THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF BOAT OWNERS

Monday, May 01, 2017

NABO News Ch'man's Col

Chairman's column NABO News 4 July 2015

Chairman’s Column

 

Why not stand?

Chairman Mike Rodd focuses on two upcoming elections

 

Two important events are looming for all of us who care about our wonderful waterways: Council elections for both NABO and CRT.

The past few years have been crucial for NABO, especially as we come to grips with our role as a ‘critical friend’ to the new team emerging under Richard Parry’s leadership at CRT. The next few years, however, are likely to prove even more crucial for all boaters – not only with the new Terms and Conditions and CRT struggling to get a grip on the seemingly increasingly complex issues related to moorings and continuous cruising, but also with the inevitable takeover (in some form) of EA’s navigational responsibilities by CRT.

We always said that the only way that BW could successfully become a Charitable Trust (and not just be BW by another name) would be if there were major cultural changes in the organisation.  This would, inevitably, require changes in leadership. Richard has largely completed these changes and we now have to learn to work with the new organisational structures and the new people involved – many of them with little waterways’ experience. Let me make it clear that I have always been very supportive of much of BW/CRT, especially the guys on the ground, the heritage people and the engineering folk (the latter including some of the country’s top professional engineers). Our problem areas have always been linked to licences, regulations, moorings and many other legal issues.

Even if we don’t always agree with the new folk, I have to say that they are far more open and willing to engage in debate, and largely accept and respond to us as professional, experienced people with the interests of the waterways at heart.

And it is your Council which leads on all these activities – as Chairman, I could not wish to work with a better team, and the feedback from most members has been very encouraging. Of course, not all members always agree with what we are doing, or the way we do it. That’s what we are all about – we are all volunteers and can only do what we believe our members want us to do. NABO, incidentally, is legally ‘An unincorporated association set up through an agreement between a group of people who come together for a reason other than to make a profit...’ So, if you don’t like something, please tell us! (We do also understand that most boaters just want to boat – and hence normally just ‘lay low’ and ‘say nuffing’ – until, that is, they get a rude letter from CRT or EA!)

But of course, any volunteer-driven organisation like NABO needs to continually to refresh its leadership.  We have been very fortunate to have a strong NABO Council and now the elections are giving us an opportunity to enhance that, as well as to seek new inputs. While much of the day-to-day business is done by email, our regular meetings (~7 per year) are held on Saturdays at venues that are (as far as possible) close to the centre of gravity of our attendees. Meetings start at 10.45 am and the pre-lunch session is devoted to strategic issues and policy decisions. The more routine matters are then dealt with in the afternoon, ending around 3.00 pm.

But, let’s be honest and say this is not where the work ends! Each Council member is expected to be responsible for a particular area of our work (as listed in NABO News), some of which do require a fair amount of time. But, in all cases, the idea is for people to opt to do a job that they have a passion for and are really committed to – and the rewards are immense. Council members soon become well-connected experts in their area of expertise and also soon find that NABO punches well above its weight – both locally and nationally – and many doors are opened to us. NABO is in very good shape financially.  Under David Fletcher's leadership, our finances were especially carefully managed and, with all tasks now done totally by volunteers, our expenditure is down to the absolute minimum. And the recent flurry of new members joining (issues like the changing T&C’s always alert boaters to the role of NABO!) has meant that we are stable and secure. However, we still have gaps in the range of skills available: as mentioned elsewhere, we need more folk with IT skills, and also a Minutes Secretary. We could also do with more regional representatives who can make sure that we are well represented, and visible, in local matters.

 

CRT Council

 

Turning to the other election, that of the CRT Council, I must be frank and say that I always felt the CRT governance structure to be poorly thought through and not reflecting the needs of a charitable organisation. For a start, I could not see how we boaters – the prime and most passionate users of the waterways – could have a proper and effective input under the current structure. The Trustees are largely non-users and the Council is seriously undemocratic. And yet, without boats on them, the canals would simply die. After all, besides the business users, we are the only users who pay to use ‘their’ waterways (no, actually, ‘our’ waterways – the canals are still in the end owned by the Government on our behalf).

A boater's only way of providing input (other than via organisations such as NABO) is through the CRT Council. That may seem all well and good, until we remember that the only ‘power’ the Council has is to appoint (and ‘un-appoint’!) the Trustees; everything else it does is purely advisory.  The attendance records of CRT Council members (and the sad lack of attendance of Trustees at the two Council meetings a year!) is very depressing and indicates that the whole governance model is seriously questionable – this is a charity, after all.

However, it is no use just standing around and saying that things are wrong: we need people in the tent! And we also need NABO to keep up its vital role as a true ‘critical friend’ of CRT – and, indeed, of EA and other navigational authorities.

So, don’t just moan and twitter, get onboard. You can’t drive the boat from the towpath – unless you are a horse, I suppose.

Mike

June Chairman's column

Chairman’s Column

Mike Roddhas some thoughts on the K&A, and boat safety.

A beautiful little canal

Wasn’t April just wonderful for cruising? As we always do after my wife’s hectic Easter time, we had a lovely break on the Mon & Brec – just perfect weather, a good number of hire boats out (vital to the economy of South Wales, where the Mon & Brec is the most popular tourist attraction), and each morning brought another batch of new-born lambs. And, after much winter work (thanks, Nick and Kevin), this beautiful little canal is in great condition. I’m delighted to see that CRT is taking notice of the many appeals by both the hire boat companies and us private boaters, through the sensible consultation process, to modify the visitor moorings – having more 48-hour ones in the villages etc. and getting rid of some silly 24-hour ones way out in the countryside. Also, it is clear that CRT is now quietly making progress down there with enforcement actions against the boats that had gaily (but illegally) kept saying they had a home mooring, and then seemed to escape any enforcement despite sitting for months on the visitor moorings or in other popular spots.

Life on the K&A

And so it’s back to running trip boats for the K&A Canal Trust – great fun and the main source of income for this amazing organisation, especially important now, as it struggles to ensure the future of the world-famous Crofton Pumping Station. Despite the herculean efforts of the volunteers in keeping the 200 year-old engines in perfect working condition (such that they take over the work of the CRT electric pumps when in steam), the building itself is failing badly, so they need to raise £2 million as a matter of urgency and necessity! Being out on these boats far too often (we are short of MCA-qualified Boatmasters – hint, hint!) does give me a good chance to watch what is happening on the enforcement scene. There are certainly many boats moving more often than in the last few years, and that aspect of the K&A pilot exercise (which has just run its one-year course) has certainly worked. Up on our end of the waterway, however, there are still too many boats overstaying the 14-day requirement. It has to be said, though, that many of these are not liveaboard boats, but boats simply left moored somewhere for weeks on end as their owners are unwilling (or unable?) to pay for a home mooring. At the same time, it’s interesting to note that many of our marinas have spare capacity.

But it is worrying to speak to the many excited new boat owners (many of them with widebeams) passing through on their way down to the Western end of the waterway, blissfully assuming that they will not require a home mooring and will be able to live on the boat, nice and close to Bath, often providing accommodation for their offspring (and their paying friends?) while they are at university. “Are you aware of the continuous cruising requirements?” I ask. “Well yes, but the various websites say don’t bother, nobody checks up on you….” comes the answer. Of course, this latter situation is changing. NABO supported the initial proposals, although from the April edition of NABO News you will know that we weren’t happy with the changes that occurred between our agreeing to the initial proposals and the follow-up letters issued to all CCer’s. We watch this with much concern – NABO has always said that we support the concept of continuous cruising and believe that it is a very important part of our canal culture, but that (sadly) enforcement is essential because of the abuse by a very small number of so-called ‘boaters’. But enforcement must always be within the legal powers given to CRT.

Mains power and carbon monoxide

NABO’s very active role in the Boat Safety Scheme is proving to be a real eye-opener to me, ever since I was nominated to the BSS Technical Committee when my predecessor as NABO Chairman, David Fletcher, was appointed the BSS TC chairman. The learning curve has been steep but the work undertaken by staff and the many representatives from the supporting bodies is immense, especially over the past year when we have been concentrating on the revised requirements for hire boats. For me, a couple of aspects here have been very close to my own professional interests. First is the need to ensure that BSS keeps up with changing technology – for instance, the ever-increasing use of AC devices on boats. These of course require not the relatively simple little 12- or 24-volt supply, but seriously large AC support. And 240 volts AC is a killer so we must make sure that the users (and their friends) are protected in the same way as we are in our homes, through the work over many decades of my previous employers, the IEE/IET, and its famous wiring regulations. These don’t (yet) apply to boats, but the same risks apply.

The second aspect of particular importance to me at this time is the question of smoke and CO alarms. On the K&A we have too many incidents resulting from fires on boats – admittedly not on hire boats, but on private ones. One of our NABO representatives reports how his CO alarm was set off by a cruiser moored right next to his narrowboat, and just last week my own boat’s CO alarm fired off when a boat passed very close by with exhaust smoke pouring out from the engine. So this issue affects all boaters. Would you stay in a B&B without smoke alarms?  Well, if you did, the owners would be liable for prosecution. Do you have smoke and CO alarms in your boat? From a NABO perspective, the crucial issue is the extent to which changes in hire boat requirements need to be reflected in the rules for our private boats.  Lots to think about there!

Just a minute

Finally, our Council meetings are proving to be very lively – enhanced by several new council members and a regular number of non-Council members attending. The excellent work by Helen on providing regular and detailed financial reports is making us all feel far more aware of our financial position, where, incidentally, we are holding our own – a great credit to our Council's action two years ago on reducing costs. David, Helen and Sue have also really got on top of our membership database, and David is hard at work rebuilding the website. But, as we said before, we really do need someone to be our minutes secretary! No pay, but a great team to work with!

Have a great May/June cruising, and if you are on the K&A and you see one of our KACT trip boats, please wave – there’s a good chance it will be me under the battered bush hat! Or on the Mon & Brec, watch for Faraday II – also helmed by a funny little guy in yet another well-worn bush hat!

Mike

 

Chairman's report to AGM

Chairman’s Report to AGM

 

Having admired the work of NABO ever since we bought our first boat some 16 years ago, I was delighted to be invited to join the Council. I didn’t quite tumble to what David had in mind, though, when I soon discovered that he was planning to stand down after five years as the Chairman! His are huge boots to step into, but what a pleasure and huge privilege it has proved to be, being able to work with such an amazing bunch of totally committed and highly professional boaters! I must start by thanking David for his wonderful support and for always being there - not only to give sage advice but to continue to participate in everything we do.  I will refer to this further as we look at activities through the year.

NABO News Chairman's column ApriI 2014

Chairman’s Column, APril 2014

Progress, but we’re not there yet

Chairman, Mike Rodd, surveys current developments at CRT and EA

As the waters slowly recede, the resulting problems caused on the two waterways that I boat on are all too evident. The Mon & Brec is in serious trouble once again, with part of the towpath above Abergavenny literally slipping down the side of Mrs Alexander’s ‘purple-headed’ mountain into the ‘river running by’, leaving the concrete-lined section of the canal just holding on – for now anyway!  While thanking CRT for its immediate (and very costly) action to address this problem, I should also like to say how well they have handled this situation, which will affect most users of the canal. I have always been the first to say how badly BW communicated with their prime users, but the new broom sweeping the CRT stable is certainly reversing this trend. As your NABO representative for the canals of Wales, I was grateful to be consulted by CRT about the issue and how they proposed to handle it. The subsequent communications have been exemplary, including a YouTube video of the work in progress! On the K&A, where I will spend much of the cruising season as a Boatmaster for the K&A Canal Trust’s trip-boats, we also have excellent communication with our local waterways manager (well, for at least the last four or five years, anyway). Here, vital winter work has been delayed and even as I write, damage to sections where the River Kennet and the canal have literally merged into one has still to be evaluated. But again, we all know exactly what the issues are and how they might affect us.

 

RMPs off the agenda.....

 

OK, so now I expect to receive another load of emails saying that NABO is cosying up to CRT too much. But what is wrong with good relations if they are in the best interests of our waterways? I said when I started this chairman’s job that I have always seen NABO’s role as being a ‘critical friend’ of CRT, and that is how I approach all that I do with my NABO hat on. So, for example, I was delighted when CRT announced that it was backing away from Roving Mooring Permits. When these were first proposed in 2009, the then NABO Chairman Stuart Sampson wrote a definitive article (see Mark Tizard’s report) which said that RMPs weren’t legally justifiable and BW was opening up a dangerous can of worms. We repeated this in our recent ‘legal issues’ meeting with Richard Parry and Jackie Lewis, although we did agree then that if they were determined to go ahead at this stage, we would hold back on further criticism until the pilot exercises have been run. The cancellation of even the pilots is very good news.

 

.... But visitor moorings are still there

 

Now we are on the case of visitor moorings. You will have heard and seen much about the various local groups looking into possible new ones, changed ones, abandoned ones, new staying-time limitations, no-return rules, and ‘fines’ for being naughty boaters (unenforceable ‘cos they are illegal!). We were thus pleased that Richard Parry, having heard our concerns and those of other organisations, effectively stopped work on all this until we, the national representative bodies and CRT’s Navigation Advisory Group (NAG), could be given an opportunity to help CRT establish an overall policy. Only then, we were assured would CRT in consultation with appropriately selected user groups, consider how the policy can best be applied locally. Our starting-point on this is the clear legal advice that we have been given that no-return rules and the fining of boaters for overstaying on visitor moorings are legally unenforceable. We also query where the alleged ‘problem places’ are, as our members consistently find, there are only a few places where finding a visitor mooring is always difficult. Yes, if you arrive outside a popular pub at 6.30 pm on a lovely summer’s evening, there will be a problem! And yes, if you go into Bath during peak times nothing will be available. But hey, when possibly 20 to 30 hire boats arrive there on the same day, there will inevitably be a congestion problem. We believe that these problems are isolated and sporadic. Also, we would ask, where is the evidence that the problems are caused by continuous cruisers, as alleged by the IWA? In my own experience as a long-term boat hirer and now a private boater and trip boat skipper on the K&A, the problems (except in well-recognised hot-spots) have been exaggerated. Also, putting up signs that have no legally enforceable basis is sheer nonsense and a waste of scarce funds, that simply destroys that wonderful feeling of sharing that most boaters enjoy.

How about actual enforcement of the regulations, though? I don’t think there is a single, fair-minded, sensible boater who wouldn’t agree that what we need is effective enforcement of the existing rules. In many areas, this has already been shown to work extremely well – in most cases, if a boat is exceeding the 14-day rule, a quick phone call to the local waterway manager’s office solves the problem. Yes, we all know there are a minority of boaters who abuse the system, but isn’t that the same basic problem that crops up in a wider context in our amazing welfare state? So in these small number of cases CRT simply has to apply the existing rules – even if a few will try to claim human rights violations, etc. (I, as  a law-abiding boater, have rights as well, you know!). But CRT does have to apply the rules sensitively and not remove a boater a few weeks before Christmas and in the cold and wet; hence our proposal that CRT should appoint someone to keep an eye on the welfare of boaters, who are, after all, its prime customers.

And who should DO the enforcement? Well, it simply cannot be volunteers: it’s not fair to expose them to the issues that could potentially arise from dealing with the (very few) aggressive, selfish and vocal individuals who are abusing the privileges of our democratic society. Send in a team of trained enforcement officers who are able to respond to verbal abuse or threats of violence.

 

EA is also back on the agenda

 

Back on the agenda again, and not unexpectedly given the recent flooding problems, is the question of CRT taking over the navigational responsibilities of the EA. We thought this had gone away, at least for the next three to five years, supposedly for financial reasons. But if the towpath telegraph is correct, as it usually is, the EA will be restructured (a regular government reaction to a major problem?), and part of this will be to shed the navigational work. This is a world that is new to me but having spent time with our forceful and knowledgeable Thames Representative, Louis Jankel, I can see that the issues are horrendously complicated – hence Louis’ exposé in this issue. Something of great interest to me comes right at the start of his article, where he questions the myth that this coming together was always the vision of Rolt and Aickman!

 

Finally, I was delighted that our appeal in the last NABO News for a volunteer bookkeeper has resulted in Helen Hutt being appointed with immediate effect. With our long-serving administrator, Melanie Darlington stepping down, we are very pleased that Helen is coming on board to do part of her work. We are extremely grateful to Melanie for her wonderful service to NABO over many years. We are still, however, looking for a Minutes Secretary to attend Council meetings to help our hard-working General Secretary. You will only give up about eight Saturdays a year (10.45 am to 3.00 pm), in exchange for great company and good food, with travel expenses paid! 

Mike Rodd