As a fairly new boater with only two years under my windlass and smarting from some of the reactions to my latest post, I’d like to make a disclaimer: I am not by any means a canal or boat expert and the majority of my blogs are roughly 12% serious. 14% on a day when something’s made me grumpy.
That being said, today I am going to offer MY UNDERSTANDING of the CCer crisis as it currently stands based on MY EXPERIENCES. Please disregard the lot as soon as you’ve finished reading it. (No, not yet.)
(I’ll tell you when).
We recently watched the insightful Off The Cut by Wendy Zakiewicz. It’s a documentary film about what it’s like to be a ‘Continuous Cruiser’ or ‘A Boater without a Home Mooring’ or ‘Definitely the Best Sort of Boater You Can Be’ or whatever you choose to call us.
Here is the film (you can watch it now, I’ll wait.):
If you don’t want to watch the film or you can’t currently watch the film because you’re reading this blog at work (I like your style) then I’ll try to cram a very huge and complicated issue into a very small nutshell.
Haha Austin… anyway… what?
Oh yes, so, Off The Cut is a pretty accurate, heartfelt account of what it’s like to be a Continuous Cruiser. For those of you unfamiliar with the rules surrounding our way of life, the waterways are looked after/RULED OVER WITH AN IRON FIST (depending on your opinion) by CRT – Canal & River Trust – a charity designed to oversee the likes of lock fixing, dredging, taking away the homes of children, and towpath maintenance.
To be allowed to live on a boat as a Continuous Cruiser, you have to pay for a CRT licence. This entitles you to keep your boat on CRT waters, use facilities, live with the constant threat of your home being taken away, and have a cool key on a cork!
To receive your licence (and to have it renewed on a yearly basis), you must comply with certain rules as set out in the British Waterways Act 1995:
[to satisfy] the Board that the vessel to which the application relates will be used bona fide for navigation throughout the period for which the consent is valid without remaining continuously in any one place for more than 14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances.
A failure to comply with these rules will result in your licence being taken off you or not being renewed when your current licence runs out. Which means you will be issued with a Section 8: After giving at least 28 days notice, to remove a craft which is sunk, stranded, abandoned or unlawfully moored on the Trust’s waterways
…or a Section 13 (I think?): the British Waterways Act 1971 states that it is unlawful to moor or keep any houseboat (defined mainly as any vessel not used for navigation) on the Trust’s waterways without a valid licence. It further gives the Trust the power to remove or (ultimately) demolish a houseboat if, following proper notice, the owner does not first remove it.)
The problem with the act is that it doesn’t specify… well, anything really. It doesn’t specify what a place is or what ‘bona fide navigation’ means or what sort of circumstances make overstaying reasonable or why geese eat my blacking or why Pickett’s Lock always makes me crash my boat or why cyclists suck.
Thus, as #LawInspo for the CRT license terms, it’s not particularly useful.
Or at least it was completely fine until canal living became hugely popular and CRT suddenly found loads of dirty boaters clogging up its canals and demanding more of the basic facilities they needed to live (like water and somewhere to empty your poo) and CRT had to begin making the rules the hell up in an effort to get rid of all the boaters who weren’t neatly hidden away in marinas so that they could go back to spending their money on duck graffiti.
Or, until a charity designed to cut weeds and fix big wooden floaty doors found itself at the eye of a government-created housing storm and did what it had to do to save the poor waterways from a new breed of ukulele-toting millenials who infest Broadway Market and poo in the canal.
Depending on your opinion.
To put an end to the confusion, CRT now state Clearly and Finitely that:
- a CCer must move to a new place every 14 days
- a ‘place’ = somewhere CRT made up on a map
- ‘bona fide navigation’ means not returning to a place you were just at. Or the place you were at before that place. Or shuffling between a few places. Even though those would be different places in accordance with the British Waterways Act? Yes, look could you just keep travelling in a straight line until you hit the sea and then you can turn around. Except maybe don’t turn round even then. Maybe go in the sea. Yes it’s best if you were all in the sea.
- You have to cover around 20 miles during the license period.
- Where did that come from?
- I can’t see that anywhere in the Act.
- What does around 20 miles mean?
- Like 20 miles in one direction or 20 miles and back again?
- I dunno, just like… around 20 miles.
- Around?? Is 10 miles enough?
- 15 miles?
- Maybe?? You’re going to take away my boat if I don’t go far enough so how far is far enough?
- Look at this duck graffiti! So viral.
So you see, a lack of clarity is the problem. CRT cannot be more specific about the rules because the Waterways Act isn’t more specific about the rules and CRT is a charity without the legal standing to create new legislation and enforce it by law ( I have no idea if I explained that right. I’m just paraphrasing the script of Silk.) (How good was Silk??) (I loved Maxine Peake in Silk).
On the other hand, some of the boaters camp argue that murky law is our friend.
(Murky law, not Murphy’s Law).
They argue that, because the official laws are so vague, CRT can’t actually enforce any of its rules and we can all get away with doing whatever we want as long as we all just shut up and put down that ukulele. Pushing CRT (and perhaps, eventually, government) for more definite rules might result in new laws being created that make our way of life even harder. Where our boats will be tracked by GCHQ and any boat travelling just 19.9 miles during its licence period will automatically explode.
That all being laid out, it’s time for me to confess.
I am one half of a boating couple in our 20s. We moved onto a boat in London (BOATING PROBLEM AREA #1) because we couldn’t afford to live in the city any other way. During our first year, we even RENTED.
According to many people on both sides of the debate, we are The Problem.
I even look exactly like what happens when you type “hipster girl” into Google Images.
So let me give you an insight into life as The Problem.
We moved onto the canals at the beginning of 2013. We started out knowing nothing and making all sorts of mistakes just like ANYONE ELSE DOING ANYTHING EVER. As we got more used to life on the canal, we took the time to learn about its history and about the rules, we found out that renting was a bit of an issue so we used our savings to buy our own boat (although I have to say we were very lucky with our waterlords who were nice and reasonable and took care of us. This is all I will say on renting because I don’t know how many contentious issues I dare to fit in one post).
In our rental year, we asked our waterlords to let us leave London and travel up the Grand Union, which we fell in love with. Over the past year on our own boat we have travelled to Oxford and back and are currently travelling up the River Lea heading for first the Stort and then Hertford, even though we both have work that requires us to be in London on some days (thankfully not every day, we are luckier than others with 9-5 jobs).
Not asking for a pat on the back or anything, just stating that this is the case for most of the Continuous Cruisers we have met – just normal people trying their best to live a certain way of life and trying to live it within some pretty changeable rules. I’m sure there are overstayers and poo-in-canalers but I haven’t met any and I certainly haven’t witnessed anything like the extent of problem boats CRT (and some other boaters) claim to exist. In fact, apart from the congestion in London, the only problems we’ve faced are a lack of boater facilities and the unpleasant sensation of being constantly watched by CRT.
Over the past few years we have experienced:
- Having to risk mice and other pests by storing our rubbish on the roof or in the gas locker for days because there are no bin facilities nearby (where we are currently moored there is a big bin by a cafe with a sign that specifically says ‘No Boaters Rubbish’ or something to that effect, which makes me feel sad and rejected. By a bin.)
- Continuous texts and emails from CRT telling us to move on from an area during two separate occasions when I had notified them that we had first an engine problem and then a gas leak.
- CRT Volunteers (who walk the canals checking people’s license numbers to make sure they’re not overstaying) banging on our doors – and I mean banging like “STASI! OPEN UP!” – because they couldn’t read our brass licence plate (Landlubbers: This is akin to the police banging on your door once a week and asking to see your council tax information).
- Having to pretty much cross my legs and wash with baby wipes for the time we were stuck in Berkhamsted with engine failure because one water point was broken (and never fixed the whole time we were there), one Elsan point was blocked and had started overflowing into the canal, and the other Elsan was an hour away on foot or by boat (and was locked when we got there.)
- Wanting to visit Oxford but finding the moorings all ’24hrs only’ so having to retreat to Kidlington if we wanted to actually settle somewhere for our LEGALLY ALLOWED two weeks (there’s talk of doing this in more areas now, Berkhamsted included, making yet more ‘places’ unlivable for Continuous Cruisers).
This is just a small amount of the difficulties that we’ve come across as Continuous Cruisers and they are ongoing. We’ve currently come up the Lea because we a) really like Hertford and b) want to fulfil the terms of our licence but there is nowhere to empty our toilet within an hour’s radius of where we are currently moored. We are also two able-bodied people who are lucky enough to work from the boat for the majority of the time meaning we don’t need to be tied to one place. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for the disabled or ill or those with children of school age who are no longer allowed to cruise within a commutable distance to their school.
People who don’t like Continuous Cruisers (or who are smug CCers themselves) argue that there are plenty of facilities if you just move far enough to find them. Well we’re movin’ and facilities we ain’t seein’. They also say that, if you can’t comply with the rules, you shouldn’t move onto a boat. Which is fine until the rules change so often that you don’t know whether you can comply with them or not from one year to the next. It’s not like you can be happily working, child-rearing and doing an acceptable cruising pattern around your desired location, only to read that the CC rules have changed and then suddenly have enough money to move into a house near your job or child’s school. It is hard not to feel like Continuous Cruisers are having their lives deliberately made harder in order to drive them out, either into CRT-owned marinas or off the canals completely to free up supposedly-protected land to sell off to developers. Either way, CRT stands to gain financially and the canals are kept ‘clean’, ‘tidy’ and ‘free of poor people’.
I don’t know what the solution to the busyness of the canals is, except to suggest that simply adding more facilities might help people spread out a bit more instead of clustering and shuffling around the places where they can find the things they need to, you know, live. As to CRT’s motives and financial dealings, I don’t know enough as yet to say what is truth and what is conspiracy theory. I only know that I don’t believe Continuous Cruisers are the problem we are made out to be and I increasingly suspect that we are simply subject to the same sort of prejudice as any sort of traveller has been since the dawn of time.
(You can disregard this all now).