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Thursday, 27 October 2011

Boaters often get themselves into a bit of a state

Another guest blog from Peter Underwood today...

Boaters often get themselves into a bit of a state over the continuous cruiser / continuous moorer debate, and that isn’t helped by British Waterways’ failure over many years to get a grip on the subject.

I am currently on the lower reaches of the Grand Union where, like the rivers and canals in London itself, those around Oxford and the Kennet and Avon near Bath, the problem is particularly obvious.

For some people it is the prospect of slowing down while passing miles of moored boats that causes them to break into a rant. Others object to those who fail to either pay for or display a licence and yet seem to manage to stay moored to the bank.

Others object to boats dumped for at least two weeks at a time by owners who refuse to pay for a mooring and some simply believe that because they pay to moor everyone else should, especially if they stay in one small length of canal.

Speak to any boaters, anywhere on the system and they will tell you of a boat that has been in the same position, tied up to the towpath, for months and even years. It is never moved on by BW staff and seems impervious to all rules and regulations.

Now I don’t know how those boats and their owners get away with it, it is one of the great mysteries of the waterways.

I hear unsubstantiated tales of BW staff being too frightened to challenge the owner and the conspiracy theorists hint darkly at back-handers or explain that, as the owner lives on board the Human Rights Act means they can’t be deprived of a home.

Personally, I blame inertia and confusion. Even the latest amendments to the Continuous Cruiser rules have left BW bankside staff unable to explain to boaters just how far and how often they have to move to be in the rules. As a result it is easier not to upset the status quo, especially in the areas we mentioned where many boaters live on board, work and bring up families locally, and don’t want to move very far.

You also get rumours springing up amongst those mooring in an area. One current at Rickmansworth at the moment is that if they buy a winter mooring BW won’t hassle them to move on for the rest of the year. I have contacted the regional manager for the South East to ask him whether there is any truth in that rumour but he hasn’t replied. Of course, it is only credible at all because of BW’s historic failure to deal with the continuous moorer issue.

Officially recognised residential moorings on the Grand Union at Rickmansworth

It is just that type of situation BW’s Head of Boating Sally Ash is claiming to be sorting out on the River Lee (popular because boats only need a river licence and so pay half the normal fee) by designating ‘zones’ and changing those who don’t want to move very far – but don’t want to pay for a very expensive London mooring - an additional licence fee.

I am told there are some clauses being built into those additional licences that may mean they are self-limiting; with plans to only give them to those currently on the river and rescinding them if they change jobs or their children finish school.

To me that seems pointless and the concept of a special licence for those who want to move within a limited area, especially if it goes to pay for the establishment of new visitor moorings and facilities that are also used by cruising boats – and if the capacity at any mooring site is limited to 50% of the space for those with the special licences – then everyone benefits.

I suspect something similar would be welcomed in those other continuous mooring ‘hotspots’

Of course, it would create more linear moorings, as will the London plan to establish more offside formal residential mooring sites on the Lee and elsewhere, but if you are annoyed by having to slow down for moored boats perhaps you should buy something sea-going instead.

One of the real virtues of our waterways is a slow pace of life, get used to it.

But the devil in all such plans is the detail of enforcement. Just as it is pointless having 48 hour mooring places in the depths of the countryside on the Shropshire Union when the canal is only patrolled every couple of weeks or so and the patrol officer has no way of knowing whether a boat has been there one day or 13 days, it is pointless having those roving permits for certain areas unless they are enforced.

The starting point is enforcing the rule that says every boat must have a name and its registration number displayed on both sides at all times – preferably painted on.

The number of boats we pass not showing a number, or a name and very frequently no licence, is growing all the time and just makes life even more difficult for patrol officers and licence checkers.

Get that right and you can start enforcing the same rules for every boater. I would suggest that, with the possible exception of 48 hour moorings at genuine hotspots, the 14 day rule ought to apply across the country to all boaters regardless of whether they are continuous cruisers. Let’s get rid of the complicated 5-day or 7-day moorings along with the 24 hour ones and just have two types – 48-hour and 14-day.

Apart from designated zones where a limited number of boats may have paid for roving permits over a short stretch, it will be easy to see whether a boat that was there two weeks earlier is still there, if sufficient visits are made by patrol officers.

Make it easier still by allowing other boaters and walkers to report, perhaps along with dated photographs, boats that have exceeded the 14-day rule.

I appreciate that this could catch those who want to leave their marina and visit the same spot three weekends running but I can only suggest they try somewhere different.

The same goes for unnamed boats with no registration number; they can be reported, with pictures and patrol officers told to check them out on their next visit.

The reality is that there should be no hiding place on the canals and the proper enforcement of much simplified rules will allow the vast majority who do not attempt to cheat the system to get on with their lives, whether as continuous cruisers, continuous moorers or occasional users, without harassment. Meanwhile, BW and then the CandRT can focus on the offenders.

Eventually the rest of us won’t be wondering why the same boat is in the same place on the towpath, with no licence after another 12 or 18 or 24 months.


  1. Enforcement is only half of the problem. How do you get these boat owners to either pay the enforcement fine/penalty, or move the boat from the area concerned. Whilst you can make any fine payable on the next licence application, this will make a greater number of boats avoid payment of their licence, as they are doing now. Whilst taking boats to magistrates courts remain an option, any penalty is too low and would not pay for costs of time or money required of BW, and many would claim to be on benefits etc, or as you say; being human rights gaining leniency from the courts or avoiding any real penalty. Whilst it may be draconian, the only option I see,is to employ tugs to remove boats on waterways after sufficient warning and scrap/sell the boats to offset costs to BW. If BW is unable, lets look at a commercial enterprise, like that of "car clamping", - it will need proper code of working practice but must be a way ahead with your proposals of the 48 and 14 day time rule.

  2. Peter has written/said many sound things and I am grateful and appreciative to him. However, Peter, you say " .. make it easier still by allowing other boaters and walkers to report, perhaps along with dated photographs, boats that have exceeded the 14-day rule.."

    I really am against such a notion. This will encourage the petty-minded 'Concierge' types to make life on our waterways a misery, bad feeling and arguments, perhaps even violent on occasion. The policing of our waterways must only be upheld by the proper authorities.

    My own personal view is that by and large everything is FINE the way it is, as you say .. life on the water is slow paced and so one should perhaps 'chill out' over this subject and trust a little more in the BW authorities clamping down on the worst offenders. "BIG BROTHER" is everywhere these days, can we not please conserve any places left where big brother isn't .. as we try to do with wild fauna and flora conservation initiatives?

    Purely from a practical point of view, and only for the worst offenders who can be contacted, I agree with Alistair's idea for BW to employ tugs to remove the offending boat.

    I would like to see greater efforts (in education/flyers) made toward the code of 'respect thy fellow boater' & the waterways, to include keeping our waterways clean and for everyone to take responsibility for this ever growing problem.

  3. It is an ever increasing problem and one that really does need sorting out before the canal system becomes similar to the dale farm issue that has made the news recently, if the authorities don't start to take a strong stance then God only knows where the canal system will end up, It is always the minority that spoils it for the majority but I do fear the it will end up being the majority that will spoil it for the minority of genuine CC's if something isn't done.

    I know that many CC's would be horrified at the prospect of having to pay twice as much money for the right to cruise but maybe that way it would get rid of the dross that is slowly taking over the casual moorings in popular spots and leave vacant spaces for genuine people who are not just out to live cheaply!

    I think that genuine cc's should pay a much higher rate to continently cruise but should also be given certain privileges that normal cruisers don't have, like the choice of winter moorings and more flexibility in terms of how long they can stay on 'short term' moorings, after all normal cruisers have a permanent mooring somewhere that they pay for so why shouldn't CC's pay a higher rate?