BACKSTORY (2) Living on a boat

What does it mean to 'live on a boat'?  What is intended by someone who says they want to live on a boat on the waterways?   

What they mean, in most cases, is that they want to live on a boat and explore the waterways at their leisure, in their own time, working out what to do and where to go as they go along, and enjoying a reasonable and legitimate degree of freedom in pursuit of a sustainable and functional way of life that is distinct from living in a house which they have, invariably, got bored with.  

They don't have criminal intent. They are not trying to 'get away with' something. They have no ulterior motive. They are making a choice.  A legitimate choice made for a variety of reasons.   Some well-considered choices, some less so, based on ill informed 'PR' articles in newspapers and magazines. A choice made by many people over many years and a choice promoted by television programmes, such as, Waterworld, a programme endorsed by and made in collaboration with, British Waterways.  A programme that has encouraged, and misled, a lot of people into doing something they are not suited for and come to regret and which brought a lot of people on to the waterways.    

Nobody said you would be subject to 'enforcement' that was neither lawful nor reasonable, and not understood by anyone or fairly applied by the 'enforcers' who were equally, or more, ignorant of the rules/law than the hapless boater. Nobody said you will be regarded as a pariah. Nobody said you would be the target of a policy of discrimination, harassment, threats and persecution leading to court action to remove your boat from the waterways - and, unlawfully, seize it - because you are deemed not to have adhered to the, aforementioned, unlawful rules that are deliberately unclear or have had a health problem that is not considered a reason for your not adhering to the said 'make it up as they go along' rules. Or someone in a boat club doesn't like the look of you and complains to the 'office' (particularly in the case of the Northwich office which responded to boat club 'denouncers' long before such discriminatory intrusion became 'policy').

The choice, of living on a boat, is, usually, made as an individual (or a 'couple') not as a group, not as a group 'activity'. You set off without knowing much and learn as you go along.  You don't know all the contradictions, ambiguities or illegalities of the waterways regulations. You wouldn't understand them if you did. Nobody does, including BW/CRT and their, primarily, ill informed and 'ignorant' 'enforcement officers You are in blissful ignorance of the world you are entering into. If you knew what you were in for you wouldn't do it.  

That is the usual interpretation of what it means to 'live on a boat' on the waterways.  

You can also live on a boat, primarily, as a means of housing.  An established tradition, particularly in the London area, increasing over the years due to lack of access to housing of any kind and a choice between a boat of some kind, however basic, and a bit of 'community', or a grotty overpriced bedsit or similar which is no choice at all for an intelligent human being (of course, if 'Mummy and Daddy' have got lots of money this does not apply). It's a 'choice' from limited options and a reasonable choice given those options. It's not, strictly, 'legal' but nor is living in a marina which BW and CRT 'encourage' (by harassment and threat of legal action) while acknowledging that it is illegal and you may be subject to legal action. People have been evicted from marinas, owned by BW/CRT (as private subsidiary BWML). There are hardly any legal residential moorings on the waterways.

Just as living on a boat, in the traditional sense, was encouraged by Television programmes etc. so buying a boat as a step on the 'housing ladder' was recommended in property programmes.  Did BW or CRT advise against it?  Not that I am aware. They wanted more boats on the waterways.   The boats that is - not the people living on them.  Boats were built and advertised as 'ideal 'liveaboard', all with the approval and encouragement of BW. On the one hand they were saying there were too many boats on the waterways and on the other that 'we need more boats on the waterways' (Robin Evans 2004). 

And then there is the world of subculture. Those generally referred to as 'hippies' on the canals for years, before my time, all sorts of people living a perfectly reasonable way of life, more a disparate group of individuals than a homogenous culture or subculture. If I'd lived in an area with canals, such as Birmingham, I'm sure I'd have done the same.  But not as a member of a subculture.  I know people who lived on boats around Birmingham in the 70s and 80s onwards and they don't regard themselves as 'travellers'.        

And then came New Age Travellers. Having ruined the itinerant life on the roads they were told, by the police, that if they went on the canals they would be left alone.  So they came on the canals and caused, or contributed to, the 'backlash' that we have all suffered from ever since. The 1995 Waterways Act, aimed at criminalising people living on boats, was a direct response to the influx of New Age travellers and has been the cause of all the trouble since through it's various misinterpretations on which the, increasingly draconian, 'enforcement', against people living on boats, is based.

Living on a boat has nothing to do with being a 'traveller' and being a 'new age traveller' has nothing to do with living on a boat. Younger people - 'punk' generation onwards - who have come onto the canal over the last 20 years or so seemed to think living on a boat meant being a 'traveller' and acted accordingly i.e. with an 'attitude'.  Most of them didn't last long.   

We all end up being treated, by BW - and their spy network (mostly boat clubs) -  as if we're 'travellers'.  We're not. We are also treated as such by Benefits/Employment offices, more so in some areas than others, and by some Councils, such as West Cheshire.   

In the mid 90s there was a multi agency purge against new age travellers which encompassed people living on boats classed as 'itinerants' travelling around from job to job with, obviously, no fixed address. I was warned of this in one Jobcentre and advised to move another area as I would be regarded as a 'traveller' although they knew I wasn't. Another viable lifestyle destroyed by the abuses by 'travellers'.

In European Law we are regarded, legally, as 'travellers'. Not helpful and not appreciated. We are, as a consequence, treated as 'travellers' by Health Services etc. who have to give us (I keep saying 'us' almost forgetting CRT stole my boat) priority over others. Consequently it has become very difficult to register as a 'temporary patient' which used to be quite straightforward.    

There are those, who, otherwise, have unearthed and dispersed a lot of very useful information on the misdeeds of BW and CRT, who want us all to be classed as 'bargee travellers'. The work they do and the information they provide for people on boats would be of far greater use if not related so specifically to the world of 'travellers'. The website 'Kennet and Avon Boating Community' is the best website for information about BW and CRT abuse. It is not widely read because of the emphasis on 'travellers'. I'm totally on their side apart from that bias and I know they have the best of intentions. They are welcome to put the opposing view on here.          

I believe we should have rights as individuals and nothing else.  

People on what some regard as 'scruffy' boats with stuff on the roof are not, necessarily, 'travellers', they're just people living on boats and not just owning a boat for leisure (and 'posing') use. Live on a boat permanently and see how you manage without 'stuff' on the roof and don't expect people living, by choice, a 'way of life' on a low income to have regular £5000 paint jobs as a priority.

Having us all regarded as 'travellers' plays right into the hands of boat clubs and, associated, canal societies and their 'agents' in BW/CRT (Sally Ash particularly) and causes courts, as in my case, to consider 'opening the floodgates' (mentioned in court about a dozen times and referring to a 'traveller' free for all) in arriving at a judgment.  The £150,000+ assault on me was exacerbated by my having a wooden boat and, therefore, being regarded , in the eyes of the 'denouncers and collaborators' as a 'traveller'. Worse still, a 'traveller' in the Cheshire area where there is a campaign to drive all 'liveaboards 'out of Cheshire. That's why some of the worst abuse of people is in Cheshire, which I became aware of as  I spent some time in the area, and have challenged this abuse for years, (hence my being targeted). Unless you live on the towpath and are aware of the changes in the enforcement policy and see its impact on people, as well as suffering it yourself, you will have no idea of what is going on. People who don't live on boats, generally, are completely unaware of the level of harassment and threat and don't particularly care as they have subscribed to the belief that 'liveaboards', without a home mooring, are 'dodgy characters, 'freeloaders', and 'piss takers'. That is not the case. Having no home mooring, because you don't need one or because you can't find one, does denote some subversive, or criminal, intent. This is a categorisation devised by Sally Ash and co. to create the 'divide and rule' persecution policy that suits the BW, and CRT's, requirements.                           

This is the situation that has come into being over the years, particularly in the years of Robin Evans, Chief Executive, and Sally Ash, Head of Boating.

Unwarranted interference with people living on boats has increased over the years mostly based on various misinterpretations of the 1995 Waterways Act. Initially there was 'guidance' with the assurance from Sally Ash that it would be 'enforced with a light touch' but this became increasingly unreasonable and discriminatory until in 2007 ( and not many people know this) there was a new policy that amounted, quite blatantly, to persecution of people who live on boats, and don't have a home mooring, regarding, so called, 'overstaying' - mooring longer than allowed in 1995 Act even when causing no problem - as equivalent to licence evasion. Patrol Officers were renamed Enforcement Officers.  The intended enforcement action was to be primarily applied to people living on boats to drive them into marina moorings or off the canal.   

BW and CRT accept no responsibility for anything that happens on the towpath. I have been told this, most people don't realise this. The 'enforcement' is directed against people on boats deemed to be not complying with the confusing, deliberately vague, unlawful and arbitrary rules relating to the movement of boats. Anti social behaviour etc. is a police matter. The police regard it as a matter for BW/CRT. Good luck with that when you're under attack on the Ashton lock flight in Manchester.


The Guidance, or rules, dictating the required movement of boats with no home mooring referred to that movement as 'Continuous Cruising'. 

You will think, without question, that if you buy a boat and pay for a boat licence you are free to travel where you wish. I never even considered any other version of 'living on a boat' and nor did anyone else I spoke to. I travelled around, exploring the waterways, mooring in various places for varying lengths of time. Sometimes finding some temporary work as I was trying to create a sustainable way of life on the canals rather than just drift about. We don't all have private incomes or public sector pensions. You have to work at it and invent destinations.  Just 'drifting' becomes a bit pointless anyway.   

I did this for years and never had a problem nor did the others that I met. Then things gradually changed, mostly noticed through the 'towpath telegraph' (no internet in those days).  Nobody really knew what was going on with regard to 'the authority' - British Waterways - we just got on with our lives and generally got on, although some boat club people seemed to have an 'attitude' as did some others who may, or may not, have been 'travellers'. 

Different areas, and canals, were very different. The southern Grand Union, for instance, coming out of London had, unsurprisingly, a greater density of boats than the Shropshire Union or the northern Trent and Mersey. Also different types of people. I only went as far as Marsworth on the Grand Union so have no experience of the London area. I came to prefer the canals north of Birmingham.            

I first noticed the change of attitude on the Shropshire Union Canal particularly the northern stretch, which is Cheshire, and around Nantwich.    

Harassment of people who spent a lot of time in the area. Mooring restrictions of 48 hours on most of the towpath at Nantwich and an attempt (found to be unlawful) to fine people for 'overstaying'.   And boat numbers being taken by the Nantwich 'Cruising Yacht' Club.   

The shape of things to come as what was happening here became the new 'persecution' policy due to the relationship between Sally Ash and the Shropshire Union Canal Society. And the arrival of Robin Evans as Chief Executive.   

Robin Evans has had a long term 'relationship' with Sally Ash. They were at Reading University together and, subsequently, worked together. Their background is in marketing and property management. 

Robin Evans promoted Sally Ash to the Head of Enforcement (I think that was the title) and gave her free reign to sort out people living on boats and pursue the aim of the waterways being all about leisure boating - hire boats etc. That's where the real trouble started that has plagued the waterways ever since. 

Then came, from the collusion between Sally Ash, hire boat operators and boat clubs, the imposition of the unworkable, unacceptable and unlawful - and intentionally punitive - rules, or guidance' of 'Continuous Cruising' which has caused 'trouble' ever since in endless discussion, people driven from the canals because of the stupidity of the 'rules', costly and ridiculous court cases to serve as a 'warning to others' and, essentially, a 'rule of fear' that has plagued the waterways ever since.   

A waste of everyone's time because a stupid person came up with a stupid idea that she was 'empowered' to impose upon people who had made a commitment to a way of life - not just been given a job - and had invested money into that life and, consequently, the waterways, and who have had their lives interfered with for no good reason (what has it achieved?) and, as in my case, have lost their boat/home and been intentionally caused considerable distress.

And this person has now retired with a pension of about £3000 a week and, presumably as a result of lobbying by the 'sisterhood' has now been awarded an MBE.

Who, exactly, is the 'freeloader' and 'piss taker'?  And whose removal from the waterways would have been to the benefit of everyone?  And spared us all this nonsense  - and millions of pounds in 'enforcement' and court costs - and all the interminable, divisive squabbling that has become the new 'way of life' on the waterways.

You're welcome to it.