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Hints and Tips on Navigation



One of the many excitements for river travellers is the thrill of mooring your own boat. This usually comes from watching somebody else making a complete hash of it and is considered quite a 'spectator sport' in some areas of our rivers and canals.

Wind and tidal direction are two ingredients of nature that will either provide the desired effect for you, as the 'pilot', or offer thrills and spills for the ever present audience who consider it is part of their holiday 'duty' to watch various boating calamities unfold before their eyes.

In reality the manoeuvers are fairly simple and, with a little thought to the elements, can be exercised without incident. Try and remember that everyone has to learn how to steer and moor. Honestly, most of us start out as if we were in a car and nothing is further from the truth!

The Fast Approach: This will normally affect the bow of the boat, the side of the bank, the coots and moorhens racing across the boiling surface of the water - hastily zooming out of harm's way, or you and your crew. The last is likely to be the most usual and can have quite a devastating effect on your 'peaceful' break, away from the madding crowds.

Try to gauge the direction of the wind and the flow of the current. The latter can run quite fast on some stretches of river. Once you have established these two factors, you should consider which of them is the strongest.

If you think that the current is the stronger force, you should head the bow into the current and slowly head towards the bank that you wish to tie up against. This tactic will ensure your approach is smooth and professional. If the wind is the stronger element, it is best to face the bow into the wind and, again with care, head for your mooring area.

Generally, mooring is parallel to the bank. However, there are certain exceptions to the rule and most riverside pubs post 'signs' to indicate if 'stern on' mooring is required. We also provide this information on our pages. You will find, again, that speed is normally the problem. A slow 'forward and reverse' approach will get you there much more quickly than will revving up the engine. Yelling at the crew should also be avoided.

Finally, remember that, where there is a strong tidal flow, the height of the water can fluctuate quite considerably. Your mooring ropes should have sufficient 'slack' to allow for any rise and fall but not be so loose as to cause your craft to drift too far out from the banks.

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Taking out a boat on the Thames or Canals? Hopefully, the information below may be useful to you. This was compiled with the assistance of the National River Authorities and Lock Keepers.  

If you are going from Reading to Lechlade you will find that, from Caversham Lock to Kings Lock, the Locks are hydraulically operated. From Kings Lock onwards they become Manual Locks, even though still manned by Lock Keepers. It is seriously suggested that, for your first day, you use the Locks when they are manned if you are not familiar with the various steps involved. It is also worth remembering that the Lock Keepers first duty is the upkeep of the Weirs and that they are not employed, solely, for the benefit of the river traveller. They also 'disappear' for lunch and tea. Their hours of duty are normally:

January, February and March: 09.15 to 16.00 (If Easter falls in March then the hours are 09.00 to 17.30 from Good Friday to Easter Monday inclusive).

April: 09.30 to 17.30 May: 09.30 to 18.30
June, July and August: 09.00 to 19.00

September: 09.00 to 18.00 (Saturdays and Sundays to 18.30)

October: 09.00 to 17.00 November: 09.00 to 16.00
December: 09.15 to 16.00

Some Holiday Operators prefer you to cruise the River Thames after 8 a.m. and to moor by dusk.

APPROACHING A LOCK: It is advisable to make sure there are no knots in your ropes and to learn how to "lasso" with these so as to make temporary mooring easier. You will see the 'Palings' ahead of you. These are for queuing by. They lead up to banks or short concrete quays, just by the Lock Gates. Safe land-side, concrete or wooden walkways are constantly being erected but there are still a few Palings that it is inadvisable to stand on. They can be quite narrow with water either side. The Palings have both iron hooks and stanchions for slipping your ropes around and, once secure, you can either leave the engine in neutral or turn it off - depending on how many boats are waiting ahead of you. Please do not jump the queue and always - if the Lock is full and you have to wait - move along the Palings to allow other boats to moor behind you.

IN THE LOCK: MANNED: Head for the side where the Lock Keeper is standing. He will signal if he wants you elsewhere. Once you have securely looped (not tied) your ropes, bow and stern, around the mushroom like bollards, you then turn off your engine. This is so that any call for assistance, or the Lock Keeper's instructions, can be heard - especially at the height of the Season. Once your boat is secured you can step off - if need be - to fend the boat off from the sides. Usually you will find that merely keeping your bow and stern ropes fairly taut will suffice.

IN THE HYDRAULIC LOCK: UNMANNED: Operating these Locks Gates yourself can be hard work, involving many manual turns of the large wheels that work the pedestal controls at both ends of the Lock. All turns should be CLOCKWISE. From Sonning, right up to Lechlade, you are going upstream and your boat will rise with the water level. If returning then you are going downstream and your boat will lower. In both cases the sluices and gates behind you should be closed (see 1 and 2 below). Open the sluices (see 3) in front of you and, once the water level is equal on both sides of the gates in the direction of travel, you can open the gates (see 4) at your bow. Once out of the Lock do not refill it. Close sluices. Always close the 'gates' behind you as these often form a public right of way.

1. CLOSE SLUICES: Put "Gate Selector" to middle position. Put "Sluice Selector" to 6-o-clock position. Rotate hand wheel until the sluices are fully closed.

2. CLOSE GATES: Put "Sluice Selector" to middle position. Put "Gate Selector" to 6-o-clock position. Rotate hand wheel until gates are fully closed. Put "Gate Selector" back to middle position.

3. OPEN SLUICES: Put "Gate Selector" to middle position. Put "Sluice Selector" to 12-o-clock position. Rotate hand wheel until sluices are fully open. Put "Sluice Selector" back to middle position.

4. OPEN GATES: Put "Sluice Selector" to middle position. Put "Gate Selector" to 12-o-clock position. Rotate hand wheel until gates are fully open. Put "Gate Selector" back to middle position.

IN THE MANUAL LOCK: UNMANNED: An easier exercise! Use of the long metal pole (known as a 'Hitcher') which is attached to the side of the grey arms (known as Beams) will be of assistance in pushing or pulling the far gate.

1. CLOSE GATES: Push the Beams away from you until the gates are closed.

2. CLOSE SLUICES. Turn wheels inwards, towards each other, until the white pole is up and the red pole is down.

3. OPEN SLUICES: Turn wheels outwards, away from each other, until the red pole has fully risen and the white pole is down.

4. OPEN GATES: Pull the Beams towards you until the gates are open.


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