Wednesday, February 20, 2019

How fast (or slow) is a canal boat?

“How far can you get in a week on your boat?” That’s something I often find myself explaining to people who ask about our journeys.  In the past I have usually guessed that “In a week on the canal you can probably get as far as a car can in an hour.” Of course if it’s an out and back trip you have to half that.

Well I was lying in bed wondering (like you do) how accurate that advice was, so I thought I might as well check it out and do the numbers.  As you all know I’m quite partial to a few numbers.  So between Google maps, Canalplan and my own Canalculator (I’ve just written a new Python version using about half the lines of code of the old one –sweet!), I chose a few routes and came up with the following

Route                                              Time by car/road                        Time by canal boat            Ratio(canal/car)

Paddington to NIA Birmingham              2.25 hrs                                       79 hrs                              35

Oxford to Coventry                               1.1 hrs                                        40.5 hrs                            37 

Brentford to Braunston                         1.75 hrs                                       55 hrs                              31

Stratford to NIA Birmingham                 0.9 hrs                                         21 hrs                              23

Braunston to Aston turn                        0.9 hrs                                         29 hrs                              32

Well there you are.  Averaging those out and rounding up we see that a car gets there 32 times faster than a boat.  So a distance travelled by a car in an hour takes 32 hours on the canal.  That makes my original statement not far off given that we rarely cruise more than six days in seven and do between five and six hours a day. When we were young an energetic, we did the four counties ring in a week and according to Canalplan that’s 55.5 hours.

“Hmm how about fuel costs?” our boat uses about 1.4 litres per hour.  A car might typically average about 5 litres an hour. So from Paddington to Birmingham a car might use about 11.5 litres, a boat would use 56 litres. So car transport would appear to be about five times as efficient in that respect.  Less fun though.

Then I thought it might be fun to try out some less typical routes.  I thought that boats might fare better against cars in a city, so

Paddington to Camden                         19 min                                         45 min                              2.4

Wow, the boat looks a lot better.  How about up the Thames?

Teddington to Lechlade                        2.1 hrs                                         44 hrs                              21

showing that the river fares better than the canal.  And lastly, just to push the limits I compared our longest ever trip,

Iver(Slough) to Bedford                        1.2 hrs                                          103 hrs                             85

Here the boat is 85 times slower than the car, but that’s because of the route.  The car can get there pretty directly but the boat had to go via Northampton, Peterborough, across the fens to Denver then down through Ely etc.  It might be 85 times slower but for enjoyment I know which route I’d take.

Well that was fun.  Having done that and replaced a tap washer today I think I can take the rest of the day off don’t you?


stevefree said...

Looked back at the stats for our boat travel and it’s near enough 2 miles an hour, a lock an hour and a movable bridge every 10 hours.
1049 hours, 2176 miles, 1052 locks and 108 bridges.
Steve NB Tumbleweed

Herbie Neil said...

Blimey, that's a high frequency of movable bridges assuming they all need moving. Although thinking about it, we have to do a few in an hour when going down to Oxford. 2 mph overall doesn't seem too bad considering top speed when under way is rarely over 3 (unless you're on a river maybe).


Ian and Irene Jameison said...

Hi Neil, This has nothing to do with this article but I am asking if a piece I read in an old post dated October 2018 'FMC in another time' could be included in the Waterways Recovery Groups magazine 'Navvies' Martin Ludgate is the editor and is very eager to include the article. He would of course credit the piece to yourself. Could you let me know if this would be okay. Thanks
Irene Nb Free Spirit.

Herbie Neil said...

Irene, Yes of course. Tell Martin he is wrlcome to use it. I have been thinking about a follow Up episode but the muse has forsaken me at present.


Simon said...

On similar lines - I did some very back of the envelope maths on my Llangollen trip, and came to the conclusion that the carbon footprint of one person on a boat is about that of that person flying on a full plane, per mile

So significant, but of course used over two months rather than an hour.

And a LOT more fun. ;-)

PS - did you hear about the Indigos being on telly? Might blog about it!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Excellent figures Neil, and nice to have as I attempt to explain travel and distance via boat or cars over in the U.K.

While the automobile appears more fuel efficient at first glance, I can hear Les' voice explaining that for each liter of diesel burned by the boat he would also be heating his water, powering the washing machine for 30 minutes, and topping up the batteries. Suddenly, the stats for automobiles aren't quite so energy efficient!!!

Jaq xxc