In the Chair July 2023

What a time to be involved with NABO! Your Council has always been very careful only to take on activities that will have a direct impact on our boaters – who, of course, are the very reason we exist. But when we DO take on a new mission, it needs to be something where – as a professionally led body – we can make a real difference. Seldom have there been so many issues requiring our attention as now. Fortunately we have the benefit of an enthusiastic and highly motivated Council.

As I highlighted in my last Chair’s report, your Council quite correctly made the decision that there is currently no point in continually nagging CRT about the things that we feel they are not doing well. On the contrary, with a government that is clearly determined to reduce the funding for the waterways, the best thing we can do is to accept that there is now no alternative to CRT, and that reverting to the good?/bad? days of the British Waterways Board being part of government is just not feasible. Therefore, the best thing we can do right now is to bring as much pressure as we can on government to ensure, at the very least, adequate funding of all the waterways. (CRT still, at the time of writing, isn’t yet officially aware of its situation, but the EA and Scottish waterways have already had massive cuts.)

To this end, we set about (as reported in detail elsewhere in NABO News) bringing together other organisations with a stake in the waterways, with the specific objective of presenting a united front. We thus approached a broad spectrum of other such bodies, and were delighted with the response. The IWA, in particular, totally agreed with us; indeed, our suggestions fell in line with one of their own major campaigns. Together, we set up a joint meeting of as many waterways-related bodies as we could think of, and the response exceeded our wildest expectations. This has led to the proposed actions outlined on page Fund Britain’s Waterways calls on Government to stop inland waterways falling into disrepair page???, starting with a direct appeal to government, to be followed by a range of supporting projects. We are exceptionally grateful to the IWA and especially to its Chair, Les Etheridge, for all their work. At NABO, we simply don’t have access to the supporting infrastructure.

Then there is the Calor Gas situation, which again we have described in NABO News. In essence, Calor suddenly announced that they were stopping support for a range of their smaller gas cylinders, which are used by the majority of smaller boats. The result is that such boats would have to make significant structural modifications to their gas compartments to allow the larger containers to be used. So here is another issue of direct importance to many of our members. We supported the Boat Safety Scheme in approaching Calor, thereby achieving some temporary changes – without, sadly, changing Calor’s long-term plans. The short-term effects are leading to some horrendously dangerous situations, such as the illegal self-filling of existing cylinders. Given Calor’s monopoly of the supply of gas to boats, alternative solutions are not easily found. We have also been struck by how few boaters were or still are aware of the situation. On behalf of NABO, my predecessor as chair, David Fletcher, is now leading a major campaign to try to sort out a long-term solution.

The next urgent situation we have had to deal with relates to the government’s scheme for assisting many of us to cope with the dramatic increases in energy costs. However, the more than welcome support did not address the issue of how those boaters who live on their boats as continuous cruisers can access support. The problem was and in many cases still is how folks not having a home base could be identified by government as being eligible for funding. We supported CRT’s simple solution, that they (CRT) could supply details of applicable boats, but that does not yet seem to be working in most counties. My vice chair, Anne Husar, a liveaboard herself, has been active in trying to sort this out. Her recent radio interview and the articles she has been producing, will go some way towards helping to sort out another preventable difficulty that is affecting many of our members.

Last but by no means least, there is the on-going work by our Council, through its Welfare Officer, Ken Hylins, that is highlighting a break-down in CRT’s handling of boaters with (often temporary) personal problems that restrict their capacity to move their boats, meaning that they then don’t meet CRT’s minimum movement requirements. Ken has had to deal directly with a series of such boaters, and in some cases CRT personnel have been making totally unreasonable demands that potentially violate human rights requirements. NABO has always insisted that its members should meet CRT’s interpretation of the (albeit very fuzzy!) movement requirements. Nonetheless, NABO has also accepted that there will be problems that require sensible, reasonable, short-term interpretations. Thus, for example, in one particular case Ken had to intervene when a boater, who cannot read, could not understand the notices sent to him regarding his movement, and was being verbally harangued by the CRT officer concerned. Ken has developed a good working relationship with the CRT senior officers leading the enforcement, but it often seems that those on the ground have little understanding of how to deal appropriately with some of the boaters involved.

So, it’s been a very busy time for NABO and its value to the boating community has been more evident than ever. We always see a small increase in membership when there is a potential impact on cruising, etc., but we have to accept that many boaters, as long as they can keep moving as they wish, see no point in joining a boater representative body. So we remain – as do other similar waterways bodies – a small organisation. Nevertheless, it’s clear from the paragraphs above that NABO is punching above its weight, in the effect it is managing to have – and, with the NABO AGM on the horizon, we are certainly looking for more help!!

I hope you have all enjoyed the great sunny weather – we certainly did, managing to find some lovely shade on the beautiful Mon & Brec Canal, although it is worrying that there seems to be a serious downturn in the number of hire boaters so far this year. I know the costs incurred by the hire boat companies have increased substantially, but at the moment a week’s holiday in Spain is cheaper than hiring a boat for a week!!