icer, and spray de-icer into the key-hole.

Ropes:
Keep a spare set of mooring lines and other rope.  If the ropes that are in use freeze, and you are on the move, swap the ropes for the dry ones from inside the boat.   Hang the frozen ropes safely in your engine-room, if you have one, or in another warm spot in your boat, where they cannot fall onto heating, cooking or moving equipment, and allow them to thaw out.  This way you can keep on rotating ropes so that they are easy to handle. Always try to avoid dropping them in the water, especially in freezing conditions.

Snow or ice on Gunwales and Cants:

Sweep away as much loose snow as possible.  If possible, sweep it before anyone has walked on it and packed it hard.  Sprinkle salt liberally over the area, to melt remaining ice.  repeat if necessary.  It's a good idea to keep a plastic tub or other suitable container of salt near the door in bad weather.  Don't forget to wash the salt residue off well, once the weather improves.

Use Your Hands:

Whether your boat is on its mooring, stuck in ice, or if you are on the move, never forget one of the important rues of boating - Always hold onto the handrail whenever you are movingaround the outside of your boat, or stepping on or off the boat.  Similarly, always hold onto the handrail when stepping on or off a balance beam, or crossing a lock gate.  Locks in winter conditions must be treated with great respect, especially when they are shrouded in a coat of ice crystals.  They may look very picturesque, but they need to be used with even more care than usual.


Life as a Continuous Cruiser:

So, you want to join the ranks of that hardy band, Continuous Cruisers? You do realise that besides having to endure all that British weather may throw at us you will also be reviled by half of the canal population as a free loader despite canal living being no cheaper than living on the bank.  Not for us the easy existence in a Marina with access to electricity and other essentials.

Actually, you'll be joining a very select group. According to the 2007 accounts of British Waterways there are only 2175 license holders registered as Continuous Cruisers so that makes us very much a minority interest. It's a pity that we don't get as much interest or money as some other minority groups.  After all, the road travellers in their coaches and caravans have their own parliamentary spokesman.

As a genuine CCer, there is one rule with which you have to abide. You should only stay in one 'area' for no more than 14 days. 'Area' is not really defined but is generally accepted to be a parish and you still have to take notice of any local mooring conditions such as time limits. Of course, there are always exceptions to this such as being taken ill, mechanical breakdown, and the like but you should always try and get permission from BW before overstaying. You will also have to keep a log of your journeys to prove that you have been cruising continuously. Not that anyone ever asks to look at it! However, it is useful to know whether the ice is earlier or later than last year, when you saw the first cygnet born and to prove your fuel usage when claiming other than the 'standard' 40/60 split on fuel duty.

Every year there are stories of people with no previous experience selling their house, buying a boat and sailing off into the sunset, or at least to Birmingham. This is just plain daft. Even if you've had a few summer holidays on the canals this won't prepare you for conditions in February. We thought we were experienced, 20 years of hiring then 8 years of shared ownership meant there wasn't a month in the year when we hadn't cruised. Even so, it has been a steep learning curve.

When deciding on your boat there are a number of decisions to be made that will be difficult to unmake later. When you get together with other boaters inevitably you will end up talking about toilets. These divide into pump-out and cassette. Pump-out has the advantage of looking like a normal toilet and it will last at least a couple of weeks between  emptying. Indeed, some people manage to make their tank last for 3 months or more. They must make a lot of use of shore facilities such as pubs or keep their legs crossed a lot. Emptying them however will cost. Anything up to £18 or so a time. Emptying a cassette on the other hand is usually free but a full one is heavy and will need doing every couple of days. So, you pays your money and take your choice. Oh, and whichever system you decide on, at some time it will block!

Very important is your bed as you're going to spend rather a lot of time in it. In a hire boat the bed always runs fore and aft. You may have noticed that it is only 4 feet wide and that you are always digging your elbows and knees into your partners back. The one who draws the short straw to sleep on the inside also has the risk of sudden shock on accidentally touching the cold side of the boat. But, if you don't mind the narrowness it has the great advantage of being permanently made up. Of course, you can always have an extension to one side to give you the luxury of a king size but you've then lost all the advantages. The cross bed, on the other hand, gives you the king size but can be a bit uncomfortable if you are taller than 5 foot 10. Climbing over the bed though keeps you fit and it also means that whoever sleeps on the kitchen side always gets to make the morning cuppa!

Everything on a boat is a bit of a compromise but you will need as much storage as is humanly possible. You cut down on your cooking utensils, convert all your CDs to MP3, stick all the family photos on your hard drive, stick the wellies in that tiny space at the back but it's the clothes that take up the space. That great idea, the vacuum bag, must have been made with boaters in mind. Not only does it enable you to pack your spare clothes into a tiny space but it keeps them dry at the same time. You will come to accept the scourge of condensation in time!

When living in a house we took central heating for granted. We assumed we could do this on the boat despite the cost of diesel. A big mistake. Those heating systems generally fitted to boats are not suitable for residential use and, furthermore, any warranty won't usually cover this use. There are some systems on the market designed for 24 hour use but they are not small and, given the pressures on space in a liveaboard,  may not fit. Being children of the 60's, well 50's actually, we've never really had coal fires at home so thought we could do without one on board. From our experience with the shared ownership boat we found them to be dusty and the heat could sometimes be unbearable. Our first winter found the diesel heating expiring from over use on the coldest week of the year so we bit the bullet and had a multi-fuel stove fitted. The boat is now as warm as toast but guess what, it's dusty and the heat can sometimes be unbearable. Still, we can always open the front doors!

You will be living in close proximity with your partner in a space not much longer than 50 feet. This inevitably will lead to the occasional argument. Make sure your boat has at least one door that can be closed with a satisfying slam!

Once on board permanently, you will be a person of no fixed abode. This is not acceptable in today's Britain where the first piece of information you are always asked is your postcode. To have a credit card, a bank account and a British Waterways licence you will need a permanent address on shore. This is why you have children. They've used your home as a convenience for years, it's your turn now. Make sure you get a new passport and driving licence showing this address so you can then apply for the National Bus Pass from the local Council. All your post can go there for your children to deal with. Most of it will be rubbish anyway but the important stuff can always be scanned and e-mailed to you. If it is something that you need to sign then the Royal Mail Poste Restante system works very well but is one of the places that you need to prove who you are so don't forget to take that nice new driving licence.

Another item that seems to generate much hostility amongst some other boaters is the washing machine. Complaints about hogging the water point being the usual complaint. It might be that these people don't wash their clothes too often but to rely on launderettes is a no-brainer. First you have to find one, it's usually a long walk with a heavy bag of washing, you need an inexhaustible supply of £1 coins and when you get the washing out you find the previous user had washed his overalls after creosoting the fence. So go for an on-board machine if you have the space. Be careful of washer/dryers though as they can use an inordinate amount of water in the drying process.

Having mentioned water, don't pass a water point without filling up. You may have a tank that would keep a family of five going for a fortnight but, if you do pass a water point, you can bet your life that the next one will have six boats waiting or will not be working. This is even more important during the winter months when you can go to bed on a mildish night to wake to _ inch of ice.

As most of us get older we need to take various medications to make life easier. We are lucky in that the Doctor we have been registered for years continues to keep us on her list despite knowing we no longer live in her area. At first we took our repeat prescription forms to a local Doctor, registered as a temporary patient, and eventually received a new prescription. However, no two Doctors seemed to be the same. Sometimes we would receive enough for 2 months, on others just 2 weeks. Sometimes we were subjected to the third degree, on others we saw no one but a receptionist. Eventually we started posting the prescription form to a friend with a stamped addressed envelope for wherever we expect to be in the next fortnight, he drops it in to our Doctor, collects the new form and pops it in the post. There will be times when you become unwell and need to visit a local Doctor. This is easy. You have a form to fill in as a temporary patient for which you will need the dreaded postcode. I use the one of the nearest pub or supermarket. You will be asked if you are staying for longer than 14 days. (Not the same 14 days as British Waterways surely!) This is where you need to lie and say yes. Otherwise, you will only get enough medication to last until you are out of that Doctors area and are someone else's problem.

You've made all your preparations and are afloat so now you need to make some plans. Plans! I here you say. We're free agents. We'll go where the wind, actually diesel power, takes us. If only it were so. Firstly all your friends and relatives will want to visit and see what it is that made you loose your senses but they would rather travel to France rather than find their way to Macclesfield. You'll need to feed them so easy access to Tescos or Sainsburys is necessary as is plenty of booze to calm you down when they've gone. There's the BW stoppage list to take into account and you need to consider winter whilst you can still move. It is no good being miles from the nearest water tap when the canal freezes over. Not that you can guarantee the tap will work when you do get to it. So, some forward planning is required even if it is somewhat loose. You will make a pact before you start that you are not going to cruise if it is raining or blowing a gale. You can forget that. Having made a plan that you didn't want in the first place, you can bet it will rain every day when you just have to move

Boats are complicated things and will go wrong, usually at the worst possible time. Besides our heating breaking down, our generator failed a few days before Christmas 2007. 'So what', you might say but on a gas-free boat it was a bit awkward. Of course, you're a DIY expert so you will have a full tool kit and all the spares your limited storage space and your partner will allow. At the very least I recommend you should be able to carry out your own engine service. If you think you can rely upon boatyards for any repairs then think again. You are used to phoning the garage, booking your car in for a service on a particular day and it being done that day. Just as we cruise the canals at a leisurely pace so do boatyards work. You must remember that the parts used on your boat might not be that common. Next time you are in the Chandlers just see how many different water and bilge pumps there are.

It won't be long before you're obsessed with your battery power, sticking your voltmeter into a socket at every opportunity to see the state of charge. After a while power conservation becomes second nature so then you can obsess about how much water you are using. Whatever appliances you choose you need to look at their power consumption. There are some quite low power mains units that won't deplete your batteries too much but you must always remember, a 1000w toaster will pull 90 amps from your batteries if only for a shortish period. Batteries are only a storage medium. There is only so much you can get out of them before damaging them irreparably. The more power you use the longer you need to run your engine or generator the next day to fill it back up.

You will also get used to the morning 'wipe down'. Condensation is a big problem on a boat. The amount varies from boat to boat and depends on the outside temperature and humidity. Cooking generates a lot, both from steam and from the gas used. The bathroom is another culprit but the biggest offender is us. And, whilst we keep breathing, there is nothing we can do about it. When we stop breathing the problem will go away, permanently! Plenty of ventilation will help as will a decent heating system and a bit of double glazing but a bit of extra insulation only seems to push the problem to a different part of the boat. So get wiping.

Getting about on shore can sometimes be a problem. Without your own car you either have to walk, cycle, bus, taxi, train or hire car. You will quickly realise that pedestrians and public transport come very low in most Councils priorities. Pedestrian routes to most supermarket and retail park entrances are obviously placed by architects who never actually walk anywhere. Most of these places have well worn paths through the flower beds and over the fences where pedestrians have taken the shortest route. Pavements that suddenly end only to start again on the opposite side of a busy road are all too common and pedestrian crossings are timed for the convenience of the motorist, not poor you waiting in the rain.

Having successfully obtained your bus pass you will then be introduced to that great work of fiction, the bus timetable! You will meet some wonderful people and listen to the life history of not a few and that is just the drivers. Take pity on them, having to charge around the country at breakneck speeds to meet unrealistic timetables in aged vehicles that belong to a third world country. The oldest we've travelled on was 21 years old! You will also find that large tracts of England are completely cut-off in the evenings and at weekends. Even in a town the size of Bedford, the last bus from the town centre to the marina we were moored in was at 6.15pm and there was no Sunday service at all despite there being a large leisure complex next door.

To keep in contact with your family and friends, there is the mobile phone. It is one of the wonders of the modern age that it is possible to talk with astronauts on the moon but try to get a signal on your phone on the summit level of the Kennet & Avon! If you can, make sure your partners phone is on a different network to yours. That way you have a fighting chance that one of your phones will work. Of course, internet access is the same. You get used to slow connection speeds after a while but it can be very frustrating when you are trying to pay your credit card before the due date. Many CCers make use of home shopping for foodstuffs. It is not something we have used but I understand that Tescos is the most accommodating. Provided you can give them the dreaded postcode they will deliver direct to the boat.

Talking of the internet, there are a number of canal related forums which can offer you some good advice. However, be careful what you say. Threads on these forums often get 'hijacked' by people with their own axe to grind. Ask an innocent question about generators, for instance, will bring a tirade from others who see living afloat as some sort of green crusade and that we should all be reading by candlelight, washing our clothes in the cut and scavenging the hedgerows for fuel. Just remember that it is your life and you can live it how you wish providing BW let you.

In the winter you can cruise for days without seeing another moving boat but in the summer it will be completely different. Every lock will have a queue of hirers who will ask the inevitable questions. Do you live on board? How long have you done it? Doesn't it get cold in the winter? A few similar questions before the big one. How much did your boat cost?

So welcome to the club and if you pass a boat called 'Joanie M', slowly of course, give us wave. We'll always wave back.

Out and About:

Towpaths, bridges and lock-sides can be particularly slippery in winter, and snow can conceal trip hazards such as mooring rings close to the water's edge.  Remember BW's message from previous years: "Stay SAFE - Stay Away From the Edge."

Padlocks and other Locks:

Always try t keep all your own padlocks, Yale locks, mortise locks, etc. well lubricated, especially in winter.  Spray grease works well, as you can direct it exactly where you need it, using the applicator tube.  However, if you find yourself in a situation where you are on the move, and cannot open a water conservation lock because it is frozen, it is always handy if you can nip into your boat and emerge with a can of de-icer, and spray de-icer into the key-hole.

Ropes:
Keep a spare set of mooring lines and other rope.  If the ropes that are in use freeze, and you are on the move, swap the ropes for the dry ones from inside the boat.   Hang the frozen ropes safely in your engine-room, if you have one, or in another warm spot in your boat, where they cannot fall onto heating, cooking or moving equipment, and allow them to thaw out.  This way you can keep on rotating ropes so that they are easy to handle. Always try to avoid dropping them in the water, especially in freezing conditions.

Snow or ice on Gunwales and Cants:

Sweep away as much loose snow as possible.  If possible, sweep it before anyone has walked on it and packed it hard.  Sprinkle salt liberally over the area, to melt remaining ice.  repeat if necessary.  It's a good idea to keep a plastic tub or other suitable container of salt near the door in bad weather.  Don't forget to wash the salt residue off well, once the weather improves.

Use Your Hands:

Whether your boat is on its mooring, stuck in ice, or if you are on the move, never forget one of the important rues of boating - Always hold onto the handrail whenever you are movingaround the outside of your boat, or stepping on or off the boat.  Similarly, always hold onto the handrail when stepping on or off a balance beam, or crossing a lock gate.  Locks in winter conditions must be treated with great respect, especially when they are shrouded in a coat of ice crystals.  They may look very picturesque, but they need to be used with even more care than usual.