How My Canal Boat Holiday was JUST Like a Standards Test

Last week I returned from Scotland, where I was on a canal boat doing the Forth & Clyde and Edinburgh Union canal. During the trip, we went on the Falkirk Wheel twice. A unique piece of engineering that lifts canal boats up to the higher Edinburgh Union Canal from the Forth and Clyde. Actually, it lifts three boats at a time with passengers.

falkirk wheel


I am a meticulous planner. Having been on many canal boat holidays in the past, I know it’s best to plan of where you’re going to stop to eat. Sometimes my wife likes to stop and do some shopping (who’d have thought it eh?). This all needs planning. On this trip, we took my stepson and his girlfriend as crew and I was planning to teach them all about the locks and how to operate them. The route I had planned would take us up the Clyde to a place called Bowling that had around 40 locks there and back and would take a day to pass up and a day to pass down. All the stops were planned before and after to give us full days through the locks and the night in Bowling marina.

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When I arrived to pick up the canal boat, I was informed I had to report my timings to the Scottish Canal authorities to meet me at the locks. I was puzzled by this as I had never had this before. So I called the relevant number and I was informed that volunteers and workers from the Scottish Canal Trust would do all the locks for us. This meant I needed an exact timed itinerary of every lock I would pass through, somewhat putting the dampers on what is one of the best parts of canal boat holidays. It also somewhat spoilt the objectives.

So, I’m sitting there with 20 pages of lock dimensions, distance between locks and timings – all of which would appear useless. I looked at the maps and asked my crew to we decide a different objective. Could we do the Canal from Glasgow to Edinburgh completely? That would become the new objective. This would mean that timings and routes had to be changed, but the preparation I had undertaken before the trip was no longer in vain. I was able to quickly recalculate timings and quite accurately let the Falkirk Wheel know exactly what times we would be passing there so they could book our passage. We achieved this by mooring up for the night under the wheel and returning on the last day to maximise the canal time in between.

Teaching the son and his girlfriend was fun and had its interesting aspects. The girlfriend ran the boat aground – opportunity therefore arose to teach how to get a marooned canal boat afloat again. It’s difficult to harm a 15-tonne metal canal boat, although significant damage can be done in reverse.

So how does this compare with the Standards Test?

Well, planning is so important, but planning can also sometimes go wrong and throw up surprises. You should still be able to safely rescue the plan by changing the objectives. I would go as far as saying that if it does go wrong and you change the objectives to suit the learner or the situation, you will get a higher score. I’ve never had a check test (they used to be called this) go completely to plan and I always planned for it to go wrong. Expect it and it won’t be a surprise.

There is always something from the planning you can use – for example the route or the level of instruction. The trick is to plan and expect it to go wrong. Just like when we ask your learner “How might this go wrong?” or “what problems could we see with this?” We do the same in our planning stage, what could go wrong? So many times I warned trainees that their pupil will act out of character on a test and low and behold, so many times I’ve heard trainees say “my pupil never normally does that.”

Plan, plan, plan then be impulsive.

P.S: Maybe one day I’ll write a post about how I know how a 15 Tonne canal boat in reverse can cause significant damage to the rudder!

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