Traditional Technique - Strapping

For the avoidance of doubt "strapping" is the technique of bringing a boat to a halt in a lock using a rope by taking one or two turns around a strapping post provided specifically for this purpose at the lockside. In working boat days gates were not closed on leaving and accordingly the 'road' would either be with you or against you. On a bad road a lockwheeler would be dropped off at a bridge 'ole to cycle ahead and make the lock ready so that it would only be when two boats actually met at a lock that one steerer would find the gates closed against him and would have to slow down his boat (or pair) to wait in the channel.

I posted a small article on a restricted-access newsgroup in 2002/3 on the subject of strapping and received a number of interesting replies. Since the group is not 'public' I have changed people's names and performed some editing to protect identities (other than my own). I hope you find this both interesting and informative.

I read an article on 'canaljunction' written by Tony Lewery about strapping posts, their absence, and (it would seem) their gradual re-introduction. I was boating down the Warwick & Birmingham at the time where virtually all the strapping posts are still in place so I started using them with straps fastened to the anser pin shackles on the back cabin 'gunnels'. Since I boat 'solo' and value our heritage I am especially interested in learning and using traditional techniques which, once mastered, tend to 'get me ahead' quite well. If I recall correctly Chris Deuchar mentioned some in his book 'A Boater's Guide to Boating'. I started strapping the boat to a standstill both uphill and down and find it works very well for me. However when I'm not on the GU I doubt I'll be able to use this technique as I don't fancy stepping off the boat and running up the steps only to find there's no post there with a 20 ton unmanned boat still moving fairly smartly into the lock! Any comments?

Jim Storey

Nb Lynx (formerly Waverley)

I almost always strap into locks with my unconverted GUCCC motor, as I'm usually single handed and I want to be on the lockside shutting the gates, not down below scrambling up ladders.

One thing to watch out for is that the 1930s locks on the GU in Warwickshire don't always have the uphill stumps where you'd expect them (I think there's one near the top of Hatton like that) with the result that you run out of strap length before the boat is fully up to the cill and occasionally have to let go of the end before the stump takes your fingers off! And then you have to retrieve the end of the strap before it gets trapped between the downhill gates. This always happens when a modern boat crew are keen to share the romance of the canals by working you through the lock quickly; modern boats' crews don't seem to know what ropes are for and rarely check anything before taking action. (Sorry, probably an unjustified generalisation, but one that's unfortunately based on experience)

There's a good pair of articles from David Blagrove called 'Knowing the Ropes' in the April & May 1987 Waterways World, which is useful on straps and what to do with them.

David Blagrove makes the point that a well-equipped boat on the GU would have uphill and downhill straps, as you need about another 7 feet of length when going uphill, but this would just get in the way going downhill. And I think the GU used to use straps which were quite hefty: you get a lot more stopping power and friction out of a 2 inch diameter strap than just a 12mm dia mooring line.

There's a good sequence of stopping boats with straps in one of the 1950's British Transport Commission ("BTC") films (available on video) of the Beresford brothers strapping a loaded GU pair into an uphill GU lock which is most instructive.

Something else to bear in mind, I guess, is that what was done in the 1940s on the GU with a pair isn't necessarily what FMC did up Audlem or Atherstone, or what the Rochdale men did with a loaded flat.?

On the point of the strapping stumps going missing, well you can often get enough friction off the lock chamber's lower wing wall going uphill by taking the strap around 2 sides of the corner of the brick wall, but soft local bricks (eg. T&M) are better than hard engineering bricks for that. And it doesn't half eat ropes too!

Of course, you can sometimes strap off the strapping stump on a top gate, but I find you need to be going a bit quick with an empty boat to do that successfully unless you are absolutely sure that it is feasible at that particular lock. You haven't got much time. I believe you need to have the strap laid out ready and if the stump is missing, or the handrail stanchion is too close to the stump, then you're knackered and heading for the bottom gates far too fast. And the chances (except maybe on the Worcs/B'ham) of finding half a dozen top gates in a row that are still set up for gate strapping are a bit low, so you might as well not bother unless you are feeling exceptionally dynamic.

And sometimes those nice cast iron landscape architects' posts are in almost the right place, or even a hedgerow hawthorne bush trunk close to the ground, if you are quick enough and the strap is long enough. But these days I think that if you are normally strapping to a halt you have always got to have a second option for stopping in mind at every lock if you find the stump is missing, and probably be travelling a bit slower than 50 years ago.


I just push the gate open with the boat, cut the engine, and jump up the steps, if you judge it right you'll have time to give the gate a shove and wind up the top paddle, the flow of water will close the gate and stop the boat, which will only be creeping along anyhow. Easypeasy!


Oh yes?

On some of the Ashton Canal locks and most of Marple, we now have fencing erected *at the top of the steps* "for safety reasons". So you now run up the steps, then have to negotiate a fence, and then get on with the business of stopping the boat etc. Fender boards at the top end of the lock? What are they for? Mostly missing anyway. Try explaining this lock procedure to the latest safety mafia recruits in BW. Combine this with things like top gate paddles that can't be closed if the gate is open and you have some idea of the difficulties. Strapping the boat to a halt going down? It's a lottery as to the position or existence of the posts. The lock ladder handrails are a poor substitute and can damage the rope. :-(


I agree, but I don't usually trust being able to lift a top paddle in time, there are too many locks where you get caught out. So I use a rope off the anser shackles both up and downhill if possible.

But you really do need to know your lock flights quite well (in both directions) to strap your boat to a halt with any efficiency. Like at Audlem I seem to remember you can find something to strap off if going downhill on every lock except one, but you need to know which one !

Because stumps go missing I've had to strap off hawthorn trunks in the hedge, off picnic tables and off BWB notice board supports before now, using the backend rail rope, but you do need to ensure your straps are longer than normal. I think mine have gradually got longer till they are 28-30ft of spliced-back-together-again 24mm fake hemp, but that sort of length brings its own problems.

And even then you find that someone has moved a stump. There's one of the locks at Hatton, I think, where you run the risk of getting your fingers trapped in the cast iron stump before the boat's got up to the top cill, because BW or BTC or GUC itself changed the lower wing wall to extend further downstream, and moved the stump further away as well. OK if you know the route well.

And if you use a non-stump for strapping you find these ad-hoc stopping objects are usually further away from the boat than a stump should be, and they don't have the frictional qualities of a 12 inch diameter oak or 9 inch iron stump. And neither do the ropes we usually use (16mm ?) have the frictional qualities of a proper GUCCC 2-inch dia. strap.

Good job our boats are usually travelling fairly slowly and empty (at 15 tons) rather than loaded (at 42 tons and going straight through the bottom gates !)



Recent exchanges on using 'traditional' techniques prompt me to a rather delayed response.

It is not possible to describe just one standard technique, there are just too many variables. Is the lock wide or narrow? Are you going uphill or down? Is the lock set or against you? Are you on familiar territory? There are others.

I boated alone for many years with my full length ex GUCC Co motor. Early on I was lucky enough to be given some really good tips and advice from some ex boatmen.

My 'lifesaver' was the 'back end line'. From the ring on the back end rail on the front face of the engine room I had a long (30-35') line, always led back to be coiled just in front of the slide. Never use thin line for this, even though it is plenty strong enough. You need something you can get your hands around and GRIP.

An example of method, given all the variables listed above:

Wide lock, southern GU, home territory, uphill, lock not set.

Stop boat just against bottom gates, back end towards side to get off on. Use tiller and engine to bring counter alongside bank. Put on tiller string and wind up engine a little to hold boat in place. Up steps to turn lock. Observe presence and position of strapping posts and inevitable obstruction presented by damned new ladder handrails!! Open bottom paddles and return immediately to boat to ride outflow. As lock empties prepare to push one chosen gate open. When lock ready push gate open with boat, it's what the front end is pointed for! Make sure other gate stays shut. Shout at any helpful person who starts to open other gate!! As boat straightens up through open gate check speed. Step off as counter passes steps NOT forgetting to pick up back end line to carry up steps. Boat still in gear, moving slowly. Check line does not snag on gate etc. As boat enters lock, check with line around post (or any stupid onlooker who gets in the way!!) Leave boat clear of bottom gates and top cill. Close gate paddles. Open top paddles. Boat in gear pulling forward keeps boat against side, prevents crashing around. Observe wear marks on stone lock edge indicating many other boatmen have had their line in precisely the same place. Lock full, open gate putting down paddles. Untie line, boat starts moving, it's still in gear. Step on and go, making sure line is coiled and prepared for instant use at next lock. Leave gate open of course, ready for any boat going other way. Argue with any BW staff who suggests you shut gate, ask what is wrong with lock and when it is going to be fixed. Take name of BW staff trying to dictate; BW Byelaws do not require gates to be shut.

Hope this is useful or amusing.


Oh! Yes! Had a nice piece of three quarter inch thick tuff stuff to strap to a stop, until going up Stoke, near the top, where people gather (and they had). Boat's going in steady, forward gear engaged, casually climbs steps, puts a turn or two on accompanied by nice creaking sound - Bang! "Bo**ocks!"

No - never use the thin stuff! Watch Bill and Joe at Slaughters - staged, but well done.

Thinking about film clips - watch the end of 'Painted Boats', where a pair are going into a full lock to lock down into Regent's Canal Dock. They're stopping on the engine, and going at a fair lick. Just as impact seems about to occur it cuts to another scene - did they trash the bottom gates???


There are a number of clips like that in that wonderful film, all in the 'I wonder what happened next' bracket!


Isn't it amazing how many people just don't know how to strap a boat. I have watched countless people holding on like grim death to ropes & trying to stop their boats obviously unaware of the fact that the line needs to pass under the bit that is taking the strain. Like making half a clove hitch round a stump. (Not a full one as that would guarantee the disaster!)

Many years of Bolinder boating has revealed that you can control the boat - provided that BW have left the stump where it ought to be and, if necessary, there are often other things to use which you can without causing any damage providing the technique is right.


How true. I agree wholeheartedly with Alistair. I too had many years with a Bolinder in my motorboat and then progressed to a butty on which the same technique is applied. With the motor in front up a flight I have been known to be waiting for it to leave a lock having caught up.


I am glad somebody brought that up Alistair.

We see so many boats with bits of string! In the wrong place. I run a big Northwich and also look after boats on the sea. Down here a boat whatever size would not be without a centre spring rope.

Almost the only rope you need for handling except for the final securing.

Bert mentions the back end line, i.e. the spring rope. But do make sure it is good. It has got to hold a lot of weight.


Bert's email about using the back end line in locks reminded me of the following....

It was a trip some years ago on "Endurance", going up through Leicester. We were in the top lock of Newton Harcourt, the back end line made off on a large wooden bollard, with the boat ticking over in gear. When the lock was full, we'd opened the gate & dad was on the lockside chatting to the lock keeper. There was then a splash as the stump pulled out and into the lock and the boat set off on her own, the (rotten) stump having snapped off at ground level. It was somewhat embarrassing as the lock keeper was stood there, but he didn't seem concerned at loosing a stump, he just wanted it getting out of the lock and adding it to his fire wood heap. We often mention it when passing through there.


That's a good point Jack, I would just caution against some strapping posts that actually snag the line bringing the boat up very short and hard. I've always found it best to 'check' the speed carefully before stopping the boat and making off the line. The latter has to be carefully done too, remember the boat is still in gear and straining forward.

Alistair & Alison both mentioned how good you, of necessity, get doing this when you have Bolinder power but the same is essentially true when the power is four legged. Some years of helping operate a horse drawn trip boat has taught me a bit about that. With horse power you have no reverse whatever, and it's no use pulling back on the towing line, it simply comes off the looby, that's what it's there for. You have to use as much of the momentum as you can to do the work for you.


Well it's OK having a thin backend line if you use the hefty strap on the anser shackles for stopping with! And then use the backend line for tying forward. The backend line is mounted a bit high on the boat for stopping un-dramatically if travelling with any speed. And if you had a wooden engine room, wouldn't you rip out the backend rail bolts eventually?

But as Bert says, different techniques for different boats, directions, states of load and locks. Personally I reckon that my particular combination of boat, engine, gearbox and prop (little Woolwich, HA2MGR & 26in x 17 deg) doesn't stop the boat anything like fast enough, so I tend to use a strap whenever possible (If the boat is tied onto the scenery, its bound to stop!)

Incidentally, isn't the point of the strings hanging down the side of the cabin behind the stove chimney so that you've got the port strap handy when you step off the boat? You see the strap secured like that in quite a lot of photos of horse-boats. If you were to throw the strap (when you've finished using it), loosely coiled, over the roof like you would on the starboard side, you will take the mop and water can with you the next time you want to get off and stop on the left hand side of the boat. But you can loosely coil up the port strap into a 3ft dia coil and quickly secure it with the chimney string (with a pull-to-release hitch, obviously) to avoid all that unpleasantness.

It also makes use of the backsplicing at the bottom end of the chimney string as something to pull on, which makes a bit more sense (it's resting on the cabin handrail behind the chimney when securing the strap) . It does mean you have to have a working (single?) chimney string and a set of 3 fancy ones for when you're tied up in company, but that's not usually a problem the rate most people get through cotton line, if they use it for bow hauling etc.).