life afloat

Keeping safe afloat and alongside the canals

Hello everyone!

I haven’t written for a little while now, my boating life has been somewhat limited as our narrowboat Ladybird has been in the boatyard for a couple months for repainting and other restoration work. She’s back on her mooring now and looking great! Winter we hope, is on its way out now, and we’ve got longer warmer days to look forward to, and lots of canal related activities to enjoy.

In this article, I’m going to write about safety issues related to boating and when enjoying canal side walks.

As we still are at that time of year when we are using our heating systems a lot, especially stoves, we need to be mindful of keeping safe and healthy whilst we do so.

The Boat Safety Scheme, or BSS, is a public safety initiative owned by the Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency. Its purpose is to help minimise the risk of boat fires, explosions, or pollution harming visitors to the inland waterways, the waterways' workforce and any other users. For more information, visit their website.

Our own narrowboat Ladybird had her BSS inspection last year. The inspection itself takes a couple of hours and is very detailed. The Inspector took a lot of time with us to explain exactly what he was looking for and gave us lots of practical advice. It was a very useful experience. The requirements of the inspection do change from time to time, so it’s well worth while before a BSS inspection to have a look at their website and see what is needed.

safety indoors

When you spend time on board it’s so nice to make it as cosy and homely as possible on cold days and nights. Being sensible about keeping curtains, bedding and throws well away from heaters and flames is essential. Whilst it’s lovely to have some candles burning on board, we all need to be mindful of the risks that they may pose. Below are some tips for keeping the beauty of burning candles going, whilst ensuring safety. I heard an alarming story last year from my daughter's friend who left a perfumed candle burning upstairs in her house. When she went to check it an hour or so later, the glass jar had cracked and melted wax which was alight was running out of the jar. She just found it in time or it would have been a catastrophe.

safety tips when burning candles

  • If a candle is purchased in a glass container, inspect the glass very carefully for flaws that could crack when the heat builds up and the wax is molten. Also do not burn it for more than an hour at a time.
  • Never leave a lit candle unattended.
  • Never burn a candle on or near anything that might catch fire.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Trim the wick
  • Burn candles in a well-ventilated room.
  • Place the candle away from anything flammable.
  • Don’t place your candles under shelves as there is a lot of heat above a burning candle. There should be at least 1m between the candle flame and the surface above it.
  • Place the candle on a stable, heat-resistant surface.It is also important to make sure the holders are set on flat, stable surfaces to minimise the chance they will tip over.
  • Keep the wax pool clear
  • Make sure your candle is free of wick trimmings, matches and debris at all times as these things can catch fire.
  • Avoid drafts, vents or air currents.

towpath safety

Moving on from safety aspects within boats, we all need to be aware of the dangers that may befall us when spending time on the canal side. Where people and water are in close proximity, there is always a risk of accidents. The number of actual drownings in the UK’s inland waterways is approximately 260 per year.

RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) do not specifically mention canal / towpath related deaths, however one only has to undertake a brief internet search to see the media ‘storm’ that has occurred regarding the number of canal-related deaths in the Manchester area. It not within the scope of this article to comment on the validity of all available information, suffice to say that the victims are almost exclusively male, had been socialising in the City Centre, and met their deaths in the canals. There are many media reports of a canal “Pusher”, who allegedly pushes unsuspecting victims into the canals causing their deaths. The Police are on record saying that there is no basis to these deaths being anything but accidental. The media, the families and friends of many of the victims would beg to differ.

It is absolutely tragic that so many people have lost their lives in our canals, and it is imperative that we all pay heed to the risks that exist, and act with our own personal safety foremost in our minds, especially when alcohol is involved and particularly in urban canal areas.

We all need to be aware of personal safety when enjoying the canals, towpaths and associated social areas. The number of boat related, and non-urban canal related deaths are mercifully few, and we should not let fears of falling in get in the way of enjoying the wonderful leisure resources that our canal system offers.


I'm Jane Pennington,  part-time boat dweller, wife to Alan, mum to Natalie and Nanna to Isabella. I'm a retired Consultant Nurse in Diabetes, and have a continuing passionate interest in health matters. I love cooking and am a very keen forager and jam maker.

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