A historic beam engine is to be fired up and put into action tomorrow to allow marooned boaters to navigate the Kennet and Avon Canal between Burbage and Wootton Rivers.

About 12 lock gates were padlocked today after the modern pumping system at Crofton which controls water in the canal suffered a catastrophic failure.

This meant that water levels in the summit pound became too low to allow boats to navigate the locks.

Harry Willis chairman of the Crofton branch of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust was rung at 1pm by the British Waterways Authority and asked if his historic Crofton Beam Engine could be used to pump the water.

Luckily the steam engine was used last weekend as part of a series of special events held at the pumping station and so was still warm.

Mr Willis said: "The problem is that we need at least five volunteers to man the steam engine and we usually have at least a fortnight's notice to get organised.

"But I have been ringing around all afternoon and a lot of people have volunteered to come in tomorrow and Sunday. I am very proud of our people."

This means that the two beam engines that date from 1812 and 1843 should be able to pump enough water to allow the lock gates to be opened.

Mr Willis said: "If we had not been able to do this a lot of boaters would have been stranded. It could be at least a week before the electric pump is fixed.

"At the moment there is about six mile section of the canal that can't be used so it is not possible to get from Newbury to Devizes."

Mr Willis who has been branch chairman for three years said he was pleased to be able to be of service.

"It shows us in a very positive light and hopefully a lot of people will come by and use our cafe and look at the beam engines."

Katherine Langford Jones of the Crofton Beam Engine Trust said it had ordered in £5,000 worth of coal to keep the engine running. A British Waterways spokesman said: "The electrical pump at Crofton has broken down in such a way that our maintainance guys cannot fix it so we have asked the volunteers at the Crofton Beam Engine to fire it up. This will get the water levels up and the boats moving again. "We have engineers coming to look at the electrical pump tomorrow to see what can be done."