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.
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.