From the Tiller

by Alan Wildman

RBOA policy has long been to promote, support and protect all compliant and responsible variations of residential boating. We continue to do so. Recently, after considerable debate, Officers and Committee issued a press release, available to view on our website, and on page 13 of this magazine, so as to stimulate debate on the requirements of the 1995 inland waterways legislation which requires craft without home moorings, whilst on CRT navigations, to move to a new place every 14 days, unless signage states otherwise, and to undertake bona fide navigation throughout the term of their licence agreement. The terms place and bona fide navigation, as many will already know, were deliberately left undefined so as to leave some flexibility in the legislation. As anticipated, our press release has generated a degree of controversy within a small sector of the boating community. So why, now, did we chose to go public in this way?

In the scheme of inland boating as a whole, residential boaters are in a minority. RBOA has worked consistently for over 50 years to generate acceptance and respect for those of us that choose to live afloat. Recent substantial increases in the numbers of craft without home moorings, not all used for sole residency but particularly those that appear not to move very far, is beginning to generate a great deal of ill feeling towards live-aboards from other waterway users. Canal & River Trust has to consider all users, when formulating its own policies and procedures. If the voices of discontent over the way some boaters behave become too loud, that could ultimately put at risk the very life style we work so hard to protect and enjoy.

If a solution to the present challenges of congestion at some locations is not found soon, it may prove too late. When the 1995 Waterways Act was being put together, some wanted a legal requirement for all craft to have a home mooring. The freedom to roam our waterways without the need to have such a home mooring, as enshrined in the Act, was a gift from Government. That gift must be respected and protected. As has been said before, just one individual enforcement case eventually escalating to a High Court, where a legal precedent might result, could see implications that suit none of us; and then, of course, there’s the possibility, albeit unlikely in the short term, that Government get involved again and primary legislation be created to take back all or part of the freedom that the 1995 Act bestowed upon us. Surely, therefore, it’s better for us to campaign for responsible living afloat and hopefully avoid the need for High Court or Central Government involvement.

RBOA has no desire to see anyone driven off the water. We wholly support, indeed we need, young boaters joining us. We respect the fact that boaters who genuinely and thoughtfully continuously cruise are a major benefit to the waterways and must not be penalised, financially or in any other way, for their chosen legitimate lifestyle. Surely though, it must be clear that the apparent desire by some boaters for a right to moor where they want, when they want, for as long as they want, is wholly unrealistic. Inland waters are a finite resource and must be managed as such for the good of all.

A close look at our press release will clarify that we are not asking CRT to set unrealistic cruising demands; we are indicating what sort of distances could be covered in a genuine bona fide navigational journey. Perhaps other, local/zoned, solutions may have to be found too. That’s for Navigation Authorities to consider. RBOA’s stance is that we believe those Navigation Authorities urgently need to give additional consideration to a fresh overall approach to the challenges faced.

We know that families can be raised and educated whilst living afloat without abuse to the requirement of bona fide navigation; we have members that have successfully done so. It’s not easy, but it can be done. We have continuously cruising members who have to get regular hospital access every few weeks. They prove it can be done compliantly. It’s hard but it can be done. We have members that hold down jobs but continuously and compliantly cruise. Again, it’s hard, but it can be done.

Whatever the ultimate response from the Navigation Authorities, one thing is clear. If we are to continue living, unchallenged, in our floating homes, we who do so must surely be seen to be respecting the wants and needs of other waterway users too.

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

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