How to plan a journey
Planning a journey can be very simple, although there are many ways to add extra aspects to it. Let's start with the simplest - planning a route from one place to another using the program's default settings for everything.
Suppose you want to plan a trip from Braunston to Warwick. All you need to do is type braunston into the box labelled "Start From" and warwick into the box labelled "Finish at" (these boxes are under the grey line below the advert at the top of the page), and then click the Calculate Route button in the green row at the bottom of the page.
When entering the names you'll see a drop-down list of matching place names appear, but as you know what to enter you can ignore them. See finding places for more.
That's all there is to it!
You'll see a results page showing the distances along the way, the total distance and locks etc, with an estimate of the travelling time and then a list of overnight stops (these are not recommended stopping places, just places at the appropriate proportion of the journey.
Below this in the green button bar you'll find options to Continue (return to route planning), show an Itinerary (a more detailed daily breakdown of the trip), show a Virtual Cruise along the waterway (pictures and maps) and to Export the route (for example to a spreadsheet for further calculations or for GPS). Feel free to experiment with these (particularly Itinerary and Virtual Cruise) - Continue will take you back to route planning from either, and Calculate Route will display this screen again.
Adding more places
Suppose you don't just want to cruise from A to B. A very common example is that you want to travel from your boat's normal moorings to another place and return. That's very easy. First, clear the boxes by pressing New Route (the menu button () at the side of this gives you some ways to clear only some of the boxes or to re-arrange places).
Now enter sale in the "Start from" box, leave "Finish at" empty, and enter Preston Brook in the first box under "Intermediate places". That's all there is to it.
You can make really complicated routes using as many intermediate places as you need (you start off with two rows, but more will appear as you need them). The little menu button by each box () provides options for searching for places, and for changing the order, deleting, adding new rows etc.
There are many circular cruises possible on the waterways, and a number of them are very popular holiday trips. CanalPlanAC has many of these pre-programmed in to make planning a trip around one easy. It can cope both with the situation when you are starting from somewhere on the ring, and also from somewhere outside it, so have to travel to the ring and back again after completing it.
There are two ways to pick the starting place. The first is to enter it into the "Start from" box. That's the quickest and easiest, and the one we'll use here (to experiment with the second, just clear all the boxes (use New route) and press Cruising Ring and take it from there).
So, let's try two rings starting from Anderton in Cheshire. Enter Anderton Marina in the "Start from" box, and press the Cruising Ring button. You'll see a list of rings in two columns (clockwise and anticlockwise) with short descriptions. We're going to do the popular "Cheshire Ring" in an anticlockwise direction. You'll see the ring near the top of the list, and that it has a large orange star by it. That star means that the starting place is on the ring.
So click on Cheshire Ring - anticlockwise. You will be presented with the familiar "plan a route" page, with several of the boxes filled in. So you can now plan the route, see itineraries, do virtual cruises etc just as before. You can also extend the trip (to add a side-trip down the Upper Peak Forest Canal, click on the menu box on the place after Marple Junction and select Insert. That will give you an empty box - type Whaley Bridge into it and there you are).
To see the effect of planning a trip from a place off the ring, click Cruising Ring again (it will overwrite everything except the starting place) and select the Four Counties Ring (either direction - it's up to you). You'll see that it works out that you need to join this ring and Middlewich.
As ever, play with this as much as you like - see how it finds the best route to the nearest place on a fairly remote ring (starting at Braunston to do the Cheshire Ring, say).
Length of a cruising day
Apart from the specific case shown below, CanalPlanAC expects you to do the same amount of travelling each day. For safety, you should set this to slightly less than you do on a good days travelling to allow for queues at locks, shopping, sight-seeing etc. The default of 7 hours seems to work well for many people, but you can put any sensible number in there (for, say, six-and-a-half hours-per-day, enter 6.5).
Part days at start and end of trip
Often you may not have a full day to travel at each end of your trip. For example, hire boats are usually only available late afternoon and have to be returned early in the day at the end of the period of hire. Private boat owners may need to allow time to travel to and from the boat, and to prepare and re-provision the boat at the start and end of a trip. For this reason there are two boxes for "hours first night" and "hours last morning". These work in addition to any number of days travelling you may enter (see below). So if you are collecting the boat at 3PM on Saturday and returning it at 9AM the next Saturday you might set these to 4 and 1 respectively. If
Using known dates for the trip
Often you are just speculatively planning, and so CanalPlanAC doesn't require any dates to plan a trip. But when you do know them it will use the information to make the output more detailed. The "trip length settings" drop-down box allows you to plan trips of known length, and of known length when you know the dates involved. By picking "End date" you can work out when you need to set off to reach your destination on a specific date.
Any hours you enter in "hours first night" and "hours last morning" are in addition to any days you enter here, but do count towards dates. For example, in the hire-boat example in the previous section, you would enter 6 days in the "trip length" field.
How far can I get?
Sometimes you know how much time you have available for a trip, and where your boat is, but are lacking in inspiration for a suitable trip. That's what the Furthest Place button is for.
The best way to explain this is by example. Let's suppose my boat is based in Market Drayton, and I have a week at my disposal (which I'm going to call 6 days cruising for simplicity). I'm going to leave everything else at the program's defaults (see below for how to change these). I simply enter Market Drayton in the "Start from" box, and copy it to the "Finish at" box (the arrow button by "Start from" will do that automatically. This is important, without it the trip will be one directional rather than out and back - in almost every case you are going to want to do this.
Then I select Duration for "Trip length settings" and enter 6 in the "trip length" box that appears when I do that. Then, when I press Furthest Place it will find both places at the exact time away, and (for those who like more focus to their trips) will also suggest interesting targets in the form of waterway termini that are not much further, or shorter, than the time allowed. Finally, it will suggest waterways rings that I can manage in that time, both those I'm actually on (like the Four Counties Ring) and those within reach (the Birmingham Ring).
In all cases, just click on the appropriate Plan this trip button to see the trip.
Changing preferences and speeds
You've already seen how to set the time and date for your trip, as well as how many hour you like to travel each day. But you can fine-tune your trip even more. The Change Preferences button gives you a tabbed page to allow you to set many things about how the program works. Of particular interest here are the Display tab which allows you to chose what units you want distances shown in and how much detail you want shown in the output (both what information it gives you and whether you want every place shown or only ones of a certain importance).
Note that the format for the output is based on the country you are planning a trip in - it defaults to miles and furlongs for the UK and kilometres for the European mainland. To change these, click the "override national defaults" box.
The other most significant tab for route planning is Speeds which lets your set how fast you typically travel on each sort of waterway, how much you like a particular type of waterway, and how fast you can work locks on each. Note that "Seaways" defaults to "NEVER". You must change this if you want to plan trips around Trent Falls, under the Severn Bridge, across the Wash and similar.
If you want to plan a trip over a waterway that is not normally open to pleasure craft (the Manchester Ship Canal, or a waterway under restoration) you should go to the Exclusions tab and un-check the box for the waterways you want to use.
If you want to keep your preferences for later, you should create a user account and log on before changing the preferences to exactly what you want. Then, when you save, they will be associated with your account and next time you log in will be retrieved and used for all your future planning.
There are a lot of options, but there are sensible defaults for almost everything. Experiment with the program, and try turning on extra features as-and-when you need them. Above all, have fun.