Don't boat and booze – Trust bids to curb drinking

July 2017 - Sometimes the disconnect between authoritarian organisations and real life – and even the decisions of other parts of the same organisation – are a little bizarre, as Peter Underwood reports.

Just weeks after Canal & River Trust was hailing the arrival of the first, plastic, day boats in central London, and boaters were expressing serious doubts about inexperienced, drunken crews on the capitals busy waterways, the Trust is finger-wagging about drinking and boating.

In a blog, simply attributed to the 'boating team' but in the first person, the writer waxes lyrical about “visions of wonderful countryside, great weather, historic places to explore, and of course pubs with lashings of real ale or a decent wine list” before resorting to warning that, “indulging in a beer whilst boating is not a good mix and that sometimes even a trip to the pub and going back to a moored boat after one too many can be fraught with danger.”

Back in May C&RT arranged for GoBoat London to moor their eight-person day boats, designed to seat all the occupants around a central table to moor in Paddington Basin (Plastic day boats arrive in London)

Boaters immediately began discussing how the small vessels, perhaps crewed by inexperienced and inebriated individuals would cope with the sometimes chaotic canals; populated with passenger trip boats on a timetable, a multitude of moored boats and many other moving vessels from working boats to musical punt trips.

GoBoat insists: “Anyone who steers the boat (the captain) must remain sober during the experience.

“Guests who do not steer the boat may consume alcohol. At GoBoat we encourage sensible consumption of alcohol, and do not tolerate anti-social behaviour.

“Customers who arrive at the GoBoat London pontoon with excessive amounts of alcohol will be required to leave the alcohol in our office before boarding the boat(s).”

The unnamed author of the C&RT blog warns: “Every summer people sadly drown and alcohol is often a contributory factor. About a quarter of all drowning victims have alcohol in their bloodstream.

“Accidents do happen whilst boating and unfortunately the chances of things going wrong increase significantly the more you’ve had to drink. This is why drinking and boating at the same time are the wrong ingredients for a cocktail of summer fun.”

“Balance is affected and tends to get worse the more drink you consume, you can literally fall overboard! It doesn’t take much, on the counter of a traditional stern narrowboat there’s not much room for even a little wobble.

“There are lots of opportunities for slips, trips and falls of all sorts, whilst on the move, working locks and bridges and mooring up and even in summer the water can be colder than you think.

“Those of us who have been on the water for a few years will all know of sad cases where boaters have been found drowned after a night out. I can think of three such incidences in my local area in recent years.”

The writer does implicitly acknowledge the issue of inexperienced boaters on a booze cruise: “You are less able to judge speed, distance and timing and an increasing lack of any inhibitions after a few drinks may result in speeding and more aggressive behaviour. The boating team regularly receive complaints about antisocial behaviour by people out boating often fuelled by the consumption of excessive amounts of booze.”

Even though C&RT or BW have never been known to do anything about drunken boating the official blogger urges everyone to report it and suggests the Trust could prosecute as the finger wagging turns into veiled threats.

“If you are concerned about drunken behaviour on the canals you should report it to the police in the first instance on their non-emergency number of 101, unless circumstances dictate otherwise and there is an immediate grave threat to life or property.

“It would also be helpful if you could also report the situation to us, give us as much detail as possible including the boat index number/s.

“Drinking and boating could expose you to several criminal offences, including the offence of Drunk & Disorderly. If convicted, you would be liable to a fine or custodial sentence.

“Anyone successfully prosecuted under the Trust’s own bye-laws would be liable to a fine of up to £1,000 for each offence.”

Given the close relationship between many boaters and the pubs they like to tie outside it's perhaps unsurprising that the blogger concludes by promising to sample many real ales on his or her 'long cruise' this year before a final finger wag: “just remember to save your favourite tipple for after you’ve moored up for the day”.

Hang on - just a few paragraphs earlier he – or she – was warning: “... a trip to the pub and going back to a moored boat after one too many can be fraught with danger.” Consistency isn't apparently, a requirement of the 'boating team' blogger.

Photos: (1st) Boats and pubs seem to be drawn to one another, (2nd) If you can't find a pub there's usually a bottle or two on board.

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