From the Tiller

by Alan Wildman

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m sat here at the mooring, on nb Brambles, stove aglow with a nice piece of seasoned wood, a glass of something rather nice beside me and a blank computer screen in front of me.

So what’s to report? A good question, as things do tend to move so very slowly in our world of the waterways.

CRT is still working on its mooring strategy for London, an understandably major task if the result is to achieve as wide a level of acceptance as is desirable. Nonetheless, in the meantime, we witness increasingly high levels of occupancy at visitor and casual moorings throughout the CRT London Region, extending up the rivers Lee and Stort and up the Southern Grand Union Canal.

Ivor Caplan, RBOA Planning Officer, continues to work tirelessly with other long serving boater interests in trying to expand the available volume and range of “formal” residential moorings; as ever, a slow uphill struggle – much tougher than it should logically be, particularly when considering the present housing shortage in this country.

Beryl McDowall attends numerous meetings, as do we other RBOA Officers and Committee members, to add our voice and to keep residential boating firmly in focus for the various navigation authorities.

Rex Walden, a former RBOA Chairman, still our Area Representative on the non-tidal Thames and himself a continuous cruiser over there, has picked up a potentially “mucky stick” in that he has contracted to collect casual mooring fees on behalf of the Environment Agency on the upper Thames. Rex is doing this in his own right (nothing to do with his RBOA position) but he has chosen to do so rather than see the job done by a person or organisation with no knowledge or understanding of the challenges of boating, particularly residential boating, when constantly on the move.

CRT has recently announced a licence fee increase of 2.5% without any (to my knowledge) prior discussion with the major boaters’ organisations; the Middle Level Commissioners are seeking to change legislation to enable them to impose charges on boaters where, historically, no charges have been made; and other Navigation Authorities are racking up licence fees. Some continually appear to be unenthusiastic or even deliberately negative as far as residential moorings and live-aboard boaters are concerned.

We are advised that, as we move into 2017, CRT is carrying out a full review of its boat licensing policies and operation. What might that bring? CRT has assured us that boater views will be taken into consideration so we (RBOA) must keep fully engaged on that one.

With all the above in mind, and at the risk of being considered repetitive (This is my personal view, which I have expressed before), I really do believe that we residential boaters are still a hugely under-valued resource. We commit our lives to living afloat and to the very waters and infrastructure that we live upon. When financial times get tough and leisure boaters might be forced to leave the water to reduce their outgoings, we are still here. We pay our way, year in and year out, through good times and bad – so why aren’t we properly recognised for our commitment. Surely, such long term loyalty to the water and to the waterways ought to be respected and (perhaps financially) rewarded in some way… and what about continuous cruisers, never mind the sometimes heard suggestion that they should pay an increased licence fee because they use the network more? On the contrary, logically they should receive some type of reward based on the (longer) distances travelled – it’s they who keep the waterways alive during the “off” season, spending their cash with local businesses throughout the network, all year round. They help provide security and good advice to one another and to other towpath users, simply by being there; and it’s often they who spot problems with the network before the Navigation Authorities do, sometimes averting potentially major system failures. That’s clearly of priceless benefit to us all.

Of course, as the popularity of living afloat increases, we must show extra consideration to other boater groups. We shouldn’t block lock landings, utility points and/or visitor moorings. We must consider and give some mooring slack to facilitate leisure boaters and boating clubs’ cruise-out requirements for their away from base, short term, destinations. We should consider our land based neighbours by minimising the noise and smoke we might create when we moor close to their properties. We must think of others. But, that said, no one should forget that we who live afloat are fundamental to the very wellbeing of the waterways – most visitors to our rivers and canals love to see boats – and we are always here, summer and winter alike!

Surely, we must now make our collective voice heard more clearly than ever before and claim the respect we genuinely deserve – in the words of that famous advertising slogan – because we’re worth it!

As ever, my sincere and very best wishes go out to every one of you.

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