Sunday, 30 October 2011

Boaters' Manifesto

Boaters Manifesto – 1st draft

This manifesto was compiled as the result of a request made on half a dozen boaters’ groups of Facebook (total membership around 2,500) and through various boaters’ networks on Twitter.
Boaters were asked to let the transition trustees know what they actually need from them so that they can respond to the new charity with enthusiasm and commitment.

Why the Canal and River Trust should listen to boaters

Navigable waterways were not only created for boats, they are only still with us today because boats and boaters found a new use for them as commercial traffic came to an end.
It has been boaters – not cyclists or walkers or fishermen – who have fought to reopen neglected canals in the face of official opposition; with British Waterways only jumping on the bandwagon in recent years.
Canals without boats don’t last very long for other users as there is no longer a reason to keep the unique industrial heritage in working order, the structures crumble, the water silts up and little is left. Waterways need boats as much as boats need waterways.
Boaters are the only group that has already made a substantial financial and personal commitment to the waterways as well as the only collection of individuals that pays substantial annual fees for their upkeep.
Boaters, especially those with many years of experience and those who live on their craft and travel widely on the system have a wealth of expertise that has been largely ignored by British Waterways and those who helped to compile this manifesto fear that the Canal and River Trust may continue this policy.
Most of all we would like to see many more experienced boaters, proper users of the system, taking a role at national and regional level than the current proposals suggest. Just five out of 35 at a national level is simply wrong.


Boaters need navigations that are sufficiently well maintained to enable the vessels designed to use them to travel the whole length of those waterways at all times of the year and operate locks and other equipment with relative ease and safety.
Waterways must not be allowed to deteriorate through lack of maintenance and the Canal and River Trust must have sufficient contingency funds to deal with a major breach – on the scale of those on the Shropshire Union Canal the Monmouth and Breconshire Canal in recent years - without delay.
This means that sufficient government funding is a prerequisite for the Canal and River Trust and if the levels of funding do not fill the massive gap identified by the IWA, and the specialist waterways MPs group, the trustees should refuse to sanction the creation of the charity. It will not be enough to depend on optimistic projections of future charitable income and would be dangerous to do so.
We believe some of the financial projections offered by British Waterways and Defra are simply wrong and need to be tested far more critically than seems the case at present.


Executive management
Boaters and many others have lost faith in the most senior levels of British Waterways’ management in recent years and almost all those who contributed to this manifesto want to see the current directors removed before the Canal and River Trust begins to run the system. Our concern centres on the enormously expensive pay, pension and perks packages of the most senior directors and their willingness to grab bonus payments when staff are being penalised by pay rise well under the rate of inflation.
Boaters do not believe the Canal and River Trust should be willing and will not be able to pay such large scale remuneration and feel that the removal of a group of directors who have little understanding of waterways or boats would do more to give the Trust a fresh start than any new logo.

Middle management
British Waterways’ workforce has become disconnected from the system it looks after. This is due to attempts to farm out much of the bankside and construction work to the cheapest available contractors, along with a policy that obliges the workforce to work in teams covering large areas.
Boaters would like to see visible individuals responsible for a particular stretch of waterway, with clear responsibilities and accountability in the event of failures.
We believe the skills of the workforce should be valued, encouraged and passed on, especially as caring for a 200 year old artefact requires special expertise. We would like to see work brought back in house and apprenticeships encouraged along the lines of those provided by the National Trust.


Whatever else the Canal and River Trust does it will achieve most with most boaters if it applies the same rules on mooring to all parts of the waterways system and enforces them without fear or favour.
This does not exclude setting up special rules in hot-spot areas; but they should then be available for all hot-spots in the country that want to adopt them. We do not believe there is anything wrong with the current mooring guidelines but feel they must be applied equally and effectively across the country. Don’t make rules the Canal and River Trust can’t enforce.

Towpath issues.

Boaters do not mind sharing the towpaths with fishermen, walkers, cyclists and dogs – although we draw the line at motorised vehicles and horses.
We do believe it is essential the Canal and River Trust finds ways of ensuring all those users contribute to the costs of upkeep and abide by a national set of rules.
Once again enforcement will be the key to stopping dog fouling, rubbish and speeding cyclists putting lives at risk.
We would encourage the new Trust to get into schools, angling clubs, cycling, ramblers etc and educate them about the policies on the towpath, and about canals and waterways in general so we can all enjoy them

An open society?

The Canal and River Trust needs to be completely open with boaters and other supporters and we would urge Trustees to stop avoiding the inclusion of the charity in Freedom of Information legislation.
Given the sensitive existing issues over directors pay, commercial operations such as BWML, pub chains and property development it is essential that the Canal and River Trust’s supporters are able to assure themselves that the murky goings on under British Waterways are brought out into the open and that complete transparency is the rule as soon as the charity begins business.
The Canal and River Trust is vitally important to boaters. Other users can always find what they're looking for somewhere else, if the new trust is not up to scratch, their stake is minimal. If the canal system crumbles then where are all the boat users going to go?

Liveaboard boaters

The Canal and River Trust should endeavour to help those who live on their boats by the provision of more residential moorings where needed and perhaps usable postal addresses (BFPO can do it for the forces), recycling facilities, more potable water and sewage disposal points.
Those who live on the waterways system, several thousand people, should have specific representation on the board of the Trust.


Wednesday, 20 April 2011


In the sixth in his series on living aboard Peter Underwood looks at how ‘green’ boaters can be and compares what is possible with what is practical. First published in Towpath Talk.

Compare and contrast

SOME liveaboards simply want to transfer their land lifestyle to the water – complete with dishwashers, tumble dryers and all the power-hungry impedimenta of modern life.
If that is your approach I would only say that you are going to need a big generator and lots of batteries or frequent visits to marinas with electric hook-ups.
For many liveaboards moving onto a boat is a bit of an ecological revelation. Perhaps for the first time in your life you are seeing what resources it takes to keep you in the style to which you have become accustomed and exactly how much waste of all kinds you produce.
Every resource – diesel, coal, wood, gas, food, water – has to be brought onto the boat by you. Every piece of waste has to be disposed of by you. Suddenly you have a personal relationship with the means of creating heat and power and you are not even shielded by the monthly direct debits which kept you warm and powered your land-based home.
So what are you going to do about the best chance you will ever have to put your principles into action and go green?
Soon every liveaboard recognises that the biggest impact they are making comes from the diesel engine which powers the boat – and if not the ever-rising price of diesel will remind them.
Is there an alternative? I even quizzed Sue Day of the Horseboating Society on the practicality of horse power. As she rightly pointed out, British Waterways have to be asked for special permission to put a horse on the towpath these days and the number of moored boats, complete with TV aerials makes progress very slow. Even then the costs of buying, keeping and caring for a horse are probably more than the cost of diesel.
How about electric boats? The Electric Boat Association has been going for more than a century and at the end of Victorian era there were nearly 200 electric boats on the Thames.
Most were small and the largest on the river was the 65ft. eighty-passenger 'Viscountess Bury', which plied the Thames until 1910 when she was converted to oil. 
It all died away until the 1970s when Rear Admiral Percy Gick took an electric Trentcraft cruiser 600 miles up the Thames and around the canals and Lord St Davids moored a small narrow boat powered by prototype Lynch outboard motors at the bottom of his garden on the Regents Canal.

During the 1980s, Rupert Latham at Wroxham developed the Frolic electric GRP launch but the electric boat market has been slow to develop.

The problem for larger narrowboats is one of charging because the normal diesel engine is key to providing the charge needed for domestic electrics and an electric engine can’t do that.
One answer is charging stations around the canal network but can you imagine the queues if electric boats caught on and every needed to top up with a charge every time they moored overnight?
Another answer used by a handful of boat builders on the canal is a hybrid system which uses a engine cum generator to charge the batteries which, in turn power the engine. A hybrid can extract from the engine a higher power than required by propulsion. The extra can then be stored in the battery bank and provide the low propulsion power demand with pure electric drive. When the batteries drop you turn the engine back on again.
Wind and solar power can help keep those batteries topped up

There are also those who see the answer in solar power and the Solar Boat Company ( claims narrowboats are well suited to electric propulsion due to the efficient hull shape and low canal speed limits.
It says solar panels can provide power for over 1,000 miles cruising per year for many decades but that is not based on a liveaboards requirements as the figures are calculated around summer cruising. 
Even they admit: “ … not many miles can be expected in the English mid-winter, especially on boat with accommodation where electric lights and appliances can use most or all of December's solar charge”.
One small part of the UK system is using electric narrowboats as hire boats.
Castle Narrowboats on the Monmouth and Brecon say their electric boats cover 18 miles on a single charge but they rely on hooking up to shore power on a regular basis.
One firm selling solar panels reckons that a 17 ton 60 foot narrowboat with 512 watts of solar panels on an average June or July can travel up to 100 miles at 2mph – but it would, of course take two whole days to do so.
That is based on having at least half the roof is covered with solar panels. Considering you are paying around £4 plus per watt for panels that is a big bill.

Low impact

So if reality means most liveaboards are going to have to come to terms with burning diesel what else can be done?
The answer is lots and I would recommend a look at a fascinating – if rarely updated – website which has a wealth of ideas on how to limit your environmental impact – called Low Impact Life on Board (
It looks at a variety of topics and whilst some of the solutions are probably a bit much for modern boaters, there are some fascinating insights.
The Low Impact site suggests, for instance, that one answer to the fridge using lots of power is to keep things cool inside sacks hung in the canal.
Most of us are a bit doubtful about the cleanliness of such a practise but there are also some sensible suggestions about keeping things that need to be cool in the bottom of the boat.
Many liveaboards will also use outside space as a fridge alternative during sub-zero temperatures.
Living aboard without a car reintroduced me to the bike and they are useful, energy saving tools, especially when speeding hot fish and chips back to the boat.
Storing them is always an issue and I have found folding bikes too small for my 6ft 2ins frame. Some hang them from adapted car bike carriers on the stern but I have ended up using the roof.
If you are over the ever-retreating pension age you can get a bus pass and that means no car is really necessary unless you need it for work. Even without free bus travel the public transport system is often a useable alternative.
Most boaters use gas, for cooking but Calor and others have been steadily pushing prices ever upwards so it makes sense to use alternatives and during the winter the multi-fuel stove can save a lot of gas.
We use ours to bake potatoes (in tinfoil in the fire compartment or ash tray) as well as one-pot stews, casseroles and even for steaming a steak and kidney pudding.
Since we succumbed and had a multifuel stove installed three years ago we would not go back.

There is no doubt that the various form of diesel heating systems are the cleanest way of keeping your boat clean and warm and we used them for several years on the basis that a multi-fuel stove was dusty and dirty.
Since we succumbed and had a multi-fuel stove installed three years ago we would not go back.
Yes it is dusty, but you are never cold even when it is minus ten degrees outside, the eco-fan carries the warm air the length of the boat and kettles on the top provide most of our hot water as well as a place to cook.
We tend to use coal but many use little but wood picked up along the towpath – and that means free heat and a much better carbon footprint.
In the summer months the stove goes out and we rely on gas and barbecues for cooking.
Using a pressure cooker speeds up cooking and saves gas.
Solar power may not be the best way of powering a boat year round but it does make a reasonable investment if you want to minimise the length of time you are running your engine. Our four 80watt panels cost around £800 with a regulator, were relatively simple to install and will, I reckon, have paid for themselves within two years at current diesel prices.
They are clearly most useful in summer when we can sit for two weeks without needing a charge from the engine, but even in winter they add to the batteries.
Others use wind power, at about the same investment, but it does not suit most people who move around the country.
Growing your own food is not impossible on a boat but it will usually be salad stuff in boxes or pots.
Tomatoes, lettuces and spring onions can be sown in succession and I always have a small herb garden in pots.
The top of the boat is home to salad crops, flowers and a bike as well a solar panels

There are alternatives to commercially available chemical cleaners and the Low Impact site suggest that vinyl floors can be mopped with warm soapy water using washing soda if greasy.
Carpets and rugs should be ideally taken outside and beaten, otherwise a stiff brush is good. Car vacuum cleaners are generally unimpressive.
For washing carpets, use water with washing up liquid, or sprinkle with bicarbonate of soda and leave for two hours or longer, then vacuum off.
On wood use linseed oil or Osmo Polyx oil on floors and for furniture and for stains elsewhere use washing up liquid or white distilled vinegar in boiling water. For mud, blood, or coffee, mix one part of borax with eight parts of water, or use washing soda dissolved in water.
On windows use equal parts of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle; spray on and polish off with a soft cloth and if your sink drain hose goes straight outside just pour some boiling water down it.
For washing dishes there are plenty of eco-products now available and bicarbonate of soda, or washing up liquid will clean ovens.
When it comes to stoves, you can clean your chimney from above with a chain and clean glass on a burner with wood ash and a damp towel. 
There are alternatives to electric lighting, although most are not really adequate to read comfortably. Oil and candles are used by many boaters, but beware to obvious fire hazards.
If you are going to use electricity LEDs provide the lowest power use but they are expensive to buy. Fluorescents are next best and ordinary or halogen bulbs will drain the batteries fastest.
Finally we come to the final and unavoidable topic of toilets. I don’t want to get in to the cassette versus pump-out debate – I merely point out that cassettes are free to empty.
There are some people who use composting toilets but my experience of them is limited to one which used to frequent a canal we were using and which became known as ‘the smelly boat’.
Both pump-outs and cassettes normally use chemical ‘blue’ to break down the solids and improve the smell. It is somewhat unpleasant and expensive.
I can vouch for one alternative which came from the Low Impact site – and that is using brewer’s yeast.
I know of people who have had problems using this when switching from ‘blue’ but if you start with a new tank or cassette it works well all through the year. It is best to leave a cassette for a day or two to break down the solids but the smell is no worse than with ‘blue’ and it costs a fraction of the price with 1,000 tablets selling for around £5 and four going into each cassette.

Monday, 21 February 2011

What will it cost to live afloat?

A look at the costs of living afloat, from the cheapest to the most expensive options, and how they compare with life on land.

Mooring all year round will just about double your 
liveaboard costs.
Compare and contrast

Ask most liveaboard boaters and they will tell you that it is certainly cheaper than living on land – but is it really?
The answer depends on many factors but it is true to say that it can be. Clearly costs will vary depending on whether you are a single person, a couple or a family but, for the sake of simplicity, let’s look at a couple over 60, living on board a 60ft narrowboat on the canal system who have paid £40,000 for their vessel.
The best estimate we have of such a pair living on shore comes from a recent survey from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which estimated that they would need £265.92 a week to live a reasonable lifestyle. That included £60.65 on food and drink; £9.93 on clothes and shoes; £103.64 on housing costs; £20.20 for household goods and services (everything from tea towels to furniture, microwaves to tin openers); £23.65 on personal goods and services such as medical items, £4.65 on transport and £43.21 on social and cultural activities including holidays and TV licences and subscriptions.
If the same couple were living on a boat many of those costs remain the same, so the area of contrast is with the housing cost of £103.64 a week – a fairly modest figure as it assumes rental of a two-bed council flat, along with council tax, fuel for heating and some decorating.

There are going to be repairs to be made and diesel to buy.
How will you afford it?

On a boat the main cost is the purchase of the vessel itself and, if you have to borrow the money on a boat mortgage that can be substantial. Borrowing a whole £40,000 on a 10 year personal loan would mean forking out £527.16 a month or £121.60 a week – but that assumes that you have a house to provide security and are willing to pay an eye-watering typical APR of 11.4 per cent.
A boat mortgage, using someone like Barclays or Collidge & Partners, is secured on the vessel. Most lenders will only finance a live aboard mortgage for boats in excess of £43,000 and this allows the lender to provide a £30,000 loan with a 30 per cent deposit for the remainder.
Since the bankers made a mess of everything lenders are now much more reluctant to hand over any cash unless you have a spotless credit history and even then they insist on high interest rates and lots of security.
Barclays need confirmation that you have permanent moorings for at least 12 months but will lend up to 80 per cent of the valuation or cost of the vessel.
Lenders will not risk lending on sea-faring vessels whose owners could disappear abroad
Mortgage terms can be from two to 15 years, with 10 years being typical. Interest rates are not disclosed up front by any of the firms offering boat mortgages as they tend to vary based on your personal credit history and the nervousness of the banker providing the cash.
Collidge & Partners say their minimum loan amount is £5,000 but they too insist on a maximum loan amount of 80 per cent of the cost of the vessel. The loan is secured against the boat in the form of Chattel Mortgage.
As the costs of buying vary so much it is difficult to make a comparison – but anyone contemplating the step will know what they currently pay in rent or mortgage and what buying a boat will cost them, so the comparison is simple enough for individuals.

If you have more disposable income there are plenty
of temptations, like The Swan at Fradley Junction
Other overheads

Unless you have a proper residential berth agreed with the local council and not moveable, you need not pay council tax – although it may be a battle in some marinas to argue that out with the local authority. If you win, or if you are continuously cruising, you are saving around £17 a week.
You have to be insured, of course and you can get basic insurance on a 60ft boat worth £40,000 for around £170 a year but many insurers will charge more for liveaboard boats. Basic third party cover for those who like a gamble with their investment costs from around £70. On the other hand, proper residential boat cover, with a decent amount of contents cover can cost you around £350 with a broker like Towergate Mardon.
Then you need a licence. If you just plan to use the British Waterways canal system a basic licence for a 60 ft boat will set you back £821.59, although this will rise to £863.49 after a 5.1 per cent increase after April. Pay it all at once and those figures are £739.43 rising to £777.14 after April.
If you want a Gold Licence which enables you to use BW and Environment Agency waterways the 2011 price is £1,027 if you pay it all at once or £1,104 for direct debit payments. All these figures are for a 60ft narrowboat.
Then there are your other running costs. Diesel is what will generate your electricity and how much you use depends on how far you travel, the time of the year and what demands you have for electronic bits and pieces such as TV, washing machines and vacuum cleaners.
A good bank of solar panels will save you a lot but as a general gauge a boat moving around the system with a fairly small engine and making the most of the concession of only paying the basic price for diesel not used for propulsion will probably spent about £600-800 a year.
Whether your boat is new or old there will always be running costs, engineers, spare parts etc and an £80 subscription to an organisation like River Canal Rescue will ease those costs as call-out charges are often high. I would allow that plus another £200 or so for spares etc and £150 for an annual engine service.
Finally there are the other ongoing costs. You need to have the boat’s bottom blacked every couple of years – somewhere around £600-700. You will need a Boat Safety Certificate every four years at a cost or around £130-150 and every ten years you may well need a complete repaint at between £3,000 and £8,000, depending on your requirements (and wallet).
Taking average figures and excluding both the painting and the cost of any finance to buy the boat I reckon that works out at around £50 a week – or about half what housing costs that couple living in a council flat.

How much fuel you use depends on the weather
conditions and the time of year
Not moving costs money too
Of course, if you moor in a marina all year that changes the picture with fees for a residential boat ranging from around £2,500 in the midlands and north to two or three times that in London. That puts at least another £48 a week on the cost and puts you back on a par with the couple in the council flat. The same is broadly true of a British Waterways residential mooring as they are now so rare that they fetch silly prices in the online auctions.
Heating costs are a bit cheaper – averaging £10 a week for the couple in the flat and, if you use a coal fire for, say, five months of the year burning two bags of coal a week at £8.50 a bag it works out at around £6.50 a week over the year. Gas costs will depend on your boat’s set up but reckon on around £5-10 a week.
All of which means you have a lot more disposable income to add to the £43 a week spent on ‘social and cultural’ items. On the canal that may possibly take the form of some of the delightful waterside watering holes.
Bottom of Form
MoreMore seriously, before you spend anything make sure that it is a way of life that suits you. Do your research, talk to friends who liveaboard, discuss the lifestyle well before committing your life savings

A floating home can be as fixed as a house – but it’s easier to move home

A look at where to moor -how to obtain a permanent mooring for your boat; where you should go to find out about moorings and how the costs can vary.

Space is not a premium these days
Supply and demand

Even just a year ago I would have advised any would-be liveaboard who wanted to stay in one area to find a mooring willing to accept them before even buying a boat. These days the position has changed somewhat, thanks to a combination of British Waterways’ successful efforts to encourage the building of more and bigger marinas, the continuing recession and uncertainty about the future of the waterways.
Until about the middle of last year those who set out to farm boats on various pieces of canalside land found their marinas filling swiftly and customers willing to pay substantial sums for leaving their boats for months at a time.
The result was that they were likely to turn their noses up at liveaboard boaters – and even if the marina owner actually wanted a proportion of residential boaters the planners were likely to turn down the idea.
Since then many more large marinas have opened whilst boat owners have begun feeling the pinch and become more likely to settle for a cheaper, bank side mooring from BW or a landowner. For leisure boaters the saving can be considerable, a thousand pounds a year or more. The result is lots of empty marina berths and plenty of opportunity to haggle.
All of which has made life a little easier for the liveaboard who wants a permanent or near permanent base and even marinas who would absolutely deny having ‘residential’ moorings somehow find space for a number of liveaboards by offering them ‘long-term’ moorings.

Signs of life aboard
How do you define a residential boat?

It is all a matter of definition, you see. Residential moorings are those with planning permission from the local authority and recognised as official locations for ‘dwellings’. British Waterways has a tiny handful of bank side residential in most of its regions, often with an electricity supply, and they are in still in such short supply that they invariably fetch well above the going rate in the notorious mooring auctions, going to those willing to pay the most ludicrous price rather than those in most need.
There are other recognised ‘residential’ berths within some marinas and often liveaboard boaters find themselves presented with a council tax bill if they are on an official ‘residential’ mooring.
If you end up in this situation take some advice from the Residential Boat Owners Association – it has fought several such cases and the current state of play, legally, seems to be that if the terms of your mooring specify that the owner of the site can move you around at will yours is not a fixed abode and therefore not liable for council tax.
Just how you define a liveaboard mooring if there is no planning permission depends on who is doing the defining.
Some marinas, British Waterways’ wholly owned marina company for one, will sell what are usually labelled Class A or Class One moorings, even premium berths, which give the boat owner the right to stay on their boat all year, or perhaps 11 months of the year. Sometimes they will include accepting your post in the price - and what a price, such berths often cost 50 per cent more than the standard berths even though they don’t have planning permission as official ‘residential’ berths.
Other marina owners take a more relaxed view in order to keep their berths occupied.
They know the value of having liveaboards on site, especially in winter when other trade falls off and will say – although not publicly – that most boat owners take their boats out cruising a few weeks of the year so they are clearly not living at the marina and if they chose to spend the rest of their time on their boat, rather than at whatever address they have for them, that is nothing to do with the marina.
Often they won’t accept boaters’ post, arguing that is proof that their customers don’t live there and have another address.
Of course they also actively encourage ‘winter moorers’ from amongst the cruising liveaboard community, who buy fuel, coal and gas as well as pay fees.
One other source of moorings is a boat club but most club moorings, won't allow liveaboards to moor - although there are exceptions. 

When is a towpath mooring a residential mooring?
Playing by the rules?

BW is equally ambivalent. In some areas such as the Grand Union south of Milton Keynes it has residential houseboat moorings, residential moorings and long-term moorings.
Even a casual passer-by can see that most of the ‘long-term’ moorings are occupied by those who live on their boats. The difference between the categories would seem to be that, if anyone complained, BW would have more chance of bringing pressure to bear on those on ‘long-term’ mooring sites. Mooring terms often say the site is not to be used by those whose boat is their main residence but such clauses are rarely enforced even where BW officials are much more hard line. On the Peak Forest canal they made a concerted attempt to force liveaboard moorers off long-term moorings, using new local terms and conditions to make life difficult, with petty rules about TV aerials.
In any event, that is not the biggest problem, especially as BW’s business gets a very healthy income from all London region mooring fees as auctions push prices up and up.
Partly as a result of rising prices in London and other major cities, with marina and residential moorings fetching anything up to £6,000 a year, there are hundreds of liveaboard moorers who opt to pay nothing at all, simply moving from one small section of canal to the next when sufficiently harassed by BW’s enforcement teams – and moving back again when the same problem crops up at the second mooring site.
It also has to be said that there are some leisure boat owners who leave their boats at visitor moorings and visit them every 14 days to move them to the next mooring rather than pay for a mooring.

Peace of mind comes with cash

In the end, for the liveaboard who needs a permanent base because of work or family commitments, it comes down to two questions – how deep are your pockets and how much stress are you willing to tolerate?
If you have the money, then life is fairly simple. You find a marina that suits your needs, or a bank side mooring for which you are willing to pay whatever it takes, and you simply pay up.
If you have the cash you can find either an official or unofficial ‘residential’ mooring where your ability to pay will shield you from any hassle and you can carry on your life afloat much as you would if you were based on land.
If you don’t have the same level resources, and a lot of liveaboards are on fixed incomes, you can opt for a somewhat more precarious location by becoming a hidden liveaboard in a tolerant marina or buying the right to a bit of bank in BW’s auctions without declaring you will live there.
You are not quite so safe as your wealthier cousin, but no boater really has security of tenure on a mooring and BW is still pursuing its campaign of herding as many boats as possible into marinas so that those in a hurry don’t have to slow down past on-line moorings.
If you are willing to live a life of stress you can take your chances as a continuous moorer, shifting just far enough to pacify BW’s enforcement officers and staying as long as their lack of staff and powers will allow. It may not be comfortable but it may also be the only option for those without the financial resources to pay-up – and it is my belief that we will see a lot more of it as the Government slashes housing benefit and more people are forced to look for the cheapest accommodation available.

Always another lock – the joys of keeping on the move

Always another lock
Why you might be attracted to the water by the nomadic lifestyle, cruising from place to place. What are the benefits and pitfalls?


There are some people, lots of them, who live on a boat and never want to move. Others may be unable to stray far from wherever they have a job or a family – but for many liveaboards being able to go ‘on tour’ for at least a substantial part of the year is a vital part of charm of the lifestyle.
As you cast off you are about to become a water gypsy, someone with a nomadic lifestyle as the dictionary puts it.
Personally I revel in the idea of being different and outside the normal tedious regulations of land-based life.
Despite the frustrations and the annoyances, from supercilious boaters to suspicious BW officials, the life of a continuous cruiser is largely free from stress.
Most of the time is spent exploring new, or old, places; enjoying nature in an up-close and personal way or meeting wonderful people in unexpected places and circumstances.
Some personal highlights of this year alone have been getting together with old friends at boating festivals on the Grand Union and making some wonderful new friends as we travelled together.
Fishing Kingfisher
I have sat on my cruiser stern watching a Kingfisher plucking small fry from the Shropshire Union above Adderley locks and gazed with admiration at the high shapes of soaring pairs of buzzards as I puttered along the North Oxford.
I have been soaked to the skin through several, supposedly waterproof, layers of clothing and burned to a sort of semi-permanent ruddiness by baking sun and brisk winds.
Much of my itinerant life is outdoors and that satisfies the country lad inside me. It is seven years now that I have lived afloat, but I am still learning the best way to get the most from a fabulous lifestyle. Over those years I have been slowly learning not to be stressed, even by the inconsiderate, the bigoted and the arrogant of both water and land.

 Water Gypsies?

For us the term water gypsy is a romantic way of describing our lifestyle but gipsies are different and there are some who choose to use it as a term of abuse.
I have to say that both British Waterways and some leisure boaters are, at best, ambivalent about those of us who live afloat - and especially those of us that use the canal system all year round.
Every now and again BW floats the idea of charging continuous cruisers a premium on the basis that they use the system more – only to be ridiculed by those who point out that the system should be accessible to everyone year round and that the slow and relaxed travelling pace of the liveaboard is far less damaging to canal banks and locks than the private leisure boats, share boats and hire boats determined to rush around a ring or a route to a fixed schedule.
I make the point simply because the experience of most liveaboards is that they are envied by the majority of other boaters but regarded as second-class citizens by a few.
Earlier this year Rex Walden, Chair of the excellent Residential Boat Owners Association (RBOA) – which I would urge every liveaboard to join – said: “We need to steer away from the view that (the waterways are) a playground for well heeled retired folk, or a paradise for dropouts.”
In doing so he touched on that ambivalence about liveaboards. Anyone who travels our system will have come across both the well-heeled in new boats who have decided to spend summers living afloat whilst retreating in winter to their villa in some country with more sunshine.
Equally there are a substantial number of people, sometimes families with young children, living on older boats whilst they attempt to improve or upgrade them.
Most of us fall somewhere between the two but we get the best out of our travels by being tolerant and accepting all the varied lifestyles of those who live on our waterways. As a result I have met some fascinating people with tales to tell that go far beyond their appearance – or that of their vessel!

Some wonderful country moorings
Tying up

We will deal with permanent moorings next month but those who decide to cruise the system still have to deal with the issue of moorings in various ways.
There is the question of how long you want to stay in one place before moving on. For most of us that will vary – you may want two or three weeks in London to see all the sights, but only a couple of hours outside a convenient canalside supermarket.
Whatever your needs, you are likely to have to deal with the issue of enforcement of the moorings rules at particular sites.
Despite BW’s national remit the reality on the bank is that there are no hard and fast rules and methods that apply across the country.
Increasingly in the southern part of the country you are likely to come across the ‘mooring warden’ – boater who has been given official permission to set up a permanent mooring and is paid by BW to ensure that everyone else sticks to the rules.
But what rules? In London and the South East it is common to see mooring signs that say you can only moor for 14 days in any one year. Yet the practise is very different. Talk to the mooring wardens in London and even the BW enforcement officers and they will tell you that boats are allowed to stay the full official time but can return after a month or two to the same spot.
There are also much more tolerant rules on how far a continuous cruiser must move and in London it suffices to shift along to the next mooring spot. The result is that some boaters can live on the water in the capital by moving between three or four moorings within a short stretch.
North of Braunston I have not come across mooring wardens, but BW officials are much keener to enforce the rules, insisting continuous cruisers move substantial distances and don’t come back for much longer periods of time.
At least that seems to apply to most boats. Almost everywhere you will come across boats that seem immune to the rules, whatever they are. At any popular mooring spot on the system it is probable that the local moorers will tell you of boats that are on ‘visitor’ moorings but have been allowed to stay there for months or even years without action.
BW is currently intent on setting up localised mooring regulations in consultation with local people. I suspect the result will be more very short-term moorings designed for the hire-boater and holidaymaker, pushing continuous cruisers out to the periphery.
The irony is that BW is currently on difficult legal ground in enforcing any time limit shorter than the universal 14 day restriction and it doesn’t have the staff to police those mooring limits it advertises.
Then comes the winter and the question of whether you should tie up in one place or keep moving. The great boom in marina building has meant lots of spaces and most marinas are keen to take your money for a winter mooring. You may well pay £200 plus a month for a 60ft boat but it is well worth haggling as there are lots of empty berths.
But months spent gazing at other boats within a foot or two of your windows or portholes is too much for many of the free spirits who live afloat – even if it comes with an electrical hook-up.
They would prefer to be on the bank, but even there BW is keen to make some extra money and keep those pesky boats from moving about.
I have never understood how BW can justify charging nearly £200 a month in some locations for the privilege of mooring on visitor moorings, sometimes without even a water supply or facility block within miles.
Many liveaboard boaters get quite upset with those who agree to pay up for the sake of being able to stop in one place. That makes it difficult for the rest, they argue, and enables BW to, in effect, penalise continuous cruisers for not moving at a time when getting around the system is next to impossible because of winter stoppages.
Whatever the rights and wrongs it certainly seems greedy to charge nearly the same as a marina berth and offer nothing in return.


Home is where you tie up
Living afloat without a permanent mooring is not difficult until you come into contact with officialdom.
Dealing with the NHS is an issue for many and some simply hang on to the GP they last had when living ashore, even if it means travelling hundreds of miles. Even if you have a GP on shore it can be difficult getting prescriptions from them.
It is always possible to go to the nearest GP with a copy of your repeat prescription, sign in as a temporary patient and ask them to issue a new one. The same applies if you are sick or injured.
If you are on the move and don’t have a shore base it is probably sensible to register with a GP in a town where you have easy access from the canal system and in an area where you are most likely to be over winter.
Most flexible NHS practises will allow you to register using a post restante address of a Post Office in their area – although it is best to explain that you live on a boat and ask if they could phone you with anything urgent. If you are really lucky you will get one like ours who will allow you to send them a stamped and addressed envelope with a repeat prescription. That way it can be returned to the nearest Post Office wherever you may be.
If you want a bus pass life gets more complicated – you need an address you see. One way is to go into the local council and ask. I found one that was particularly helpful. They explained that I needed to be on the electoral register to get a bus pass.
I was then sent to meet two embarrassed ladies in the electoral register office who explained that although they knew we lived on a boat the only way they could put us on the register was if we declared ourselves officially homeless and stated that we had ‘link’ with the local area. 
I think they expected us to be offended but we are accustomed to such nonsense and signed the official form, giving the local Post Office as our post restante address.
Once on the register I could apply and the pass was in my hands a couple of weeks later. There are usually ways around the system and my advice is to be open and honest with officials, try to see them in person and be ready for the idiotic rules that are only geared up to deal with land-dwellers.

Living afloat - it is the lifestyle for you?

THERE are now an estimated 31,000 boats on our canals - more than at the height of the industrial revolution and one in six of them may be using their boat as their home.
If we average out the estimates of liveaboards, add a pinch of salt and divide by two or three for the number of boats - then at least five thousand of those 30,000 plus boats are homes for people who have abandoned dry land for a better quality of life on board a boat - and many more are considering it.
Our six years of living on board has shown us that boats have become a refuge for divorced people with too little cash to buy another house; older people wanting to be rid of their mortgage and youngsters looking for cheap accommodation – as well as canal fanatics who wouldn’t live anywhere else.
Different boats for different folks
Many of them come to a life afloat with no experience of the waterways at all – a trend likely to increase in these hard economic times.
And it is not just existing boaters who dream the dream – we are regularly buttonholed on the towpath by people walking by asking about the possibilities.
Living on a canal boat can seem to be a very pleasant existence as you pass brightly painted cosy craft tied up in alongside sunny country fields or in handy, friendly, city centre marinas.
So who wants to live on a canal boat?
 Retired people wanting to see the country, who sell the house, buy a boat and invest the rest.
 People opting out of the rat race, especially if they can work from home.
 Anyone wanting budget accommodation in an expensive area.
 People who just like canals.
 Overseas visitors wanting an economical extended tour of the real UK.
 Anyone wanting or needing to be mobile.
Last August British Waterways and the Residential Boat Owners' Association launched a survey to determine what boaters would like from their residential moorings – the answer being many more of them.
Every hire-boater and leisure boater will have wondered whether or not they could live on board a boat at some stage, quite apart from those who come to it as cheap housing.
Life in a marina

My aim  is to help them come to that decision with their eyes open and some knowledge of issues and pitfalls that lie ahead.
To begin with, that means asking the most basic question of all – is it for you?
Most of us are not accustomed to the restrictions of life on the water so we need to look at the downside - from confined spaces and limited storage space to the simple fact that it moves around as you walk about inside – as well as the dream of floating along on sunny days through the best of British countryside.
The reality is that, in a metal box probably 60ft long by seven wide and seven high, there is never going to be space for the grand piano or granny’s oil painting and if you thought downsizing from a house to a flat was traumatic doing the same for a boat may well bring on palpitations amongst the acquisitive.
There are, of course, halfway houses. You could opt for a wide-beam vessel and if you are simply looking for a home and not planning to travel much that would double the space to something like a compact apartment.
You would have to decide whether you are a Northerner or Southerner at heart, of course as there is no wide canal link between the waterways of Lancashire and Yorkshire and the broad waterways of the southern counties – at least none that doesn’t involve a sea passage.
Equally you could live on an even larger vessel if you are happy to moor on a suitable river – but then we move away having access to the real inland waterways.
The price you pay for space is higher mooring fees, double in some marinas if you live on a wide beam vessel, and often higher still in marinas with sea access where the well-heeled moor their ocean-going yachts.
But if you want to live on board a boat that enables you to travel all Britain’s connected waterways it means a vessel that measures at most 62ft long with a beam of 6ft 10ins.
Inside that elongated cube you have to fit all your possessions, the essential facilities for cooking, washing and sleeping as well as yourselves and your possessions.
On a more basic level you have to be prepared to bring on board all your water and to generate your own electricity. You also have to be prepared to dispose of all your waste – and that includes the contents of the loo.
This is a lifestyle that brings you hard up against the realities of live without the hidden comforts provided by the piped water, gas, electricity, sewage and other facilities most modern householders take for granted. You really are totally aware of what you consume and where your waste goes.
Some people can do it some can’t take the confinement in the longer term. If you are lucky enough to be living on board as a couple or even a family the available space has to be divided up still further – and you have to be really comfortable about spending a lot of time in a small space with the people you love.
It helps tremendously if both parts of a partnership are genuinely of the same mind about living on board – anyone whose partner is merely trying to please by agreeing to a water-borne life is kidding themselves that it will be all right in the end. It is more likely to result in a split or a move back ashore – and sooner rather than later.
When you are deciding whether this is the life for you bear in mind that the places where you can live as a residential boater are also limited.
Some marinas are more interesting than others

The marinas that will take static residential boats on a long term basis are often those on the edge of industrialised urban areas, such as the outskirts of Manchester, Leicester or Leeds.
As soon as marinas are able to label a city centre mooring as residential the price often goes through the roof with British Waterways seeking nearly twice the normal rate for such moorings in the centre of Leeds, and London prices topping £5,000 a year.
The other option is to travel, at least for the months the system is fully open, perhaps finding a winter mooring for the coldest months – but there are a limited number of people who can manage their work or personal life to fit such a lifestyle.
Of course if economic reasons, rather than a love of boats and the waterways, are behind your reasons for living on board, then you will have to either pay the price of a residential marina berth – if you can find one – or opt to play hide and seek with British Waterways’ enforcers who will be trying to see you don’t over-stay in any one spot.
I know people who appear to be immune to the rules and those who abide by them religiously, but trying to run a normal working life, including owning a car, is massively complicated if you don’t have a long-term mooring.
In my experience it is only those with a history of boat ownership or hiring who take all these things into account before they take the plunge of moving on board a boat, so I would strongly advise anyone to spend at least a week or two working a boat before taking the plunge.
Living on a British Waterways Marinas’ establishment in Lancashire a few years ago I saw several newly-divorced men arriving, often to buy new boats as cheap homes with their share of the equity.
Some found a new interest and took their floating life to heart, taking courses on steering their new vessel, exploring the local canals, and planning longer trips when they had the time.
Others never moved their boats and even let the paintwork rust a flake away while they used the boat just as a place to eat and sleep when not at work. To me they seemed to have sad, limited lives because they simply saw their boat as a cheap place to live.
And sometimes the sheer ignorance of the new live-aboard is breath-taking. One lady, who had recently moved on to her boat saw one of the marinas’ regulars filling up with water.
“Why are you doing that?” she asked and he explained that he filled his water tank every few days.
“I’m lucky,” she told him. “I have water taps on all my sinks and I just use them.”
Finally you shouldn’t let sentiment and any kind of romantic notion about what living on a boat would be like influence your decision when choosing the right boat to buy and we will be dealing with that question next time.