'Ghost moorings' crackdown – but what's the problem?

December 2017 - Canal & River Trust has announced yet another half-baked scheme aimed at boaters – this time to 'validate' moorings, as Peter Underwood reports.

After a pilot scheme that resulted in threatening letters being sent to at least one boater and hastily withdrawn C&RT is ploughing ahead with asking mooring operators to confirm that the records it holds for boats’ moorings are correct.

The press release claims: “This will ensure we are monitoring boats against the correct terms and conditions, and will give mooring operators the confidence that their sites aren’t being used fraudulently.

In the pilot with a dozen mooring operators C&RT visited the marinas and club moorings then sent to operators lists of boats recorded as having a mooring at the site but not seen, and boats seen moored at the site but not being recorded as having a mooring there.

All operators of moorings are now bing asked to opt in to the scheme and Jon Horsfall, interim head of boating claims: "Our boat licence customer support team does a fantastic job making sure that boaters have the information they need to use the waterways fairly. We want to make sure that the data we hold for boaters is up-to-date, so that we can work with them as effectively as possible.

“The new mooring validation process will also be good news for mooring operators, who will be able to check that the boats on their moorings are the ones that are meant to be there."

On the National Association of Boat Owners' Facebook page the scheme immediately raised suspicion with Simon Robbins asking: “Is this CRT letting the cat out of the bag over what many believe is it its intention to use the current licencing consultation to justify higher fees for Continuous Cruisers come what may?

“There is surely only one reason for CRT spending time and resources starting to look for so called 'ghost' moorings. They must be intending to recoup money from boaters without moorings at some point?”

Chris Pink pointed out that under the 1995 Act “what CRT call so self-righteously a 'ghost mooring' is perfectly legal.

He went on: “Again they simply change the laws they don't like and no-one bothers to stop them. 'A mooring or other place where the vessel can reasonably be kept and may lawfully be left will be available for the vessel, whether on an inland waterway or elsewhere" is pretty f***ing clear. If I want a mooring in Yorkshire and spend the year cruising around central London, that is entirely legal according to this.”

The Floater's pown Allan Richards was a victim of the pilot scheme and he shared a the 'threatening' email he received during the pilot, explainging that: “For the last 12 years, I have declared the same AWCC club mooring on my licence application. The club acts as a licencing agent for C&RT and the Trust is aware of all moored boats because the club forwards licence applications as part of the arrangement. Separately, the club provides a list of all boats that have paid mooring fees for the year in January. This list is updated with any boats that leave or join during the year.”

However, he was out cruising when the check took place and the result was an email
from Licence Support Advisor, Patricia Fox:

“We are carrying out a routine check of boat licensing records and find that we have a query in respect of the above boat, for which you are shown as the registered keeper. We’d be most grateful if you could help us update or validate our information.

“First, if you have sold the boat, or it is no longer on our waters, please inform us. If you are still responsible for this boat, please would you confirm its home mooring location or, if there is no home mooring, whether it cruises continuously.

“To do this, you can register on our online licensing site, [C&RT licencing website] and update your mooring status or inform us of the status of your boat there.

“If we do not hear from you within the next 28 days, we will change your mooring status to Continuous Cruiser, in line with our Terms and Conditions:

“2.2 We only issue a licence if we are satisfied that you either have a Home Mooring for the Boat or you will use the Boat as a Continuous Cruiser and we may seek to verify with third parties any information you provide to us. We will treat you as a Continuous Cruiser if you do not declare a Home Mooring for the Boat or if you decide to no longer have a Home Mooring.”

His reply was swift:

“Hi Patricia

“I find the email below both threatening and confusing.

“You say you have a query in respect of the boat for which I am the licenced keeper. However, you do not say what that query is!

“I provided the details required when I renewed my licence. Why are you asking me to check these? Surely you can do that from the information I have already provided?

“As to confirming my home mooring status, I suggest you explain why you think it has changed from what I have declared?

“Kindest Regards

“Allan Richards”

The swift capitulation – without any apology – came back from C&RT:


“Please ignore the e-mail that I sent you this morning regarding your mooring – it was sent in error.”

And many others have lined up to point out that any boater is entitled, under the legislation to have a mooring but never visit it.

Andy Williams asked: “What, actually, is the definition of a 'Home Mooring'? Is it some place where I promise to spend a certain amount of time tied up every year?

“I have a home mooring. I use it for various reasons. One is that it's nice to have a stable place to go back to after a cruise. Another is that I will visit friends and relatives for a few days or or go to work abroad so need a safe place to leave the boat. The rest of the time I am out cruising or just chilling out on the bankside. Another is that it's a safe place to keep my boat and my car and my motorbike.

“I don't and will not allow my mooring - much as I like it and my neighbours - be a place I MUST stay in for X days a year. I agree that it is absurd for any agency - C&RT or any other - to chastise me for being away from my mooring.

“And I just returned from over 60 days away (many people do the same) so a letter that says "If we do not hear from you within the next 28 days, we will change your mooring status to Continuous Cruiser, in line with our Terms and Conditions" is likely to get returned with a very coarse proposal as to what to do with their letter.

“ The ONLY aspect of this that I might agree with is that subletting vacated moorings at any price MIGHT be wrong IF the mooring agreement prevents it OR if the "absent landlord" is letting it off at an exorbitant rate (as I understand happens). BUT that is a completely different issue.

“If I want to go out cruising I damn well will. Maybe there is a market for inflatable narrowboats that could be left in "vacated" moorings?”

Several pointed out that, in the C&RT guidance it simply says 'Home Mooring' is 'a place where the vessel can reasonably be kept and may lawfully be left' - no mention of payment OR of minimum/maximum time spent there:

Mark Tizard tried to explain the Trust's viewpoint: “CRT have a problem with 'ghost' moorings, described as a mooring that is rented out to several boats simultaneously or someone claiming a mooring which is impractical to use ie a wide beam boat in the south claiming a mooring in the north which it could not boat too.

“This is the reason that they now require boats with a home mooring to cruise as if they were boats without a home mooring .

“However when I asked the then head of boating to quantify the problem they couldn’t , they had no idea of how big this 'major' issue . Sledgehammer and nut comes to mind.”

Given that the scheme is currently voluntary it can never give C&RT a complete picture of all moorings as commonsense suggests any mooring operators making money from renting imaginary moorings simply won't participate.

It will however, give mooring enforcement at C&RT another stick to beat boaters. How long before boaters are told “We can't confirm your mooring so we are going to issue you a CC licence?”

Given that the Trust's monitoring of boats is, at best patchy and inaccurate, with CCers often accused of not moving far enough when they have – in reality - covered hundreds of miles it is difficult to see this as anything other than yet another tightening of the screw of control that C&RT apparently feels it must exercise over boaters.

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