Safety & security aboard a canal boat

Let us turn to the final aspect of canal life that needs addressing and that is one of security and crime. Sometimes the canals can seem dark and threatening, and canal boats an easy target for mindless vandalism or burglary.

Certainly there are places where boaters know not to stop (some boroughs in London for example) but you can also simply be unlucky at any location if the wrong person happens to pass by with ill intent.

Your threats range from bored teens who may like to chuck stones at you as you pass or shout harassment as you attempt to negotiate a lock, to experienced thieves who know exactly what kind of things boaters have aboard and how to break in to get them.

Your gut feeling will play a massive role in your security. If a place looks dodgy as you pass through then keep going until you find somewhere else (which could be as little as around the next corner or through a bridge).

Sometimes there can be safety in numbers – spotting a location where other boaters are moored can suggest that they feel comfortable there and that there will be other eyes on the boats which may prevent trouble.

On the other hand, it’s also not unheard of for the worst kind of boater to actually be the source of trouble, with valuable items such as generators, batteries and solar panels being nicked.

You can’t judge by appearances either. I recall a time I was boating through Nottingham, which had already been a mildly stressful experience, and as I approached the lock out from the canal to the river, spotted a very rough-looking fibreglass cruiser moored near the lock landing, with a group of young men standing around it. A strong smell of a certain addictive substance wafted by on the breeze as I approached.

Yet those same folks saw that I was having trouble bringing the boat in safely due to strong winds, and shouted at me to throw them a rope, which I did. They then hauled my boat to the bank, wished me well and left me in peace. So you really can’t judge books by their covers.

Technology has made security much better in recent years of course. That same cellular network that enables remote working and fast internet also means that compact CCTV cameras can be installed and monitored from anywhere in the world on your phone. Alarms can be triggered and sent to you by text.

That may not stop a criminal  of course but it does give you a chance to respond and prove to insurers that a break-in has occurred.

Other than that, good old-fashioned padlocks and security devices on the doors are the basic standard for initial security. The older the narrowboat, the less secure it’s likely to be, with some door bolts secured by the tiniest screws imaginable, from a time when there were fewer boats and fewer valuable items aboard that are worth stealing.