Coping with rising water levels

Published: Monday, 11 November 2019

AS THE UK continues to experience severe and unprecedented downfalls, River Canal Rescue (RCR) is reminding boaters how to cope with suddenly rising and falling water levels.

At the end of October, RCR was called to assist six stranded or precariously positioned boats at risk of capsize across the country; one of which was passed onto the emergency services to recover, due to the boat being inaccessible and the owner at risk if he remained onboard.

RefloatedBoatRCR managing director, Stephanie Horton, advises:

'The key to dealing with our increasingly extreme weather conditions is timing and balancing health and safety. In order to stop a vessel drifting onto land when water levels rise, position a scaffold pole or poles, or a boarding plank, between the boat and the river/canalside edge and fix it into position.  This acts as a mooring post, preventing flood waters from floating the boat onto land.  (The pictures shows a re-floated boat with poles attached to keep it in position and the one below shows a narrowboat slung into the the wood in a flood.)

Moor in a lock

Alternatively use the engine to keep the vessel in position, so when the water rises, the power of the boat keeps it in deeper water.  However be mindful that as the propeller is at its lowest point, it can easily be damaged if the boat does drift. These options are not advisable other than in emergencies and if you have the opportunity, moor in a lock as it provides some protection from flood waters.

Caught in the woodsIf the boat has drifted, it’s all about timing; when the water levels start to go down, try to push the boat back into the water or off the land before they drop too far.  But be cautious as this can be dangerous, particularly if you’re unable to see under the water.

Two engineers

We usually dispatch two engineers in dry suits to undertake this manoeuvre because although it sounds and looks easy, knowing the best way to re-launch a boat and where to push depends on the severity of the grounding, depth of the water, its flow and accessibility.

In cases like this timing is everything and too much or too little water can make the difference to the outcome'.

Over the weekend, RCR engineers were able to get to the locations quickly and save a number of vessels before they were left high and dry.  Although on site for less than a couple of hours, it averted the need to spend time and money on cranes, transport, and manpower to move them once stranded.

Coldest period in a decade

Looking ahead to winter, scientists from University College London warn the UK is likely to experience the coldest period in a decade with only a 20% chance temperatures will rise above five degrees in January/February.

In order to reduce winter damage to boats, Stephanie explains:

'Get into a routine of visiting your vessel regularly and check the batteries are fully charged.  With a bilge pump in continuous operation even a fully charged battery will only last a few days.

Bilge pumps

Check the bilge pumps are fully operational and left on ‘automatic’ setting. If there’s no bilge pump or only a manual one, install an automatic bilge pump.  It needs reviewing because it relies on battery power, so unless the boat’s shore powered, there isn’t an unlimited supply.

Check drain holes and clear debris—keeping these clear will stop water running into the engine room, and make sure canopies are secure to prevent rips developing and water getting into the boat.  Also check ropes and anchoring points, if the mooring’s at risk of flooding, run a rope to locations that can still be accessed even in a flood situation and make sure that other ropes are loose enough to deal with the potential scenario of the pontoon going under.

Windy conditions

 In windy conditions, check ropes for chafing and ensure they’re well positioned and adjusted to the conditions, and before moving a boat in iceconsider the importance of your journeyit’s easy to believe you’re impregnable when surrounded by steel but even a couple of inches of ice can pierce a hull.

Check river/canal conditions, and again consider whether the journey is really necessary; they can change quickly and easily catch you unaware. Get updates from the Environment Agency.  Never head out when a river is in red flag.

Finally, be aware of the wind direction before manoeuvring.  When coupled with difficult river conditions, the windage of a boat can be easily underestimated and your vessel will become uncontrollable'.

Don't attempt recovery without assistance

If a vessel is caught in a situation, RCR urges boaters not to attempt a recovery without assistance.  Stephanie concludes: 'Severe weather conditions increase the risk to boat owners and simple tasks can easily result in accidents and injury'.

RCR also reminds boat owners to check their insurance policies.  As insurance companies try to minimise their exposure, the firm’s finding more third-party only policies exclude salvage and wreck removal—one of the biggest risks to boats.