A word of warning about boat renting

April 2017 - Following the sinking of a boat that was being rented out, apparently through a shared ownership deal, in London, Peter Underwood looks at the growing pressure on the Canal & River Trust to take action.

Heather Deakin and her boyfriend were on a narrowboat, Midnight Diamond, on the River Lea south of Tottenham Lock when the vessel started to take in water. Within minutes it tipped over and was almost completely submerged, and Heather Deakin, 34, a student at the College of Naturopathic Medicine, lost most of her possessions.

She is reported as saying later that the weed hatch on the boat she rented had accidentally not been closed properly. London's Evening Standard quotes her as saying: “It was petrifying. Just gut wrenching watching your life long possessions and a beautiful boat go down in under five minutes.

London Boaters and those elsewhere responded swiftly with a Just Giving page raising almost three times its £1,000 target in just three days.

Heather Deakin's nightmare has highlighted for many the problem of boats being rented out – especially those without a home mooring.

“I want to say thank you from the absolute bottom of my heart, I have never ever felt so proud to belong to such an amazing community of kind hearted people,” she told the Standard but the sinking has highlighted the scale of renting, especially in London.

Canal & River Trust's attitude to renting boats with a Continuous Cruiser licence is far from clear. It lays down the law to those renting residential boats on home moorings, insisting that they have to have insurance, Gas Safe certificates, facilities and even the permission of other boaters on secure moorings.

As for boats without a home mooring C&RT's current advice is: “Please don't rent a boat without the correct type of licence – it will not have been checked by us. It's also not a good idea to rent a boat without a designated home mooring.”

The Floater asked the Trust what it was doing about the issue. It referred us to more of its current advice: “Having a boat as a home is a popular choice for some people and some boat owners are keen to find ways to help offset the costs of owning and maintaining a boat.

“If you rent out your boat you'll be a landlord and have a duty of care to your tenant. You'll need to organise a non-private boat safety certificate, commercial insurance and proof that you’ve gone through the handover procedure correctly.

“To rent out your boat you'll also need to get a home mooring with planning consent for residential use. These moorings are in very short supply, so it's best to wait until you've secured an appropriate mooring before you apply for a residential letting licence.”

C&RT did go on to say it is formulating new proposals: “We’ve been working with boating organisations and the trade on these proposals, as well as our boating reps on Council and Navigation Advisory Group.

“They’re currently with British Marine and the Association of Pleasure Craft Operators and we’re presenting them to NAG in June – which is when we’ll be publishing them.”

The Trust is currently not willing to share its ideas with boaters and won't say whether it plans to consult boaters before imposing any new rules.

In the past it has shown a laissez faire approach to sub-letting in relation to moorings saying that it is happy for individuals to bid for of buy C&RT moorings and then let them to boaters at a higher price.

Whether it will be similarly relaxed about the commercial activities of boat landlords in London and elsewhere – as long as it gets a cut of the financial action – remains to be seen.

The situation is far from simple with some 'boatlords' resorting to various legal devices to avoid the obligations of a land-based landlord. Making tenants technically part-owners in the boat – albeit with just one share and 99 owned by the landlord – is seen by some as making the rented boat legally a shared ownership vessel. This is seen as avoiding insurance restrictions and making the tenant equally responsible for the safety of the boat.

Other 'boatlords' simply ignore the legal requirements and even fail to explain the rules of CCing to new tenants.

By far the best advice has been produced by London Boaters themselves and is pinned to their Facebook group.

The Floater makes no excuse for reproducing substantial parts of it.

“So you want to rent a boat in London…
There are regular requests for boats to rent from those who want to try living on the water before deciding whether to buy a boat. However, be warned – this isn’t a guide to finding a boat to rent. It’s a summary of why you will find very few, what is realistic and what to be cautious of if someone offers you something that looks too good to be true.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am merely a boater who sees the question being asked regularly. I have put this rough guide together, with help from the London boating community, by way of informal help and advice. It has no official status or authority.

First, and most important, letting a boat is only permitted by the Canal and River Trust if the boat has a permanent residential mooring, a commercial licence, insurance and boat safety checks (just like all the holiday hire boats you see around the system).

Start by reading this:


If you look at unofficial renting – a boat without a home mooring, or one on a leisure mooring then you are not renting a home, you are simply paying for the use of a ‘chattel’, a possession. This means that none of the legislation designed to protect tenants applies. There is a good summary of the issues here:


You will rarely find boats advertised to rent because residential moorings, even in London, where there are more than on other parts of the system, are few and far between. However, they do turn up occasionally and are often managed by estate agents. Who may not know very much about boats so if you do find one take someone with boat knowledge with you when you go to look and don’t be fooled by nice decor. However, at least you will have some recourse to law if you find something doesn’t works as you expected.

There are some boaters who want to let their boats but aren’t on a residential mooring and don’t have the appropriate licence, insurance and boat safety certificate. These fall into two categories:

· Those who know they doing something under the radar. They then fall into two groups. First, the boater who is going away for some reason and wants to let the boat so that it is looked after and covers the costs. They rarely advertise because CRT monitor these things and do not look fondly upon them and will refuse to renew the boat’s licence if they become aware that it is being rented. They will tend only to let by word of mouth to trusted friends of friends. Secondly, there are a few exploitative individuals who own several boats and choose to run an illegal letting business – they too have networks they operate through that they don’t publicise.

· Those who are looking for someone to look after their boat because they need to be away – perhaps working abroad for a few months. It is permissible to have a ‘boat sitter’ as long as they are not charging. They rarely advertise because the boat is their home and they are very unlikely to let someone they don’t know live on it in their absence. They do not want to return to batteries that have been damaged or to letters from C&RT because the boat hasn’t moved far enough. They will tend to look for a suitable sitter by word of mouth. Again it will be to trusted friends or friends of friends.

So, in a nutshell, you will very rarely see a boat advertised to let. And if you do, please check it out carefully. Be particularly careful of the person who implies that you will have the same legal deal as renting a flat (you won’t).

These are the some of the concerns that experienced boaters have expressed about renting a boat, especially for those who have no experience of boating and are renting from a stranger (which is not to say that it will go wrong, just that it might). They are quotes (not mine):

· Renting a boat which doesn't comply is the same as someone driving a car without Tax, MOT, and Insurance. If a non-compliant rented boat explodes, catches fire etc. it is unlikely to be covered by the owners insurance which will have been declared null and void. Any third party damage or injury will also not be covered.

· “I would be happy with a continuous cruiser licence” - but CRT would not - it is therefore technically not legal, which is fine, until something goes wrong and you get screwed or CRT decide to take an interest (this is a public forum in which members of CRT staff participate) and take the boat's license away for breaking the t&c's and you lose your home.

· You have no recourse to letting law - … witnessed a girl working on one of the cafe boats bolt down the towpath screaming "That's my boat. What's it doing here! What have you done with my dog!?" just this summer. Landlord dispute. - took the boat (apparently abandoning the dog and either stealing all the girl and partner's belongings, or dumping them on towpath)

· If you do a share boat or rent to buy, please make sure you get a proper contract drawn up, pref by a solicitor. Not going into fine detail, but …I’ve heard some very odd stories indeed - one where the tenant was made homeless and evicted from the boat he was two months from owning (see note re ‘rent to buy’ below) and another where the tenant sold the boat with no legal comeback.
If you still want to pursue the idea:

· Don’t do it because you think it will be cheaper – generally it isn’t, or not much, especially if you are renting legally.

· For most of us living on a boat is a lifestyle choice not primarily a financial one. You need to want to empty a toilet regularly (and worry about whether the facilities will be in working order to do so), manage a temperamental solid fuel stove, live with running out of gas at midnight, wonder what that strange noise from the engine/water pump/bilges is, worry about security on the towpath and whether your bike is still on the roof…

· You can try a long term commercial rental if you want to be on the move or can’t find a boat on a mooring. The rent (£940-£1400/mth) will be similar to a flat and reflect the level of maintenance, insurance and support that is needed. You may also find that they aren’t that keen on London – they’ve heard too many stories about overcrowding. Google ‘long term narrow boat hire’ and you will find a few companies plus some other possibly useful links.

· Note: searching on terms like ‘boat’, ‘rent’, ‘London’ will bring up a number of old adverts that contain very out of date information – ‘When I lived aboard I generally lived in the East London area…’ – try that now and you’ll be in trouble very quickly!

· Learn how to handle a boat– there are numerous centres including Islington Boat Club (www.islingtonboatclub.com/) that offer the RYA Inland Helmsman training.

· Walk the towpath, get to know boaters. Look for opportunities to volunteer and get to know people. There are a regular clean ups around the London waterways, some organised by boaters (watch for details on London Boaters), others by local groups on the River Lea http://www.thames21.org.uk/project/lovethelea/ or the Lower Regent’s coalition https://www.facebook.com/lowerregentscoalition/?fref=ts

· Check with any marinas in the area as to whether they allow their residents to rent and if so, keep an eye out for any opportunities.

· You might also find the occasional room in a share advertised – these are usually on the bigger static houseboats to be found on the Thames. Search terms; houseboat (actually a static structure that just happens to be on water), rent, London.

· Consider buying…

And if you find something

· Check whether you are being offered a legal rental – if so, make sure it meets the CRT requirements as above. Check that the licence, boat safety and insurance are legal for renting (because it they’re not, you may be the one to suffer).

· If it doesn’t and you still want to take the risk, get an agreement drawn up by a solicitor that is specific to the boat and your circumstances – an off the shelf shorthold tenancy agreement with have no standing in UK tenancy law. And check the same things as the boat sitting…

· If you are boat sitting check:

- that the owner has cleared it with their insurers,
- when the last boat safety was done, and that any work recommended has been done,
- that you know how everything works, particularly the smoke and CO alarms
- that you have someone to call on for advice and help – on a day to day basis as well as in an emergency
- And this list is not exhaustive or perfect!

· IF THE BOAT HAS NO HOME MOORING YOU MUST MAKE YOURSELF FAMILIAR WITH THE CURRENT (AND CHANGING) RULES ABOUT MOVEMENT – if you don’t you could put the owner’s licence at risk (and thus your home). Currently this means covering a range of at least 20 miles in the course of a year and moving every 14 days (or more often).

Finally a note on ‘rent to buy’ – a common request. Re rent to buy from London Boater, Paul Powlesland.

Quick legal info post (please note, this is meant to serve as a general warning rather than specific advice- if you want proper advice on a specific case, please seek a lawyer):

There's been a few posts recently about people wanting to buy boats in instalments. However, you should be aware that where possession and full ownership aren't exchanged at the same time, there are serious risks for both the purchaser and the seller.

From the seller's point of view, if the buyer stops paying the instalments, they can obviously sue the buyer. However, depending on the facts of the case, if the buyer has sold the boat on to a third party purchaser for value without notice (the so called "equity's darling"), there is a strong chance that they will not be able to recover the boat and they will probably have a tough time tracking down the buyer who has made off with the cash.

It's not all rosy from the buyer's point of view either, as there have been cases where all the instalments have been paid and then the seller has claimed that this was merely rent and demanded back possession of the boat.

In short, consider very carefully before entering into an agreement to buy or sell a boat in instalments”

Photos: (1st) Recovering the sunken boat from the River Lea, (2nd) Heather and her boyfriend just before the sinking.

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