Electric boats and mooring congestion

Mike Rodd describes just two of the issues facing NABO.

I hope that some of you might be able to get out on your boats soon – it has been so frustrating and worrying, especially if your boat is not safe in a well-managed marina. I had to handle a report last week of a boat close to us on the K&A, slowly sinking – all we could do was to inform CRT, as nobody knew who the boat owner was.

With so many boater consultations presently under way, I suspect we are all getting bored with answering them, so I am sorry if we have made thing worse by asking you to respond to the one on aspects of the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS). We do need, however, to ensure that we are aware of any concerns you have, or improvements that might need to be made. We have always actively supported the BSS, and are involved in most of its committees and advisory groups, but we are very aware that changes are continually required to deal with technical developments. For example, we will increasingly need to focus on electrical issues. In fact, many boaters in the London area will simply have to become more electric-based, given what is happening there with the creation of so-called ‘eco-moorings’. These have electrical supply points made available (if booked and the electricity is paid for!) and the accompanying gradual banning of both running diesel engines and burning cheaper coal and wood. (Of course, these moorings also go a long way to keep the complaining residents of the very expensive canalside homes happy!)

Along with the above moves that nudge existing boaters into using more electrical systems, there is mounting pressure for the development of non-fossil-fuelled boats in general. Initially (at least), these would most likely be electric-based, and probably largely hybrids. So, for the BSS, the problem is simple – how do we set up an effective electrical inspection regime that covers both AC and DC, with high voltages and currents, without increasing the cost of the inspections? As an ex-Director of the IEE (now IET), I am only too well aware of the IEE wiring regs. (now BSS 7671 – 18th Edition) that apply to land-based homes, to keep them electrically safe. There are two issues here, however: first, they do not currently (!) apply to our boats; and secondly, inspectors must be fully qualified to undertake work related to these standards. Will this ultimately require BSS inspectors to be so qualified? An expert group is being set up under the BSS Technical Committee to investigate all this as a matter of urgency; I have also used my previous contacts to open discussions with the IET.

At the time of writing, we have not yet seen the outcomes from either the CRT consultation on proposed changes to our licence T&C’s, or the consultation on the issues regarding the London situation. It is very clear, however, that in both cases CRT is looking towards addressing – amongst other things – the ‘problems’ related to moorings in London and other places such as Bath. To anyone walking the towpaths (as I do) in London or Bath, there is an obvious and serious issue, largely due to too many boats and too few moorings. Also, how – without constant monitoring – do you ensure that those moorings that are available are fairly used and available to all potential users? Most hire-boat companies seem to have given up on allowing their boats to go into London, and have warned hirers that in Bath, they are unlikely to find anywhere to moor close to the centre.

It is very obvious that the root of the problem is simply that, to many, living on a boat is seen as a cheap – or even profitable – way of living near to where they work or study. A few months ago, I met someone battling to get his enormous broad-beam boat through the relatively low bridge near Hungerford, on his way to Bath. He had calculated that his student daughter could not only live on it, but also let out the other 11 bunks to other students, which would pay her study costs at one of the universities there. Asking him whether he was aware of the restrictions on moorings and the need to move every 14 days, I got a shrug of the shoulders. I also asked him what BSS he had for the boat: “The usual private boat one” was the answer! And then there was that priceless query on one of the boating websites from the person who had just bought a boat to live on in London: he asked where he could moor so that he had a permanent water connection, as he needed a boiling hot 15-minute shower twice a day. All very hygienic, but it showed that he had not done his homework! But why should he, when there are so many TV shows and magazine articles claiming how lovely and cheap it is to live on a boat in London?

Of course, CRT fully understands all these issues – and if there were any simple answers, I am sure that it would have addressed them. And yes, it is cheaper to live on a boat than rent an apartment near to the centre of the city. But it is not so simple: the Waterways Act (as NABO has pointed out many times) really does give CRT little room to manoeuvre; but also local authorities are unwilling to allow more places to be opened up to create new moorings. As the Residential Boat Owners Association (RBOA) has pointed out on many occasions, there are many opportunities to create new residential moorings that are close to London (for example, in some of the old gravel pits) but local authorities are simply unwilling to grant permission for these to be created. So, with the best will in the world, there is no straightforward answer to these issues. I suspect that in the end the only control that will be possible will be based on money. How that can be applied within the current Waterways Acts is going to continue to be the problem facing CRT. For NABO, all we can do is to keep talking and ensure that we do everything to protect the interests of our members. It would be good, though, to have more London-based members – although our membership remains strong, most are based outside the capital.

We continue to follow, with deep concern, the introduction by the Environment Agency (EA) of a commercial car-parking company to monitor and enforce any overstaying on ALL its moorings on the non-tidal Thames. This is due to commence as you read this, despite serious, legally supported objections by NABO and all the other Thames boater representative bodies. An FOI (Freedom of Information) request finally allowed us to see the (highly redacted) submission by the company involved. In this, there were some amazing statements about user organisations not only having been consulted, but also supporting their tender! It was something of a shock to us all to discover that, as a government agency, the EA cannot question the accuracy of any claims made within such a tender, but is simply forced to accept its veracity at face value! The operators of this scheme do receive some funding from the EA, but their business model also, naturally, depends heavily on receiving fines from boaters who overstay, which can rapidly rise to £150 per day! Interestingly, though, we have not been able to find any evidence of the company successfully taking to court anyone who refused to pay the fines. The business model seems to be based on the fact that most of us would simply pay up and not contest any charges. Our worry is, of course, what if CRT decided that the EA model should be used right across the canal system, as it apparently already is for some of its mooring sites in London?

As our recent Council meeting showed, we have a lot to deal with at the moment. Fortunately, with many brilliant new Council members, we are able to cope – just! And we are all just so anxious to achieve what we all want to do – get out on the water! If you can, enjoy!