A qualified pat on the back

Mark Tizard digs into the detail of CRT’s first monthly waterway experience survey.

CRT recently published the headline results of its new Waterway Experience Survey, distributed monthly between April and September to a sample of boaters sighted in each waterway region, to get their feedback on the waterways they cruised. It is designed to complement the annual Perception Survey (formerly Boat Owners’ Views).

First the good news: boaters appeared to be more satisfied; more likely to recommend the Trust’s waterways; and had a more positive opinion of the overall upkeep of the waterways when their answers were compared to the annual Perception Survey. It should, however, be remembered that the level of satisfaction had fallen in the annual survey.

A total of 28,695 boaters were sent the survey so, given that there are only approximately 34,000 licensed boats, it’s likely that a reasonable number of boaters were sampled more than once. This may help to account for the low response rate, as an average of only 14% of the boaters contacted responded.

Combining the monthly survey responses, 67% of boaters were either very (36%) or slightly (31%) satisfied with their cruising experience. Anecdotally, I hear a small sample survey of hirers gave a much higher result, which is good news for the hire trade. There was not a big difference between the regions, but the highest satisfaction levels were Wales (85% very or slightly satisfied) and lowest London and the South East (61%).

Drilling down into the detail, there is more interesting information, specifically with regard to boaters’ views on the upkeep and maintenance of the waterways. The issue that narrowly came top of boaters’ concerns for CRT to address was dealing with non-compliant boaters (overstaying, not displaying name/index number etc.) and unlicensed boats. Using a scale of 1 (very poor) to 10 (excellent) only 31% scored CRT at 6 and above for their management of non-compliant boats and only 36% for management of unlicensed boats. This was two separate questions, but I suspect in boaters’ minds they are closely intertwined. This would indicate a major communication/perception problem, as CRT’s own statistics from their annual license survey indicates that only around 4% of boats are unlicensed. Are boaters right to be concerned? Is the problem larger than CRT would have us believe?

There were three other areas of concern, which I’m sure are familiar to NABO News readers: only 43% of respondents rated the upkeep and maintenance of facilities as 6 and above. Management of overhanging branches and mooring vegetation was at 50%, cruising depth 52%, towpath mooring depth 52%, condition of locks 57% (all percentage score ratings for 6 and above).

There were other interesting responses: around 50% thought that the management of short-term moorings was good or better and that it was always or usually possible to obtain a visitor mooring. Comments on how these could be improved centred on controlling overstaying, dredging at the bank and additional mooring rings. Also 60% approved of the management of congestion around locks and facilities. There is little difference in responses across the regions generally, with the highest levels of dissatisfaction in London and the South East and in Wales and the South West, perhaps reflecting the concentration of boats in London and the Western Kennet and Avon.

Interestingly, the age profile of boaters is changing: only 65% of boaters were over 55 years, compared with 73% in 2018, and the biggest growth was in the 45-54 age group.

Due to the creation of the new regions, there are no earlier comparable figures, but these responses provide the Trust with valuable information as to boaters’ perceptions of how well it is doing to maintain the network and they give pointers to areas of improvement. CRT is to be congratulated for seeking boaters’ views and I look forward to reading about steps they are taking, in response to the survey results.