David: It's not us guv

Published: Monday, 27 July 2015

I'M BEGINNING to feel a bit paranoid about the number of stoppages which have occurred in our vicinity this year. So far, there has been a boat sinking in a lock on the Middlewich Arm, the Anderton Lift failing just before we were going on it, a Leeds & Liverpool swing bridge failing just as we got to it, the Lune Aqueduct being closed just after we had crossed it (going South, fortunately).

And now the Rufford Branch closed the day after we came up it. We were also stuck on the Ribble Link for three days because the wind was too strong to risk a crossing, but that's just weather. I have to assure CaRT that none of these were anything to do with us.

New safety panic

CaRT have announced that are 'consulting'—and that usually means telling us what is going to happen—about the design of the pawls which are meant to keep a paddle in the up position while you are using it. At present most of these pawls can be flipped back out of the way while you wind the paddle down; they should then be replaced on the ratchet, though of course that often does not happen.

The Health and Safety department at CaRT, fresh from their previous triumphs, like the pointless bollards and obsessive bridge numbering, have identified a risk, in that if the pawl is flipped back then a user might lose control of his windlass while winding down and have it fly off and hit somebody.

Their proposed remedy for this is to fix all pawls so that they can only be lifted slightly and would thus have to be held in the up position while the paddle is wound down. In fact, some pawls have already been treated like and a right pain they are. If you have to use one hand to hold the pawl up, then most people only have one other hand to wind the paddle down. This means that you have less control over the process and you are more likely to be overcome by the weight of the paddle, with dangerous results, including getting hit by the windlass. In effect, CaRT's remedy will make things more dangerous.

I have seen nothing from CaRT that suggests they have evidence that there is a worse problem with people being hit by windlasses than was the case in the past. What are the figures? How many people have been injured in this way in the last, say, five years? Is the number increasing? Unless they have these facts they are acting on supposition and those of us who suspect that a lot of these Health and Safety issues are raised merely to justify the continued employment of Health and Safety officials will feel vindicated.

There is a safety issue around winding paddles, which is largely a consequence of an earlier H&S panic. Round about 1990 British Waterways suddenly decided to standardise paddle spindles—previously each canal had had its own size of spindle, and thus windlass. As a result, leisure boaters often used the same windlass on different size spindles, so many of them became worn and more likely to slip. The solution was to replace every single spindle in the country with a standard, tapered spindle and require everyone to use the same size windlass.

However, there was one exception to this; for reasons I have never seen fully explained, the spindles on the Grand Union locks North of Napton and those on hydraulic gear, then becoming all too common, were not changed. The result of this was the standard windlass had to have two sockets, one of which was not tapered as the large spindles are straight sided. Unfortunately many boaters use the large socket even on standard tapered spindles, with the result that they become rounded and the windlass can slip. If there is a problem with more accidents I suggest that this is the real reason, not some defect in the design of pawls, which has not changed in 200+ years.

There is one type of windlass which avoids this problem, the Dunton Double. This is an alloy windlass that has only a single socket, but by clever tapering will operate either size of spindle, tapered or straight sided, without causing damage to the spindle. Unfortunately these are apparently no longer in production and have become unobtainable. The Walsh alloy windlass, which is becoming common, has straight sided sockets, as do many standard windlasses and if you use a straight socket on a tapered spindle then it will wear rounded. I suggest that the real answer is for CaRT to forget about interfering with the pawls and instead acquire the rights to the Dunton design, put them back into production and encourage everyone to use them.

The other cause of accidents when winding paddles is leaving the windlass on the spindle while the paddle is up. Sometimes the pawl slips out of the ratchet, usually when a boat bangs against the gate and the windlass flies off, into the canal if you are lucky, hitting you if you are not. This is not caused by a defective design of the pawl, but because the ratchets have become worn and no longer engage properly. The best answer to this is Richard Parry's favourite solution—education. Even if we have to have yet another little notice saying 'Never leave your windlass on the spindle' this would be preferable (and cheaper) than changing all the pawls and actually making things less safe.

David Hymers