Monthly Archives: November 2020

hydrogen – future fuel?


the future fuel?

Could hydrogen become the fuel of the future?

During the past 18 months we have written several articles explaining how popular electric vehicles have come to the public's attention, either through manufacturers' sales pitches or the government`s stance on climate change due to never ending environmental pressure.

One of the concepts rarely mentioned is the use of Hydrogen as a future fuel to power various machines from forklifts to cars from trains to space rockets as well as drones.

Because the UK government has now decided to ban the sales of new vehicles that use fossil fuels from 2030, a new alternative apart from electricity needs to be found.

In his speech on the planned economic recovery, the prime minister said that hydrogen technology is an area where the UK leads the world and hopes to create clean jobs for future generations.

But is the hydrogen cell revolution hype or hope?

New Glasgow hydrogen refuse truck

hydrogen refuse truck, Glasgow

The majority of vehicle manufacturers in the UK have been hurriedly trying to find a solution to producing a fuel system that will not only fall in line with the government legislation but also appeal to buying customers who are looking to them to create a safer and cleaner alternative to fossil fuels.

A while back companies looked into the fuel problems and came up with the petrol / diesel / electricity hybrid which they thought would be the answer, until the latest government demand for cutting emissions came to the fore, now they have to return to the drawing board to solve the problem once again before 2030.

Unfortunately people are still sceptical when discussing a different fuel other than the fossil fuels that they have been used to. The same problems keep arising with the charging time issue at the top of the list followed by the amount of miles that a vehicle will hold per charge. Like most new ideas an infrastructure needs to be put in place, more charging points on the road and a system where access to charging at home is easier.

Until this is done the problems and reservations will stay in the public minds, if a company comes up with a car that runs for 500 miles on a single charge, is reasonably priced and can be charged simply at home, then they will be onto a winner, until then the situation wont change.

Another problem that consumers cannot understand is the amount of space that the batteries will take up, on a conventional car, most will have a single battery, on an electric car the whole base of the car is taken up with batteries, ok you have not got a bulky engine which normally is the heaviest part of the vehicle, but you still have wheels and bearings and motors etc. Bearingtech can help by supplying all these bearings and belts helping to keep your car on the road and in working order.

Due to the ever increasing demand for cleaner and efficient fuel, the government has now passed a new ruling that will allow Glasgow to get a fleet of 19 hydrogen powered refuse trucks after a £6.3 million funding was approved. The investment will also allow the building of a green refuelling station in the city which will be the first of its kind.

Described as the UK`s next step towards reaching its net-zero ambitions, this decision comes ahead of the COP26 UN climate change summit planned for Glasgow next year.

Rachel Maclean the transport minister said that the 19 trucks will form the worlds largest fleet of hydrogen refuse vehicles and showcase how the UK is at the forefront of green transport technology.

As we continue to build on our green-print for the future post Covid 19, we know how to harness the power of transport to improve our country and encourage change.

Minister Ian Stewart said ”that the UK government was doing everything possible to help our economy recover from the pandemic and protect the environment for future generations”.

Back in the 2000`s backers of hydrogen promised a hydrogen highway which never materialised, firstly because hydrogen power needs a new infrastructure, whereas battery cars could be charged off the grid.

Secondly, high-powered batteries of that time were more advanced for usage in companies etc, where hydrogen is not, hence why hydrogen lost ground in the battle to power cars.

proton exchange membrane fuel cell - hydrogenNow that industries such as transport and heating are struggling to maintain the levels needed using conventional batteries, hydrogen has come back into the frame. A typical example of this is the company JCB who have produced a new prototype mechanical digger which would need a battery weighing five tonnes and take hours to refuel.

On the other hand, hydrogen is lighter than air and takes minutes to fill a tank. Unfortunately lorries fall into the same brackets as diggers, making the batteries as heavy as the payload.

The same problem applies to buses, the Bamford family who own JCB said that they have 80 orders for double decker buses from Wrightbus in Northern Ireland, but still have the problem of re-charging, which could be solved with the use of hydrogen and by providing hydrogen pump filing stations on motorways could solve the headaches for long distance drivers in the future.

The same network could fuel hybrid battery and hydrogen cars of the future and disperse with the need for heavier batteries and plug in vehicles.

One of the biggest fears when using hydrogen is its volatile nature, which can cause explosions in tanks which has been a concern in the past. This problem has now been addressed by the invention of lined tanks with Kevlar, which is a substance that releases small micron-isms into the tank which causes the hydrogen to be more stable if the tank is impacted taking out the shock effect and preventing any explosive reactions.

Another breakthrough in the use of hydrogen cells was the first test flight of an electric plane in the UK at Cranfield University with the outcome yet to be published.

On the other hand, Germany is racing ahead with a network of filling stations alongside a hydrogen train, making an initial investment cost of 7 billion euros in a bid to dominate the market.

As with most things, others will want to see the outcome of any present and future trials before taking the plunge themselves. The EU commission have shown a keen interest in the trials alongside the website Euroactive who supposedly floated the idea of making the Euro the currency for hydrogen trades the same way that the dollar is the recognised currency for oil.

The UK government also intends to announce a strategy before parliament closes as part of the country`s economic recovery package.

Because the UK lost out in the battery technology race with China, they do not intend to miss out on the hydrogen demonstrations after being advised by its Committee for Climate Change who suggested that trials begin over the next few months.

These trials are so important to the country`s future fuel development that trials on Britain`s first hydrogen train on regular tracks will be tested by Birmingham University over the coming weeks.

By the looks of things, hydrogen has finally made the breakthrough or so it seems, but it is not trouble free by all means, currently almost all of the hydrogen sold today in the UK is produced by splitting it from natural gas, which unfortunately is very costly and emits lots of carbon dioxide which is attributed to the heating of the planet, something that is not popular with green supporters.

The problem can be tackled by capturing the Co2 at the hydrogen production site, then burying it with carbon capture and storing it, but this will drive up the cost considerably, which defeats the object of the exercise when trying to produce cost effective fuel.

The alternative is inherently clean, but very expensive. It entails using surplus renewable electricity; a typical example is when the wind blows at night using energy that is not used to split the hydrogen from water using a fuel cell.

The process is wasteful because it involves turning electricity into gas, then back into electricity- a two step shuffle dismissed by Tesla inventor owner Elon Musk who described it as” staggeringly dumb” and has been quoted as calling them” fool cells”.

But hydrogen lovers believe the future electricity grid will produce so much cheap off peak power that we will need to find other uses for it. By doing this they hope to see the cost of fuel plummet following the example and performance of offshore wind turbines.

Recent events have favoured the advance of hydrogen after the UK issued a target of 80% carbon cuts by 2050, that left a leeway for polluting forms of fuel to take up the remaining 20% of the carbon budget.

Now its widely accepted that homes with low carbon heating systems such as heat exchangers, will need to boost them in a cold snap from another source, and that’s looking increasing like hydrogen.

Trials are already underway using blended hydrogen into natural gas at Keele University and depending on how much support they get from the government, it looks as though a technology that lost its key battle against battery cars two decades ago could still find a place in the zero carbon economy in the UK`s future fuel development programme.

Throughout the years inventions have come and gone, whether good or bad the answers always lie in the trials and results, one thing that is certain is that time will tell, we will just have to wait and see.

possession is 9/10th of the flaw

dawncraft chronicles

possession is 9/10th of the flaw

simon woollen track and traceHaving first done my tap and trace with a QR code laminated and stuck on Dawn Treader's door, I am writing this down below on a very stormy, blowy Halloween.

There is a noticeable lack of cluster flies in the cockpit - mainly because I filled the aluminium frames with expanding foam, which seems to have removed the little crevices they were trying to hibernate in. Or perhaps it's because I am having to ask a rather large resident spider if it minds if I use my own loo; ecology took over and they have been eaten. Or like a coal mine canary, died of poisonous gas!

Ok seeing as it is Halloween here is a spooky tale about a possessed Carbon Monoxide detector that seems to go off in exactly the same place on the canal - and before we start please, I am not here to sound like some BBC journalist spoon feeding you the obvious dangers or Carbon Monoxide 24 /7. We are adults.

It all started when I went above and beyond on the boat safety and rather than just having one carbon monoxide detector down below because of the gas cooker, I decided to put one in the cockpit. Dawn Treader runs a 25hp two stroke engine strapped on the back and I have sat with this at idle on the mooring and the alarm hasn’t gone off. I’ve also been miles down towards Bradford on Avon and still nothing. But the moment I approach the bridge at Martinslade heading east towards the flight – it goes off -  usually just under the bridge which makes it echo even more.

My first instinct was it came from the same Chinese factory as that dodgy smoke alarm which would go off if you lit a match within 4 nautical miles of it and which couldn’t tell the difference between steam and smoke. Research showed 4 different types: a Biometric which basically changes colour if CO is present – good but not too clever if you are asleep... and an electrical type which somehow measures an electrical resistance across probes. There are two others, but seeing as its difficult to grasp how the basic electrical trickery one works we will leave that there.

The next question is how do they measure it? Basically, anything above 70 parts per Million is harmful and interestingly it’s an accumulative affect and according to my NHS wife once CO is bonded to your haemoglobin it has a half life in the human body of about 5 hours which means half goes in one hour then half of what’s left in the next and so forth. There are charts on the internet but as a rule of thumb anything after 200 parts per million would have Chris Whitty on the telephone sharpish.

Next, obviously it is the engine producing it. But do some engines produce more than others? – after all we are all standing on or near our exhausts so why isn’t the average barge helm keeling over like cluster flies? Apparently, Diesel engines produce less CO than petrol engines. Though I think this is relative so I still wouldn’t poke your nose up the exhaust. It would seem that  carburetted petrol engines are the worst offenders, mainly because they are crude and you can’t really alter the air fuel mix,  which leads to incomplete combustion and thus CO. Interestingly, modern injection type petrol engines produce 11 percent less than carburettors. Fun though the facts are, they don’t solve the mystery of why, where or when it happens.

Ok, first I have the canopy up most of the time - I have noticed an increasing number of barges with various tents on the back making life a bit more comfortable. This warmth does mean that air is sucked in from the outside; an affect that is noticeable if you undo the engine bay hatch as cold air will always want to equal out the difference in pressure. Secondly I have never known the wind blow other than straight down the canal at this point – in fact it’s so good at doing it, you can sometimes poddle along in neutral at almost the same speed which makes meeting some one at this bridge point an interesting experience.

Remembering that the CO detector is quite a clever device and measures an accumulative amount of CO, this is what I suspect is happening.

simon woollen - dawn treader's outboard holeWe are all exposed to a small amount of it when we run our engines, but generally the wind etc. takes most of it away. But the CO detector has already received a certain amount. However, at this very point in the canal I slow up for the bridge, which is on an acute angle so you can't see under it. The canal is in quite a deep cutting with high hedges both sides and steep banks with the wind directly behind me, so momentarily the exhaust gas catches up with me and briefly exceeds the level.

Surely then all cruisers would suffer the same – Dt has a slight design fault with her replaced transom – it’s a big hole to fit a big out board and it just so happens that the exhaust is midway down the opening making matters worse. I am interested to hear if anyone else has had similar problems.

So, how to cure it – my thoughts are to make a Perspex hatch. Perspex is a fantastic boat material – just make sure its clamped down tight between two boards before you cut it, after that you can easily bend it using some deft passes with a heat gun. It polishes and cleans easily with Brasso ( try some on your screen) and seeing as Boris has just announced more measures I can self-isolate in my shed doing boat projects – watch this space!

Simon Woollen

pick me up and then you kar go

pick me up and then you kar go

Throughout the past year there have been plenty of discussions about deliveries being made to households during the current Covid 19 pandemic crisis, ranging from booking a delivery slot from a supermarket to getting your favourite take away food.

Over the past 10 months, we at Bearingtech have reported on the emergence of drone and autonomous deliveries and the importance that drones and robots now play in everyone`s lives, ranging from park rangers, farmers, parcel services and medical suppliers.

The biggest concern for the majority of people is the contact element that is carried out when a delivery person turns up at your home, especially when we are being told by the government to avoid contact wherever possible to help remove the possibility of spreading the virus even further.

kar -go - future sight on UK roads

future sight on UK roads...

Well, how about if the deliveries could be made by an autonomous source, a robotic vehicle that could bring goods without the use of human contact?

Sounds a bit like science fiction, but in fact it is now available and up and running and hitting the roads. Kar –Go is a state of the art self-driving delivery robot that has been built by the Academy of Robotics who are a technology institute with an extraordinary team of engineers, researchers and scientists.

They specialize in creating technology to perform or simplify complex tasks by combining the best techniques from machine learning and mechatronics to building powerful self-adapting machines and task specific artificially intelligent software.

The car uses artificial intelligence and a specially developed management system to provide a contact free service.

The success of the invention shows how driverless vehicles could eventually become a common site on our roads and streets delivering parcels across the length and breadth of the country. The whole system is very similar to the autonomous bus and tram service currently being used in Germany and Holland, with parcels being substituted instead of passengers.

This however is not the first type of autonomous delivery service that has been put into practice, some drones have been carrying out automatic drop services for a number of years especially in hard to reach places such as the African plains and the outback`s of Australia where normal road deliveries can take days, sometimes weeks instead of hours.

Another delivery giant, Amazon also tried and tested a similar robotic road delivery service in America alongside their drone prime air service.

Autonomous vehicle with safety driver backup

autonomous vehicle with safety driver backup

The Kar-Go vehicle will be able to drive itself to and from the senders delivery hub to the customers address and hand over the parcel automatically by using its on board robotics, without the need for human contact.

Thanks to its unique system, the electric vehicle is capable of delivering to city centres as well as rural and suburban locations.

It focuses on the small shoe-box size shaped parcels, where delivery costs can account for the third of the cost value, part-increasing pressure on margins for both retailers and logistic companies.

“Artificial Intelligence can be magical if used the right way”

With a capability of covering 60 miles, which is more than the average daily delivery round, when fully loaded on a single charge this autonomous robot could dramatically reduce the environmental impact that normal delivery vehicles have.

William Sachiti the founder of Academy of Robotics said,  "Kar-Go`s first deliveries represent a key milestone for the wider automotive industry. Alongside our partners at Eurovia UK we have been working closely with DFT`s  Centre for Concerned and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and key London stakeholders.

"What makes it magical for me is that we applied AI and robotics in a useful and good way, the technology is there when it is needed and out of the way when it isn’t.

"The design has been developed as a green alternative to fossil fuel delivery vans, which will enable logistic companies and retailers to help keep delivery costs down, while providing a more convenient delivery experience”.

drone delivery in flight

drone delivery in flight

After talking to a wide range of courier companies they all agreed that during the first lockdown, they were busier than ever, with some drivers expected to deliver up to 180 parcels a day, which is virtually impossible to maintain and causes considerable stress to the drivers concerned.

In a landmark first journey, the Kar-Go successfully transported medical supplies from a pharmacy to a care home in Hounslow Greater London without a hitch.

Although the delivery was autonomous, in accordance to current legislation there was a safety driver on board who could take control and take over at any time if the need arises, with an extra layer of safety provided by its nearby command hub centre, which ensures that safety is at the heart of everything we do.

Beginning with semi- autonomous deliveries, the level of autonomy will be gradually increased from the command hub, Academy of Robotics have instant secure access to remote monitoring and controlled supervision of the vehicle if it is in an autonomous mode.

future high-rise buildings with drone drop off chutes

On a final note, even Architects are now looking at different designs for autonomous deliveries in new buildings, with drone drop off rooftop chutes being introduced into building plans which take parcels directly to the customer.


Drones seem to be here to stay, and by the looks of things getting better everyday and enhancing the way we live, watch this space for future developments.

Once upon a time only Father Christmas came down the chimney, but not anymore. Looks like Rudolph and friends are surplus to requirements.

tough times never last

tough times never last

but tough people do

Hello all.

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote an article for this magazine, over a year I guess, I was thinking back to those early articles and how life was so different then. What turbulent times we find ourselves in currently. The Covid-19 crisis continues and I’m sure most people’s lives have been touched by it. Ours certainly have.  As a consequence of living in a very different and often difficult world, I’ve been giving a lot of consideration to maintaining good health subsequent to my own brush with Covid, and particularly mental health.

As boat owners ourselves it’s been very frustrating not to be able to spend as much time as we are used to on-board. Taking opportunities to go for canal side walks is lovely if you can, and if the mud isn’t too obstructive. For people who live on-board their boats, having to isolate can be the cause of much stress; with limitations on available space etc. We can only hope that these times will eventually pass, and a near normal a life as possible will resume.

In this article I’m going to talk a bit about some of the things that I do to try to keep myself feeling balanced and not overwhelmed by all that’s going on in the world. It’s a tough task staying mentally well and focussed, and I don’t always succeed, but there are a couple of things I’ve found helpful.

Woebot™  Wysa™

mobile phone appsThese are examples of innovative free (and totally confidential) apps for your phone or tablet. The apps work on algorithms fronted by an interactive robot or creatures who check in with you each day a time you choose and enables you to talk about your mental wellbeing. They ask pertinent questions, and give suggestions of mechanisms to help to cope with certain problems. They  can enable you to keep a gratitude journal, support mindfulness, meditation etc. They will also pick up certain words that you may use and suggest that if you feel that you are in crisis there are some resources to hand that may help.

They’re perhaps not for everyone, but I found it was definitely worth a look, even just for the interest in how technology can support people in difficult times.  I did enjoy doing the gratitude journal and it made me realise that whilst life isn’t as we’d like it currently, there are things in life that are good and are there to be enjoyed.

There are many other apps available that can give free access to people who may need some help keeping balance during difficult times.


I’m sure that we’re all aware of the benefits form exercise on physical health. Exercise also plays an enormous part on helping mental health too.

It’s daunting to start and very easy to put off becoming more active. And being ACTIVE, is perhaps a more helpful way to think about it rather than exercise.

Exercise brings to mind joining a gym, getting out on a bike, swimming etc. These activities that have cost (financial, time, inconvenience) attached to them, and will put many people off doing them.

Becoming more active is a lot easier to think positively about. Anything is better than nothing. Anywhere is better than nowhere. (if you do have health problems and are concerned about increasing your activity, have a word with your Dr or Nurse before you start)

So here’s a few suggestions:

  • Short walks if you are able to.
  • Gentle stretches
  • Head and neck rolls
  • Using a step indoors to gradually build up your tolerance.
  • Housework – double benefits here...nice clean boat/house, and more activity.

By increasing our activity we increase the blood flow round our bodies, and we release certain hormones especially one called endorphin, which really promotes a great sense of wellbeing.

The hardest part is starting, but to get in the right frame of mind maybe have a think about it first, plan a day or time to start and what you’re going to do, and you’re already well on your way.

Art as therapy

art paletteI’ve always loved art, and have long bemoaned the fact that I believed that I had no artistic ability at all. When I was at school, art was a subject where if you were ‘good’ at it, you found favour with the teacher and had lots of encouragement, whilst the rest of us were essentially written off. I didn’t try thereafter to do anything arty, but loved going to galleries and enjoying the work of others.

I have a friend who was an art teacher and now is a full time professional artist. I was telling her one day a couple of years ago, about how I felt envious of her talents, and how I loved the work she does. I explained I would love to be able to draw and paint but I couldn’t.  She said this:

“Of course you can draw and paint, we are all artists, we either chose to make art or not to, so I suggest that you get started. All you need to do is to produce something that pleases you, and if it doesn’t.. throw it away. But keep on doing it, and you will make art that will make you very happy”.

painting of flowers

So I did.  I started with an old sketch book of my daughters, found some pencils and an eraser and set to work trying to draw my hand! It wasn’t brilliant, but I thought it wasn’t bad either, it looked like a hand at least, and I really enjoyed doing it.

I found some drawing tutorials on line and followed them as best I could. I just kept at it. I started to find out a lot more about art, and that it’s not all about producing faithful representations of things, i.e. that look like photos, but to be inspired by things that we like and to go with it. Colours and lines or anything that we can get totally involved in and enable our minds to be focussed on that image alone.  By doing this, we escape from the world outside and the negativity that can consume us.

Art therapy is used extensively in treating severe mental illness. It enables people who are really struggling to have an outlet to express themselves and the difficulties that they are living with. Skilled therapists support people in using art therapy, but we can all benefit from taking a little time, a few very inexpensive materials and letting our minds free.

kingfisherThinking of canal side living and visiting offers fantastic opportunities for artistic inspiration.

You may not feel that you want to sit outside drawing etc, but it’s great to take a few photos and see if any inspire you to draw or paint.

I often find that the colours around the canals inspire me, a fleeting glimpse of a kingfisher for example gave me an idea to put some watercolours on a paper,  turquoise first, followed by bright orange here and there, green for the leaves and a splosh of brown for the canal water. It’s not a picture of a kingfisher, but it’s a memory of the time I saw one and the colours that were so beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, nobody will be hanging this picture on their wall anytime soon but the colours and the memory make me very happy, and the making of it made me happier still.

artist drawingNobody only you are allowed to judge your work, if you like it then you’ve won first prize! If you don’t, then you can throw it away, or maybe keep it as a ‘work in progress’ or file it as a ‘this is what I did when I first started’.

Materials for art can become an obsession, and be very expensive. They can also cost next to nothing, and be just what you need. The most expensive oil paints in the world won’t turn you into Rembrandt, only he was able to paint the way he did. But some inexpensive paper, pencils and so on are a good start that you may already have at home.  Remember it’s all about doing something that pleases you and gives you a little time to escape. And that is a very good thing for your mental wellbeing.

I just want to conclude by wishing you all the very best. Take great care of yourselves, and I hope you find contentment in the things you do.

“Tough times never last, but tough people do.” – Robert Schuller

how to wire a narrowboat – part 3

how to wire a narrowboat - part 3

the sockets, pumps etc.

It is time to repeat the process for the sockets pumps etc., starting with the layout drawing.

Again the process is the same process as the one for the lighting drawings, a blank outline and put the pumps, USBs, 12 Volt sockets etc on to the drawing.

Outline for Power Sockets etc

First the symbols chart and an explanation of each item the USB outlets, Cigar Lighter etc are I expect apparent what is not is the Wago. They are a modern version of the old chocolate block and a lot better. When wiring things like the USBs etc they can either be wired with one cable all the way back to their own individual fuse or the supply cable can be broken where each USB etc is to go and the supply cable broken and joined to run on to the next one.

The Wago is the modern equivalent of the chocolate block connector but a 100 times better and unlike the Chocolate Block it does not damage the strands of the cables. It is also easier to fit, prepare the wire, lift the orange clip, slide the wire in, and push the orange clip back down job done. They cannot come open pushing the clip down locks them.

I have done the example drawing using them as using them as it makes big savings on cable.

So starting with the USB charging points the basic drawings looks like this:

Now using the 1 metre marks on the outline work out the cable runs length and then calculate the Volt Drop and from that the cable size, add the cable labels and you end up with a drawing like this:

The drain and water pumps:


The Drain Pump and Water Pump the negative cables are the same length as the positive

The 12V sockets – the negative cables are the same length as the positive cables.

This is divided into three circuits to keep the volt drop down to acceptable limits:

Now the Fridge circuit

Remember the general rule for fridges 1mmsq for every metre as the cable goes from the battery to the Fridge. Most fridges will start at 11V at 15A that is an average start up current so if there is a volt drop of 0.75V the fridge will start at 11.75V at the battery.

And finally the Cigar lighter circuit

Now you should have a complete set of circuits from them it is possible to calculate the amount of each type and size of cable needed the size and number of fuses and a diagram to do the wiring from and all of this can be done before the boat has been delivered with the aid of the outline plan supplied by the builder as part of their normal paperwork to clients.



an ingenious idea which saves you time, effort and fuel!

Isn’t it funny how things go around sometimes?

Wayne & Rosie with coalcageLong ago I met my future wife after mooring up next to her. We spent the next few years being young ‘love-aboards’ and enjoying Narrowboat life.

We then did the ‘house thing’ and 30 years later, after ending up with the neighbours from hell, we decided to return to Narrowboat life.

We revelled in the freedom of it all again and, once we’d got used to the space, settled down to the usual daily routines of boaty life.

One of these was the stove. The good old glow in the corner.

It was while going through the usual faff of coming in and getting the stove going that I thought that there must be some way of improving this procedure.

You know what it’s like - bits of paper, firefighters, carefully stacked kindling and the precarious balancing act of the coals. Then watching it all fall apart and trying to jiggle things about and re-stack etc etc only for it to go out and start again.

It suddenly dawned on me that if it had a basket of some sorts I could just bung it all in and it would take the faff and balancing act out of the procedure.

I got the pliers out and made a rough prototype out of an old fire guard and, guess what, it worked a treat!

I couldn’t believe it! It worked and it was so simple.

All of a sudden I had a stack of glowing coal that looked good and all I had to do was top it up. In fact what I soon realised was that I could actually put an amount in that would last me all day with no constant topping up and no over-filling of the stove base. The pyramid of coal was no more!

I couldn’t wait to tell my wife when she came home.

All we could do was sit and look at it! It was better than telly!

coalcageSurely, I asked myself, there must be something available already? No - nothing. Nothing at all like it was available as a stove accessory for coal.

I wanted to tell my acquaintances in my boaty world but it dawned on me that I may have stumbled upon a potential future income that needed more thinking about.

The original prototype lasted a week!!! I didn’t realise that metal burned!

This meant getting into the qualities of materials. I learnt more about physics and metallurgy over the next few weeks than I had at school!

Stainless steel and sturdy construction was the way forward. Another prototype - and this was the answer.

Wherever we moored we would be off sneaking about in stove shops measuring grate sizes to get the most appropriate size for a mixture of stoves.

Next it was off to Birmingham to have a chat at Birmingham Library with the Intellectual Property team and access to a free interview with a Patent Lawyer.

All the while this process was going on it was the hardest thing to keep quiet! We we’re so excited with how it was working and improving our stove experience. Visitors to the boat were kept at a minimum whilst we tried surreptitiously to draw any attention away from our stove. We now couldn’t imagine life without it!

I was constantly trawling the internet and trade magazines in case I’d missed it somewhere but, no, it appeared that we had definitely stumbled onto something.

The big leap was taking out the Patent Application and the costs, plus trademarking the name and registering the design.

We went through the usual ‘think of a name’ scenarios and decided that ‘Coalcage’ was what it was, and what it did, so decided that this was it. This is what we’d called it from it’s inception anyway!

I wanted it to be a UK product so searched for a supplier and, after few brush offs, I found my saviour up north and a fabulous Victorian family business who could produce the quality the product needed.

Getting the first batch was so exciting as it suddenly became real. Boxes and labels agreed with a local printer and we were away.

It’s hard to believe that it’s taken two years to get this far!

The way things are going with the government's clean air policy we are being encouraged to use smokeless fuels and wood. Smokeless fuels are being better regulated all the time so using it in conjunction with a Coalcage can only benefit future emissions as it doesn’t encourage you to overload your stove and waste coal. It allows you to quickly establish a deep fire-bed that feeds itself with better control. As it’s open ended it also doesn’t impede any riddling mechanisms in the stoves grate. It could also prolong the stove's life by reducing ‘hot spots’ and stove fractures.

We’ll be out and about selling from the boat wherever we are throughout the year. Price is £20 plus £4 postage. They’re also available from Midland Chandlers & Venetian Marina.

Hopefully you’ll catch us at some point but we are also able to sell via the website

or EBay, or you can contact us at for individual enquiries.

Rosie & Wayne Sharman live aboard their narrowboat James Arthur and if you are lucky enough to spot them on the cut, you can buy directly from their boat.

Alternatively you can order one direct from their website, by phoning Wayne or by emailing them.

Tel: 07776 217 125 Write: Visit:

Coalcage is also available from most chandleries, and on Ebay.

excel voted best fuel among boaters

excel - voted best fuel among boaters

Oxbow Coal Ltd were delighted to win Canals Online Magazine’s award for best fuel among boaters for our premium quality Excel briquettes. The fuel is hugely popular among the boating community up and down the country and we’re very proud that Excel has truly become the fuel of the houseboat over the last few years.

oxbowThe Excel briquettes are produced at our plant in County Durham in the North East of England.

Originally the plant had ovens and baked the briquettes but after a fire burned the facility down, they were forced to start again. With no money to replace the ovens then owner John Bartlett came up with a plan to produce the country’s first cold cure briquettes.

That vision blossomed over the years and Oxbow partnered with John’s business in the late 90’s before acquiring the business in 2014, by which time Excel and Oxbow’s other fuels Red, Newheat and Glow were all established as firm favourites in the home heating market.

OxbowSince then Oxbow have learned not to mess with the classics and the Excel remains consistently top quality with the recipe largely unchanged for many years.

While other manufacturers produce countless different fuels, Oxbow chose a different route as the ‘stove revolution’ began early in the 2010’s.

excel briquettes. OxbowInstead of bringing out a new fuel to compliment the open fire fuel Excel was considered to be, Oxbow, with minor adjustments, made the fuel versatile enough in its own right to be considered a multi-purpose fuel.

Whether used on a closed appliance, a multi-fuel stove or on an open fire, the fuel remained the premium brand on the market at an affordable price.

It’s also a fully approved smokeless fuel, so when the legislation changes next year nothing will change and it’s also fully HETAS approved.

For those not aware of the difference Excel can make, like all of the Oxbow fuels it’s very low in ash compared to its competitors - meaning a lot less time spent cleaning out the ash pan. In addition it’s a high heat output fuel and gives a long lasting burning.

All in all the ideal fuel for the boating community. We’re proud to be your first choice fuel.

Oxbow coals logoOxbow Coal Ltd provides a diverse line of products, backed by expert technical support and knowledgeable customer service. Our philosophy is that the most effective way to earn a customer’s trust and loyalty is through the superior performance of our products as well as the energy and talent of our people.

01469 577 635

lockdown – here we go again!

lockdown - here we go again!

aqueduct marina learns to live with covid 19

Aqueduct Marina - first lockdownHere we go again. Locked down, so why does it feel different?

Back in March locked down for the first time felt like starting a new school. It was a combination of fear and excitement mixed with a determination to make the best of it.

This time round it is like the middle years of school, starting the Autumn term. The novelty has worn off, leaving school seems a long way off and there are some important exams ahead.

aqueduct marina perspex screensIt does feel vastly different, not only because schools and colleges are staying open, but we have now, as standard, Perspex screens at customer contact points, one way systems and people wearing masks. In short we have learned to live with Covid.

The other major difference from the spring lock down is that November is a time of year when we generally start to see less of our customers visiting their boats as the cruising season has finished and C&RT start to close locks and bridges for maintenance. Whereas in the spring the opposite applies, we were gearing up for the spring rush.

Where it has impacted us is the onsite café that normally remains open 12 months of the year. , Our cafe has had to close again as it was not worthwhile doing take-away. So, our four café staff are back on furlough for the time being. The decision to re-open the cafe after the lock down will very much depend on the restrictions (tier level) we are put into. Working with family groups and those in a ‘bubble’ only was proving unviable.

The Brokerage operation has also been curtailed because we cannot carryout viewings in person. Combined with getting boats in for sale which can be difficult over the winter anyway, Covid restrictions will make for an even more tricky winter period.

aqueduct marina boats for sale We are though still successfully completing sales already in the system, with buyers not pulling out.

Encouragingly we are also getting enquiries from new boat buyers who are generally buying to a specification rather than relying on a viewing.

Though the sooner we can get back to viewings in person by appointment the better.

The Chandlery is interesting, we found it actually worked quite satisfactorily during the first lockdown as a Click and collect outlet, with customers happily phoning/emailing ahead and collecting, then paying either over the phone or we emailed an invoice out for online payment. So, the Chandlery will revert to this C&C system only for the time being.

This system also works for the diesel and pump-out which have remained successfully DIY all summer.

aqueduct marina work going onMoorings with customers visiting their boats are normally quieter at this time of year, but this year combined with the lockdown is even more apparent. Though on the plus side the engineers are getting asked to do a few pieces of work on boats as the owners cannot get down.

The storage yard is similar to the moorings but does have a few more frustrated owners who had planned to do some out-of-water DIY maintenance and are unable to attend to their boat.

In summary, this second lockdown feels much less dramatic than April, with business as usual in most areas.

While typing, the American election has a winner, and a Covid vaccine appears a more realistic possibility next year. Just get Brexit Done and we may have a much more positive 2021-2022 than many predicted even a few weeks ago. Just need to knuckle down now and revise for those exams!

Aqueduct Marina LogoRobert Parton is the managing director and owner of Aqueduct Marina - a modern, award winning marina on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union near Nantwich.

Call: 01270 525 040  Visit: Website Link

boat safety scheme urge boaters to follow safety advice

Following the deaths of two friends from carbon monoxide (CO)  poisoning in a boat called Diversion in York in December 2019, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published a safety flyer with the lessons learnt from its initial findings and the Boat Safety Scheme is urging boaters to read it and adopt the safety advice immediately.
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boat safety scheme and marine accident safety flyer

take the lessons from the death from carbon monoxide poisoning of two friends in york

the boat safety scheme urges boaters to read marine accident safety survey on carbon monoxide

deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning lead to new safety leaflet

Following the deaths of two friends from carbon monoxide (CO)  poisoning in a boat called Diversion in York in December 2019, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published a safety flyer with the lessons learnt from its initial findings and the Boat Safety Scheme is urging boaters to read it and adopt the safety advice immediately.

The boaters died when the improvised and mismatched cabin heater installation leaked exhaust gas resulting in lethal amounts of toxic CO being pumped into the cabin near the steering position. The leaking gas and the fact that there was no working CO alarm aboard, may have led to the poisoning of the men’s blood systems without them having any warning.

The BSS joins with the MAIB in asking boaters to install appropriate appliances safely and ensure they are maintained correctly and have at least one suitable working CO alarm aboard.

The Bulletin stresses that work on any exhaust system should only be installed according to instructions with approved parts, suitable for marine use. The BSS urges boat owners to have a suitably qualified fitter carry out the installation and checking work.

Both organisations strongly recommend that any fuel burning systems should also be checked routinely by competent engineers, at least annually and any faults found, addressed without delay.

The MAIB also advises boaters to install a CO alarm, preferably meeting safety standard EN 50291-2:2010 (a marine use standard) following the instructions for installing it in a boat.

Boats with permanent accommodation space on the UK’s waterways covered by the Boat Safety Scheme requirements must have at least one suitable CO alarm installed – more details are available on the BSS website.

‘Carbon monoxide is a silent killer and staying alive can mean recognising any early signs of poisoning and knowing what to do if CO poisoning is suspected.’ said, BSS manager Kevin Tyson.

‘It’s critical that boaters fully take on board the potential dangers of carbon monoxide. It cannot be seen, smelt, tasted, or felt and in high concentrations, CO can kill without warning, sometimes in only minutes.’

‘Even breathing-in lower levels of CO over a longer period, can have serious effects such as memory problems and difficulty concentrating.’ He added

The early symptoms of CO poisoning can be masked or mistaken for colds, flu or COVID-19. Victims might suffer headaches, suffer mood changes; feel sick and dizzy; or be tired and confused, some may have stomach pains and start vomiting.

More serious affects can quickly develop such as loss of balance, difficulty breathing or controlling limbs and eventually unconsciousness.

Any carbon-fuel burning appliance or engine can cause CO – carbon fuels include diesel, petrol, gas, coal, wood and charcoal.

The BSS has the latest advice for boaters on’t let CO ruin your life!

See also