Preparing to cruise

You don’t just fire up a narrowboat’s engine and set sail into the sunset/drizzle/whatever. In advance of Swallow’s three-day journey to Manchester, I had a fair bit of sorting to do.

A big part of this was simply sorting out all the stuff I had on land. When you have a mooring, you tend to spread all over it, storing a lot of stuff outside the boat. My mooring was strewn with half-filled paint-tins, unchopped firewood, a whole box full of bike stuff, power tools and miscellaneous boaty stuff. Getting it all onto the boat was a challenge, but I got really smart about storage, cleaned out a few nooks and crannies and got everything in.

Basic equipment for cruising

Mooring pins and mallet

You’re cruising along, it’s a gorgeous evening, it’s just starting to get chilly as the sun goes down and you think it’s time to pull over, make a fire for the evening and settle in with a glass of wine. Lovely. Hang on, how are you going to keep your boat from floating away?

From time to time there are nubbins on the towpath for tying your boat, but often there aren’t any. You use two or three big metal pins – mooring pins – to secure your boat. Plus you’ll need big mallet for whacking them into the ground.

You can get mooring pins from Acorn Engineers in Manchester, as well as most of the other equipment listed below.


This is in constant use for opening locks. The journey ahead of me has 62 locks, each lock has four paddles, each paddle is opened and then closed. So not counting the odd broken paddle here and there I’ll be using a windlass 496 times over the next few days.

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Essential cruising gear: windlass, anti-vandal key, coffee and marmite toast

Anti-vandal key

You won’t need one of these if you’re cruising the bucolic Cheshire Ring, but on the rough-and-ready Rochdale Canal, many locks are ‘locked’ – you need a special key to release them for operation. You can get these direct from Canal & River Trust.


I treated Swallow to a pair of brand new ropes – you rely on ropes so much when you’re cruising at it was about time Swallow had some decent ones. I bought two 10m long, 12mm diameter hempex ropes from

BW key

Well, CRT key. This is used to open Canal and River Trust facilities, like water points and Elsan stations (for emptying your toilet). You also need them to operate surprise elements like the vertical lifting bridge and three swing bridges on this stretch of the Rochdale Canal.

They’re £6 direct from CRT.


Obviously. There are places where you can stop and fill up along the canal but I don’t know of any round here. I’m not saying where I got myself 25 litres for this short journey but it was hand-delivered and nice and cheap :)

Other bits and bobs

Stern gland greaseexplained here. Eric had kindly left me a pot so I cleaned it up and labelled it :)

Washing up liquid – I’ve had my share of disasters while cruising and sometimes you end up getting diesel in the canal. Not good. Sprinkling washing up liquid over the top helps to break it down so it’s less harmful to canal-life.

A map. It’s hard to get lost when you’re following the canal, but it’s exciting to track your progress on a map and tick off locks as you go. I do have a really good map of the northern canals somewhere, but for this journey I’ll just be looking at this on my phone.

Canal Plan AC is this awesome old-school website where you can plan journeys and find out about all the locks and other points of interest on your route.

Gas lamp. Swallow does have 12v lighting in the ceiling throughout the boat, but it’s far cosier to have a little lamp and some candles. I got this little camping gas lamp from Todmorden flea market for a few quid and it gives off loads of light. I also have plenty of candles for extra pretty lighting too – it’s amazing how much difference they make.

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Pre-cruising jobs

Clean and empty toilet. Because clean empty toilets are the best and stopping to empty your loo a few hours after setting off would be a bit sad.

Fully-charged batteries. Swallow’s two leisure batteries and one starter battery are charged as the engine runs (like on a car) but it still takes a big boost to get started for the first time in ages. I borrowed Kevin’s awesome charger and left it in over night to ensure everything was fully-powered.

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A full water tank. Actually I didn’t fill mine because Emma’s hose is now in Manchester. But it’s huge and pretty full already and will certainly last the journey.

Stock up on gas, wood, coal etc. I don’t want to have to find a place to buy these things, Swallow is going to need to carry all of the fuel I need to cook and heat my home for the next few days. That’s not much, but it’s good to get stocked up anyway. I’ve already got a full 13kg bottle of gas, and spent a lot of Sunday carrying the piles of waste wood that had built up around my mooring up to Hugh’s workshop where he chopped it all up for me.

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