Canal boat crew volunteers needed

Crew volunteers are needed to help the Wey and Arun Canal Trust run boat trips.

Saturday, 8th April 2017, 12:41 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 3:57 am
The Wey and Arun boat trips take people along four miles of restored canal

One of West Sussex’s best know and loved attractions, the boat trips take people along four miles of restored canal.

Long term, the trust, based at the Canal Centre in Loxwood, is aiming to restore London’s lost route to the sea, a 23-mile stretch of water joining the River Wey near Guildford to the River Arun just south of Billingshurst, and one way to raise funds is through the boat trips.

James Field, chairman of Wey and Arun Enterprises, the trust’s boat division, said: “The boat trips have been running on the restored section of the canal since 1984 and are increasingly popular.

Skipper Steve Harmes signed up after being a passenger on one of the canal trips

“Last year we raised nearly £60,000 for the charity. We would like to do even better but need more volunteers to skipper and crew the boats.

“Everyone operating the boats is a volunteer, whether skippers who pilot the boats, boat crew who operate the locks, or cabin crew who serve refreshments to our passengers.

“Our volunteers are given all the training they need to fulfil their roles and all our skippers have a Maritime and Coastguard Agency Master’s ticket.

“Volunteers range in age from their 40s to their 80s and come from all walks of life, both employed and retired. All that is required is a certain level of fitness to operate the locks and climb on and off the boats and time to share but skippers will require a medical each year.”

Steve Harmes has been a skipper for eight years, having signed up after being a passenger on one of the canal trips back in 2008.

“I’ve always been interested in industrial history and I carry out work on canal restoration in other parts of the country with the Waterway Recovery Group,” he said.

“I started helping with the Sunday and Thursday group restoring locks and, at the time, starting the Loxwood road bridge and lock project. I soon found I was not able to give as much time as I would like and turned to the trip boats as an alternative.

“Having been on several canal boat holidays, including my first one in 1988 when I got engaged to my wife of now 26 years, I had some experience of boat driving but the training given by the excellent team on the Wey and Arun means that even someone with no boating experience can soon pick it up.

“The process for obtaining the MCA licence required to become a skipper is very well supported by the Wey and Arun training programme and having an interview with a qualified MCA captain is not as daunting as it sounds. They are mainly concerned with the safe operation of the boats, which is well covered by the operations manual and the training given.

“I now commit to one day a month to trip boat skippering and another to boat cleaning, an important task which, somehow, I am now in charge of. Volunteering works well with my normal job as I do shift work as an engineer for Royal Mail and this gives me most weekends and some weekdays free.

“When skippering the boats, I really enjoy meeting the passengers, most of whom are very interested in the canal and what is happening with the restoration.

“Of course, driving the boat means I am out the back and the crew have more chance to talk to the passengers, I sometimes volunteer as crew so I can chat to people as well. I am always happy to allow passengers to have a go at steering the boat and usually find our younger guests are better at steering than the adults, probably because they don’t expect the boat to behave like a car.

“If you are thinking about volunteering to help us out please have a go, either as crew or skipper, or both, it’s great fun and any time you can give, even if it’s only one or two days a month like myself, will be very much appreciated.”

Email [email protected] or telephone 01403 752403 for more information.

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