Before the Trip.
As Adam says taking a trip on the Shipping canal takes a bit of organising and at least 48 hours notification is required so forward planning in good time is essential. Please note though share boats and hire boats are not allowed on the canal.
The good news is the canal owners, Peel Ports, provide a downloadable PDF file that guides you through the requirements. It can be downloaded here (click) and is called the MPF3-Pleasure-Craft-Induction-Pack-2015-20162.pdf .
Adam advises that a good person to talk to at Peel Ports is the Deputy Harbour Master, Alan Feast, on 0151 949 6114 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for that one Adam.
In order to obtain passage on the canal all vessels are required to have a certificate of sea worthiness signed by a recognised surveyor. This also includes pleasure craft as well. The certificates last for 12 months so this can be done reasonably well in advance. The guide lists several surveyors to choose from. We used Brian Taylor at Middlewich. He is a nice chap and quite pleasant to work with.
You will then need to submit: -
1) The application form
2) The signed seaworthiness certificate
3) A copy of valid insurance with minimum £3m liability cover
to Peel Ports so they receive it no less than 48 hours before you commence passage (their address is in the guide). This with the fee, which from Ellesmere Port to Marsh locks is £30 (as at Jun 2015). Note the fee is for one way passage only. If you plan to return the way you came on the canal then allow for this as two separate passages and thus 2 sets of fees.
You will need to carry on-board at least :-
1) A valid insurance with minimum £3m liability cover
2) 2 warps of 50 feet or more and ropes tied together or similar length
3) At least 2 fire extinguishers
4) A horn (working)
5) Life jackets for all aboard during the passage
6) Anchor and warp of a suitable size (20kg anchor 10m chain and 20m rope should suffice)
9) Copy of the Canal bylaws (provided in the guide)
A VHF radio is advisable but not necessary, however, a fully charged mobile telephone with volume set to maximum is sufficient. Eastham control work VHF channel 14 to control movements on the canal or the number is 0151 949 6000.
The guide states suitable navigation lights are required but as Brian Taylor informed us, you can only transit the canal during day light so it is often accepted if a narrow boat does not have them.
People to contact :-
Eastham Port control
Should you need to speak to Port control Paul Kirby on 0151 327 4638 deals with the transit forms and is quite helpful.
Canal and River Trust. They need to unlock the lock at Ellesmere Port then work you through Weston Marsh Lock on the River. Their number is 03030 404040, Option 3 then ask for Northwich office. They seemed to think Peel Ports operate the locks when I phoned so you need to specify its Weston Marsh Lock on the River Weaver and the bottom lock at Ellesmere Port museum. Both Peel Ports and Eastham control are adamant C&RT work the locks so persevere. Apparently they are also contactable via VHF during transit on channel 74 though C&RT were not aware of their call sign. I suggest calling "C&RT Marsh lock" should work.
Cheshire West and Chester Council.
They own the swing bridge over the bottom lock at Ellesmere Port. You will need to know when you want the bridge swung. According to Adam their office is only ten minutes away, so they are reasonably flexible. He also noted that they're available for bridge duties only during office hours ( Mon-Friday 9:30am-5pm). The contact is now Steve Bartlett on 07799 658814 and he too was very helpful when I spoke to him stating they only need one hours notice.
Once all this has been done and your transit application accepted you are then ready for passage on the Shipping canal.
Eastham Port control will send you a confirmation of approval for your passage within a week of you sending it.
On the day
Please note, if Eastham control do not have your transition request paperwork in their control room they will not let you onto the canal no matter how much planning you have done, even if you have paid your fee. Its well worth ringing them before your allotted time to confirm you are OK to proceed when the time comes.
Its also worth confirming with C&RT they are coming too.
Try to make sure you have everything to hand, all the paper paperwork, required equipment ready (Anchor for instance) and you have discussed with your crew what to do in an emergency. Remember the canal has large shipping moving on it, if your engine fails you need to have a plan to get the boat out of the way and anchored safely and your crew briefed on what to do to avoid delay and confusion. This may sound overkill and you think you already have this covered but believe me its worth just reminding yourselves again to be sure. Besides it will settle any nerves knowing what to do.
Do be punctual. When the bridge is swung for you at Ellesmere Port the last thing C&RT want is to hang around while you get ready and faff about moving off the mooring and moving round to the lock. They will only keep the bridge open for so long. The sooner you are through the lock the better. Agree a time to lock out with them and stick to the time. We had AmyJo waiting at the lock entrance when they arrived with the lock gates open. As soon as the bridge was open we locked out.
Once out of the lock call Eastham control and ask for permission to proceed. We rang them and was given permission to proceed straight away. They only asked we reported when we were off the canal.
Once on the canal stay to one side and avoid cruising down the centre unless there are no shipping movements. The water is plenty deep enough and if anything should go wrong you will not end up in the way. Let Eastham know when you pass and again when clear of Stanlow Refinery as per the guide instructions.
We travelled up stream to Weston Marsh Lock though most travel the other way to Ellesmere Port from the lock. C&RT had this open and waiting for us when we arrived about 1.5 hours after leaving Ellesmere Port. They were very helpful and were expecting us. Be aware there is nowhere to moor up on the shipping canal at the Marsh lock so if the lock is against you, you may have to hang around outside. Hopefully the weather will be kind to you and this is not a problem, though C&RT are pretty good in having the lock ready for you.
If travelling the other way you may have to wait in the Port entrance for them to swing the lock bridge but at least you are off the shipping canal and can lay up against the wall.
Hope this helps and we hope you enjoy your experience of the Shipping Canal as much as we did. It really is worth the effort to get the paperwork in place and experience canal.