‘Peer-to-peer’ boat rentals

‘Peer-to-peer’ boat rentals

Mark Tizard examines some of the implications of CRT’s proposed new licence category currently under review.

In recent years, it has become increasingly common to read of boats available to rent in Central London and on the Kennet and Avon Canal, and the practice is spreading to other areas. Yet, to obtain a licence to rent a boat out to others, you currently need a hire-boat licence and a hire-boat level boat safety certificate. It is also a stipulation that the boat must have a home mooring.

The current situation is a cause for concern because either boats are being rented to a third party in ignorance of the requirements or owners are choosing to ignore them. Either way, renters are at risk from unscrupulous ‘boatlords’ who will not have the appropriate insurance, or, in many cases, will not make the renter aware of general boat safety. Given that in congested areas, boats can be double- or triple-moored, this puts legitimate boaters at risk too. In addition, rooms on boats are being advertised via Airbnb and similar websites (e.g. www.bedsonboard.com) especially in London. It seems that most of these do not to allow navigation by guests, but it is unclear whether they are appropriately licensed, although this would presumably be easy for CRT to check.

CRT is considering introducing a new licence category for boats for hire, which would not require a home mooring but would cost the equivalent of a hire-boat licence and have to meet the trade BSS requirements. In addition, to protect the renter, this may require a hire-boat style handover checklist to ensure that the renter is aware of all the issues around being on the boat.

There are currently three types of boat rental: short-term holidays on hire-boats; Airbnb-style overnight stays; and longer-term residential. Hire-boats carry the appropriate levels of insurance and BSS certification, so are not of concern. It is the Airbnb-style renting and longer-term residential letting that should fall under this new licence.

Long-term residential rentals is the area of most concern; as soon as money changes hands, it becomes a business and this is currently in contravention of the navigation authority licence conditions, and the domestic insurance and the BSS certificate become void. Not only that, but we have heard of cases where the renter is blissfully unaware of the basics of boat safety or maintenance – and some boats are in a very poor condition. Unlike a property, there is no security of tenure. Landlord and tenant law does not apply to these rented boats, leaving the occupants with little or no security and protection. As a result, unsuspecting renters may be living in potentially dangerous, illegal and unprotected conditions.

Basic guidelines for cruising boats are often not explained (for example, the common courtesies like not running your engine after 8 pm, where to empty your toilet, get fuel etc. etc.). If the boat does not have a home mooring, the requirements to move every 14 days, not moor for extended periods at visitor moorings or sanitary stations, for example, are similarly not explained.

CRT is hoping that, by introducing this new licence, it will enable boat owners to legitimately enter the rental market. In addition, through publicity, it is hoped that those seeking to rent will ask questions to ensure that they rent a boat that meets the correct standards. However, NABO is concerned that although introducing a ‘peer-to-peer’ hire-boat-type licence might work for the upper end of the market, the introduction of additional boats will put extra pressure on moorings and facilities in London and other congested areas. Also, it would be largely ignored by those who rent their boats out specifically to people who use them for long-term accommodation. For these owners, it could be uneconomic or just undesirable to obtain the new licence, insurance and BSS certification.

The time when every boat owner has contact with CRT is when the boat is licensed. So it is at this stage that owners need to be made aware of the new licence and their obligations, should they wish to rent the boat out. In addition, CRT needs to follow through on its stated aim that it can, and will, fast-track the enforcement process for non-compliant boats, leading to the removal of the licence and, potentially, to remove the boat from its waters. The NABO Council felt that this issue is important and rentals will only keep increasing. Thus:

  • It is essential for CRT to identify boats that are being rented out.
  • The BSS requirement for rented boats should be the same as for hire-boats.
  • There needs to be a proper enforcement process with associated information being made widely available.
  • The licence application should have a specific question, asking if the boat is to be used at any time for renting out.
  • Communications need to be directed at potential renters to ensure that they ask questions about whether the boat has the correct licence, has a valid safety certificate and the correct type of insurance.

CRT has responded to NABO’s concerns with the following comment: ‘All I would say is that the new licence is very much a concept we are exploring rather than something we will definitely be putting in place. As you are aware, we have been consulting widely on the issues associated with unauthorised renting and have been listening to the views of our stakeholders to help us make an informed decision as to whether introducing a new licence is the right thing to do.’