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The history of the canals

Canals have been around for many years. The earliest that have been discover so far was in Iraq the archaeologists estimate that the remains are 6,000 years old. These waterways were fairly short. This was because locks had not been invented. The Chinese invented the first lock system almost a thousand years ago. This can still be seen in the modern ay. The first people to bring the canal system to England was the Romans. They build lengths of simple, single level canals.

Leonardo da virci designed and built the pound lock for the duke of Milan. The Llanguedoc Canal were the locks would be used was completed in 1681.This canal connected the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic ocean and saved ships a voyage of over 1,600km. This lock is still in use today on many canals.

The modern age of the canals started in the eighteenth century. England was expanding fast with the towns and cities growing bigger with most industries growing and growing.

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This is when they realised they needed a new form of transport, a cheap more reliable form of transport. The roads at that time were rough and packhorses were the only way of transporting heavy goods in the winter.

It was the Duke of Bridgewater that thought of the idea of using canals again. He approached the engineer James Brindles to design and build a canal. In 1761 the Bridgewater canal was completed and was a great success. Many companies followed the Dukes ideas by digging a network of canals all over Britain.

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What are canals?

The dictionary definition a canal as a man made channel that holds water. Sometimes natural rivers can course problems; they can dry up, flood or be so shallow that the boats may not clear the bottom of the riverbed. So millions of pounds are spent to make rivers straighter, wider or deeper for boats. Sometimes it is cheaper and more convenient to dig an artificial waterway, called a canal. There are many different types of canals ranging from small irrigation canals, used by farmers to carry water to dry farmland, to big industrial canals. These canals allow big ships to transport goods; also they link ports up together. The most frequent used canals are called navigation canals. These are large enough, but narrow, to carry 72 foot boats or barges. They were mainly used for transporting cargo from the mines to the factories. Now they are used for pleasure.

Unlike rivers canals do not flow. They are built on the level; this stops the water running away. When the land becomes uneven and not on the level, the canal is built in sections, which are called pounds. When two pounds meet there can be at different levels. One pound at a high level and one pound at a low level, so to get the two levels to meet a lock is used.

A lock is a large water box with gates at each end. The level of water in the lock is controlled by opening lags (sluices) which are called paddles. The paddles allow water to run in or out of the lock. On modern rivers and locks the paddles are worked by electricity. On canals locks (generally older) the paddles gear has to be turned by hand, using a special lock key otherwise known as a windlass. A windlass looks like this …………… They can be made out of heavy steel (old version) which if dropped into the water can be picked up with a magnet, or there is the aluminium, very light, (new version) but there are not magnetic.

The procedure of using a lock

Going up a lock: make sure the lock is empty i.e. the water is at the lower level.

* The first thing you have to do is open both the bottom gates.

* You then drive the boat into the lock

* You have to then close both the bottom gates

* At this point check that the bottom paddles are down

* Once in the lock and the gates are shut keep the boat near the back of the lock, i.e. sitting on the gates.

* Now open the top paddles slowly to fill the lock up

* When the lock is full open the top gates

* Now drive the boat out of the lock and pull along side the towpath side of the canal so you can wait for your crew!

* Close the top gates after the boat has left the lock

* Close the top paddles

* The crew on the side of the canal head towards your boat.

Arriving at a lock which is full i.e. water is high

* Check that the top gates and paddles are closed

* Open the bottom paddles so that it allows the water to fall from the higher level to the lower level

* Now follow the instructions from Going up a lock: make sure the lock is empty i.e. the water is at the lower level.

Arriving at a lock wanting to go down and the lock is full i.e. the water is high

* The first thing you have to do is to open the gates

* Then drive your boat into the lock.

* You have to then close the gates, making sure that the top paddles are down

* Once in the lock and the gates are closed move slowly towards the bottoms gates i.e. so that your nose is touching the gates. This is so you do not get caught on the cill

* Now you open the bottom paddles to empty the lock of water

* When the lock is at the lower level and all the water has been released you can now open the gates.

* Once the gates have been open you can drive the boat out of the lock and stopping on the toll path side as before

* Close the bottom gates and paddles before you leave the lock. You must always make sure that all paddles and gates are in their correct places so to safe water and everyone can enjoy the waterways.

Arriving at a lock which is empty i.e. the water is low

* Check that the bottom gates and paddles are closed

* Open the top paddles, so that it allows the water to enter the lock, so enabling the water to rise from the lower level to a higher level

* Now follow the instructions from Arriving at a lock wanting to go down and the lock is full i.e. the water is high.

The weekly chores

The chores are mainly three things, which need doing when they are full, or empty .the toilet, which is called a porta pottie, filling the drinking water, and checking and renewing the gas.

The Porta Potty

The porta pottie needs emptying depending on how many people are on the boat and how quickly it is filled.

The porta pottie needs checking daily to how full it is. A little indicator on the side of the porta pottie does this. When the indicator changes from green to red it is full. This is when the problems start. First you need to find a sanitary station. This is the symbol for a sanitary station, which is presented on a map where there is a sanitary station. There are no regular places where they can be found. When you have found a sanitary station, you slide the lock, which is located on the back of the porta pottie. You then proceed to take off the top and then pick up the bottom part and try and carry it to the sanitary station. This can be hard work depending on how full the porta pottie is. You have to remember to take the BWB keys with you. Now the fun part starts, funny to watch but not funny if you are the person. You have to juggle with the porta pottie, which is very heavy in one hand, and try and unlock the door to the elson with the other hand. Once the door is open there usually a full set of details telling you how to operate the elson. Once completed you need to get a substance called Blue. You tip this in the bottom part. It depends on how you use depending on the make of the porta pottie. Once competed you take the bottom part back to the boat making sure you lock the sanitary station after you. You then put the top half onto the bottom part and lock

he safety lock at the back. It is now ready to be used or refilled!


You need to refill the water tank regularly it mainly depends on how much water you are going to use. When you have been going a couple of days without filling up you tend to stop at the next water point available to fill up.

The procedure starts off by getting the BWB key and unlocking the water point. There are a lot of different types of water points but all are basically the same. Normally the instructions are at the water point. You now go to the front locker of the boat (or where ever the hose is located within the boat) and get the hose out. If it is tangled you have to untangle it. Now there are many different connectors to connect the tap to the hose. Once you have connected them together put the other end into the water tank cap (where ever located on the boat). Now turn on the water and wait for the tank to fill up. The way you do this with most boats is to wait until the tank over flows with water. At this point turn off the tap and disconnect the end of the hose from the water point and wind up the hose. While winding up the hose you let any loose drops of water out of the hose. This is mainly to make the hose lighter and also when you come to use the hose again you do not want to mix one-week-old water with clean water. Once you have done this put away the hose, lock up the water point and remember to take the BWB key with you.


The gas we use on our boat is butain but on other boats (mainly fibre glass boats) they use propain gas. You can identify these by the colour, butain is blue and propain is red.

Gas bottles come in all shapes and sizes. The main ones are 13kg for canal boat. In the boat they are located in the front locker. When the gas bottle is empty you have the easy operation of switching the lever on the gas intake pipe to the off position. When the switch is in the off position remove the tubing and replace the safety cap (which is located around the neck of any gas bottle.) now take off the new gas bottle safety cap and pick up the gas intake pipe and turn the lever to the middle switch. The clamp is open so that it can be put onto the gas bottle without allowing any gas to escape. Once on the gas bottle turn the switch to the on position, this will operate the clamp so the gas pipe will not come out. This will now allow gas to go through the valve. It is now ready to use. Now we have the problem of the empty gas bottle. At the next place that sells gas you will need to get the old gas bottle out of the locker, buy a new gas bottle, and return the new bottle to the locker. I wish that it was that easy as it sounds, Normally there are a lot of things you have to remove to get to the gas bottles in the first place, then you have to try and move a 13kg bottle (which is not the lightest thing in the world) in a very small awkward place!

Cite this page

The history of the canals. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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