Prioritise boat maintenance and safety says River Canal Rescue 

Following an increase in the number of call-outs for faults caused by a general lack of maintenance – 948 in 2016 (accounting for 23% of responses), 1031 in 2017 (28%) and 1081 in 2018 (31% ) – plus continuing fires and CO poisoning incidents, River Canal Rescue is urging boaters to pay more attention to vessel maintenance and safety.

In May 2018 the London Fire Brigade warned fires on houseboats had reached an eight year high and firefighters reported that 11 of the 20 boat fires they attended in 2017 started on liveaboard vessels.

In June last year, four people were hospitalised after carbon monoxide levels ‘high enough to kill’ were found on a Broads cruiser. At the time the All Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group conceded ‘we’ll only see a reduction in the 50 fatalities in the UK every year, when more people, including boat users, understand the symptoms and dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning’.

RCR operations director, Jay Forman, comments: “Boaters who fail to maintain their vessels or pay attention to boat safety put themselves and others at risk.

“With rental costs spiralling across the UK, boats are a cheap accommodation option and so increasing in popularity. Yet we find many boaters unfamiliar with even basic engine workings and therefore unlikely to pay attention to maintenance.

“This can cause a problem if a vessel moves from its mooring, breaks down and obstructs the waterway. And we’re not always able to meet expectations and undertake all repairs or do a ‘quick patch-up’ job; it depends on how many systems, ie fuel, cooling, drive or water, are affected.”

RCR reports engineers frequently come across vessels with no smoke or CO alarms that have fire risks and ventilation issues.

“It’s frightening when you think of the hazards on boats such as diesel, oils and combustible materials. The most common fires are electrical, engine space and solid fuel related so it’s vital boat owners pay attention to these areas,” Jay continues.

When one of RCR’s partner insurers, GJW, spoke to liveaboards moored on a 45 mile stretch of the Grand Union Canal in London, Middlesex and Hertfordshire last summer, it found boaters voiced similar concerns or professed maintenance ignorance ;

 ‘We’re worried about neighbouring boats with little fire protection and insist on seeing their insurance documentation and valid Boat Safety Scheme certificate’. 

‘We’ve got no idea about technical matters and are not interested. We run on shore power, have only opened the engine bay once and haven’t run the bilge pump for some time as nothing ever came out of it.’

‘I have no understanding of engines, but can cope with everything else. It’s important owners understand boating and the BSS should be registered to the individual, not just the boat. Owners should attend a course or pass a competency test’.

‘I don’t know anything about the boat; I just use it to doss down’.

‘I talk to boaters all the time and am amazed at how few understand the use of bilge pumps or importance of CO alarms. My previous girlfriend had no CO monitor on her boat and I found her barely conscious after she’d blocked the air vents with sponges to stop draughts, lit the solid fuel burner and then dozens of candles around the boat to ‘create an atmosphere’.

‘This is our first boat – but we have no desire to cruise – it’s our home.  The builder delivered it by road and gave us a good safety briefing. There’s no CO alarm on board though – the builder hadn’t mentioned it.’

‘I’d been experiencing headaches for several months and then bought my first CO alarm. I assumed it was faulty as it kept going off, but the alarm wasn’t faulty, it was my ventilation.’

‘There’s a new generation of liveaboards who think the boat is just an extension of the towpath and they have no understanding of boating. Nobody checks grease seals or changes weed hatch gaskets.’

‘My first boat had a common bilge system for all grey water. I ran the bilge pump regularly but never checked the filter. My then girlfriend had very long hair which clogged the bilge pump filter. Eventually the bilges backed up and the boat almost sank.’

‘Four years for gas testing is not enough and there needs to be some kind of competency test for all inland waterway users including liveaboards.’

River Canal Rescue runs monthly boat & engine maintenance and electrics courses which cover; diesel engines, transmissions, boat plumbing, boat electrics, lay-up and refit procedures. To find out more call 01785 785680, visit or email