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Boat Blog: Crossing the Mersey – a TO-DO list

Posted by indigodream on 12 December, 2015


Salthouse Dock in Liverpool :-)

Salthouse Dock in Liverpool 🙂

Tidal waters can be tricky so make sure that you know what you are doing!

Here are the references we looked at. Of course, there are also useful general check lists and guidance on

Note: there are fees associated with the passages along the Mersey and the MSC – this is not a cheap exercise!

Liverpool Link:

River Mersey

Entering the mighty Mersey tideway - in thick fog!

Entering the mighty Mersey tideway – in thick fog!

A note on Mersey pilots:

Liverpool Port rules state that you must have a pilot unless you are familiar with their waters – we guess that there will be very few narrowboaters who will be familiar with the River Mersey so do consider a pilot!

In theory, the official pilots can be reached through the numbers and email in their FAQ.  We tried email – no response; we rang several times until eventually someone answered the phone. The Clerk I talked to was a bit confused, he did not really know what to do with a boat less than 82m long so he suggested that we talk to another person in the team, Joe Blyth 0151 949 6222. We probably tried his number 20x with no success.

The very friendly CRT staff in Wigan were very good They suggested that we get in touch with Stuart Wood on 07770 664951 or by email – his address is Chestermarine followed by the usual @ sign and then This was the best advice we could have had, as Stuart is the ex-Chief Pilot for Liverpool. We found him to be a character – full of information and immensely skilled. But best of all, when he got on the radio to negotiate with Mersey Radio or the Manchester Ship Canal the reply came back along the lines of “Is that Stuart?” quickly followed by “How can we help you?”

On the Manchester Ship Canal..

On the Manchester Ship Canal..

Manchester Ship Canal


Ok this bit might seem pretty scary, but as with all exciting projects, the outcome is worth it!

I will list things in the order that we did them based on a trip from Liverpool to the River Weaver.

1. GET AN MSC SURVEY:You can’t cross the Mersey without a short hop on the Manchester Ship Canal but before you are allowed onto the Ship Canal you must get a survey. The MSC induction pack has a list of approved surveyors, we used Brian Taylor in Middlewich, a nice guy who has surveyed our boat before. If he is not available or possibly has finally retired then Stuart Wood (Mersey pilot) recommended Mike Carter in Northwich. Contact details for both are in the induction pack. The survey is not onerous providing you have a boat prepared for tidal waters, from memory he asked to see our anchor, navigation lights, fire extinguishers, VHF radio, our long ropes, life ring and life jackets, probably picking up other incidental information as he walked around e.g. does the boat float, is there an engine.

2. MAKE SURE YOUR INSURERS ARE HAPPY: Talk to your insurers, make sure you are covered and take careful note of any restrictions that they impose, they don’t negotiate! We had been with Nautical Insurance Services for years – good policy, nice people to deal with and no quibble about any of our ventures on the Thames tideway; they happily covered us as far as Gravesend without any extra fees. We did not expect any issues for the Mersey. Ha! Got that totally wrong – they insisted that we needed to have a pilot boat so we changed to who were far more reasonable; they also seem like really nice people to deal with.

3. GET PERMISSION FROM THE MSC: Send the signed survey certificate to the MSC, fill in a form requesting passage, pay a load of money and then a few days later you hopefully get a nice letter back saying “yes we will allow passage”.

4. BOOK PASSAGE INTO LIVERPOOL: You need to book passage to get into Liverpool. There is a link above; the nice people at CRT in Wigan will sort things, but they do want to see an insurance certificate. In fact just about everybody wants to see an insurance certificate so get it scanned and copied.

Ellesmere Port....

Ellesmere Port….

5. THINK ABOUT THE WEATHER AND DON’T GO OUT ON A BIG SPRING TIDE: Liverpool is fantastic – enjoy! But think carefully about when to leave via the Mersey. The important thing is to select a few days when tides are not too high (9m or less). You can only book a 7-day stay in the docks so coordinate that with when you want to leave. Be prepared to be flexible, do not go out onto the tideway in anything more then a force 4, ideally less. We reckon that winds of 17 mph start to make us feel uncomfortable! Lots of places have tide tables eg . If weather means that you are stuck, then talk to CRT either in Wigan or contact Andy Goudie, Harbour Master at Canning Dock, Liverpool (07920 862741). Acquire a sight hound before talking to Andy 🙂

6. GET A PILOT: Book your pilot – we’d recommend just giving Stuart Wood a ring – don’t even think about going if he is not free! Well he charges a sensible amount, so perhaps I should have written when he is not available 🙂

7. BOOK BRUNSWICK LOCK: You need to talk to Liverpool Marina to book passage out through Brunswick Lock. The lock opening hours are restricted to 1.5 hours either side of high tide, possibly a little more if tides are favourable. They can be contacted on 0151 707 6777 or  They will want to see your Insurance Certificate but are very nice people to deal with. Did we mention that Liverpool is fantastic?

8. KEEP THE COASTGUARD INFORMED: Fill in a CG66 – details here: . Give them a ring before setting out and when you safely arrive.

9. BOOK EASTHAM LOCK. Eastham VTS (Peel Ports/Ship Canal) is on 0151 327 4638, your MSC Induction pack will have all the telephone numbers. Check the day before that all is ok, they will tell you who else is coming in.

10. BOOK PASSAGE OFF THE SHIP CANAL: At Ellesmere Port: You need to get Neston Borough Council to swing the bridge (Contact Rob Taylor on 07799 658814) and CRT to unlock the padlock on the lock gates. CRT are best contacted through 0303 040 4040 but the direct number for the local office is 01606 723800. At Weston Marsh Lock for the River Weaver: You just need to get in touch with CRT. The Council and CRT only work weekdays and need at least 48 hours notice; we suggest giving them at least a week’s notice then talk to CRT the day before and again on the day

11. MAKE SURE YOU ENJOY THE CROSSING: this is the most important point!

Weston Marsh lock - gateway to the River Weaver...

Weston Marsh lock – gateway to the River Weaver…

We can’t mention this often enough – make sure your boat is fit to go out on the tideway….

The Thamescruising site has lots of general guidance, there is also a useful check list in the Mersey Guidance for small ships. We have no experience of going up the whole length of the MSC – it is too far without a comfort break for the dogs.

A final word from the reassuring advice Stuart gave us:

The passage is totally weather dependent (as in point 5 above) but at the time of year you are proposing the likelihood of two bad days together is low and the various agencies you are contacting are aware of this and will cut you some slack especially if I am on the case. Entry into the Ship Canal at Eastham Locks is now through a single large lock and is traffic dependent. The big boys have priority. Minimising any delays will be down to me.”





2 Responses to “Boat Blog: Crossing the Mersey – a TO-DO list”

  1. Jennie said

    This is on our ‘to do’ list, so thank you for sharing your experiences and giving so much valuable information. Safely bookmarked for future reference. Jennie and Chris, nb Tentatrice

  2. Geoff said

    My word, it was a lot simpler crossing the Wash!!!

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