RBOA’s call for more movement rules for ‘continuous cruisers’ sails into a storm

Photo of continuously cruising boats

The Residential Boat Owners Association has sparked a war of words following its call for the Canal and River Trust to increase the distance that ‘continuous cruisers’ have to travel to “between 200 to 300 miles a year”.

In the new policy statement ‘Continuous Cruising - A New Approach from the RBOA’ released yesterday, Alan Wildman, Chair of the RBOA, also singled out London and Bath and said that he had heard “concerns” from his members about the “excessive number of boats (which) detracts from their visitor experience.”

“Irrespective of the uncertainty emanating from the 1995 Act, continuous cruising should apply to boaters who have a primary intent to cruise extensively around the inland waterways” said Alan Wildman.

“In most cases this will not be compatible with having lifestyle connections with one place - for example: education of children, employment or health needs,” he added.

The current Canal and River Trust guidance for ‘continuous cruisers’, or boats with no home mooring, currently says that boats need to travel ‘more than 20 miles a year’, move at least every 14 days and ‘not stay in one area too long’. CRT say that their guidance is a “lawful interpretation of the legislation.”

An increase from the current 20 miles to the RBOA’s call for a “progressive journey” of “between 200 to 300 miles” would devastate the current London boating population, of which around half have no home mooring and of which a majority have ties to London including jobs, children’s education, family ties and doctors and voting registration, according to last year’s CRT London boat use survey.

The RBOA statement goes on to claim that the rise in number of boats is a “threat” to all residential boaters and that the current British Waterways Act 1995 is inadequate to deal with this and that a “new approach” is needed by the Canal and River Trust and other navigation authorities.

Last year “just over four hundred” extra boats where spotted in the London region according to the CRT annual national boat count – a snapshot count that takes place on a single day in March every year. The most recent boat count figures have not yet been published by CRT this year, but LB News has heard a claim from London Waterways Project’s Lee Wilshire that CRT disclosed the figures at a recent ‘User Group’ meeting and that an extra 330 boats where spotted.

The RBOA statement ends with a call for more residential moorings and promises to continue to campaign for “responsible” boating.

“We believe that many such boaters would prefer the certainty of a permanent mooring if this was more readily available where required and at affordable prices,” states the RBOA.

The Canal and River Trust were approached by LB News but declined to comment on the RBOA statement.

The statement from the RBOA comes directly after the first phase of a CRT national licence review ended. The review was announced in a CRT press statement released on February 20th and the first phase was consultation with all the boating and canal related organisations and campaign groups, including the RBOA. The second phase of the consultation, CRT say, will include “boaters” and this will be covered by LB News next week.

Stella Ridgeway, Chair, and Mark Tizard, Vice Chair, of the National Association of Boat Owners, said that the RBOA had joined the Inland Waterways Association in calling for a range increase for boats with no home mooring, but that this could potentially cause legal problems if adopted by the Canal and River Trust.

“NABO remains of the belief that it is for CRT to define what constitutes 'bona fide' navigation from their perspective as the navigation authority further having defined it recently by granting (full) licences to (boaters) previously (given) restricted (licences), it is difficult for them to redefine it in line with the IWA/RBOA wishes,” they told LB News.

“We remain keen for CRT to enforce regular movement using its existing powers,” they added.

The powerful and influential Inland Waterways Association have submitted their current policy – available on their website - to the Trust’s national licence review which calls for the range requirement criteria of the current ‘continuous cruiser’ guidance to be increased to 100 miles, with a total distance travelled requirement of 300 miles, of which at least 60 miles must be covered in every quarter of the year.

The London branch of the National Bargee Traveller Association – which represents boats with no home moorings – reacted with fury to the IWA and the RBOA’s calls for a distance increase, telling LB News that it was in direct conflict with the current law and that the RBOA statement came from a “place of prejudice.”

The RBOA’s preference for a 200-300 mile distance comes from a place of prejudice,” said an NBTAL spokesperson.

“Prejudice against working people who are travelling boaters; against bargee traveller families; and boaters who are physically or mentally ill, as opposed to those boaters who use the waterways as a place for their hobbies or leisure who may have a boat as a second home. The waterways are a place for a range of people and they are not just for a certain kind of person,” they added.

“The RBOA’s statement talks of London (and Bath) having too many boats; and a dislike of boats without home moorings 'with having lifestyle connections with one place – for example: education of children, employment or health needs'. This is very telling of the intentions for their envisioned rules. Their intentions are to get rid of a sizeable part of the boaters without home mooring community.”

“RBOA seems to have no interest in the law, not just the 1995 Act but the Equality Act 2010. The Equality Act 2010 states that equality adjustment should be made by bodies as such as CRT for people with health needs in order to address unequal opportunity. To demand that all waterway authorities should act against people without home moorings that need to be in a certain area because of health needs is a demand that waterway authorities should break the law under the Equality Act 2010.”

LB News approached Alan Wildman, Chair of the RBOA, for comment. He appeared to row back a little from the RBOA statement and insisted that the RBOA was not prejudiced against London boaters, and that the statement was “intended to start a conversation about responsibility.”

“We have many continuous cruiser boaters as members,” he told LB News adding that he was a continuous cruiser himself once but that he moved into a marina when ties to a local area meant he could no longer “cruise the system.”

“It was the responsible thing to do,” he said.

“I have nothing against London boaters,” he said, adding that unless something “drastic” was done to address the rise in numbers of people “in certain areas” moving onto boats on “continuous cruiser licences” whilst having ties that prevented them from moving around the system, then the fall out would affect all residential boaters, including “genuine continuous cruisers.”

Alan Wildman added that he welcomed the fact that lots of young people where moving onto boats, but he added that living the life of a continuous cruiser was a personal choice that involved “sacrifices” and that many of the new boaters in London lived lives that where more suited to having a permanent mooring.

He said that the RBOA supported the recently revealed plans by CRT to create 400 extra permanent moorings in London, but this support was tempered by the fact that “800 odd extra new boats had moved into London over the last two years.”

The NBTAL spokesperson said that the IWA and RBOA statements where worrying and that London boaters with no home mooring should be wary in case the Canal and River Trust adopted the proposals and used them to “push off a sizeable part of our community off the waterways.”

“The NBTA will act against any increase in enforcement,” they said.
LB News

Photo credit: Yorm Humme

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