Roy Deane and Whilton Marina where does the truth lie?

I am sceptical. It’s in my nature, so when I became aware yesterday (27 November 2012) of a story of Facebook my scepticism kicked in.

The story came to my attention due to a tweet from Roy Deane’s twitter account (@RockmineInfo), this tweet contained a link to a status update on Facebook, containing a story about Deane’s experience attempting to buy a boat from Whilton Marina.

My initial response to this story was to be appalled that such a thing could happen, it appeared to be a clear case of abuse of process on the part of Whilton Marina.

He states that:

When I saw [nb Manu Tahi], the asking price was £ 19,950. Several weeks after first seeing it, I found it was still available. To me, it offered everything I wanted and above all, it had a good “feel” about it. I’d discounted dozens of other craft and was happy to put an offer on the boat. My first offer was refused but my second accepted – £ 17,950. It had a homely feel to it but was tired and in need of work on the interior which I accepted.

The asking price (£19,950) is consistent with Manu Tahi’s page on Whilton Marinas website, which Deane links to in his status update. It also states on this page that the price has been reduced from £21,950 and that the boat is under offer whether this is by Deane I have no way of knowing.

It’s a 50′ boat from 1978, there’s no mention of overplaying in the advert so it would be fairly safe to assume that some is likely to need to be done and that the boat has been priced accordingly. The inside, as far as I can see from the pictures is as Deane said “a little tired” but there doesn’t appear to be anything startlingly wrong with it. Of course I would never buy a boat from photographs alone so this doesn’t mean much, it just means that if I were looking for a roughly 50′ cruiser stern narrowboat that needed some TLC, this might be one I’d go and see.

At this point Deane has had an offer of £17,950 accepted and has put down a £1000 deposit to secure the vessel subject to survey (so far so good).

I booked a survey with an independent surveyor included in a list provided by Whilton. The surveyor, Craig Allen even said I could be on hand when he looked at the boat. As it would let me see all the problems first hand with an expert safety examiner, I jumped at the chance.

On Monday, 19th November, I met Mr Allen at Whilton. We were unable to start with the hull survey as a crane would using the area adjoining the slipway but as I had travelled down from Perthshire in Scotland, someone at the marina made sure we were able to start on other elements of the survey.

It was an eye-opener. Behind a pleasant enough exterior, a series of major issues needed to be dealt with. The boat failed its survey on several safety issues but also a major insurance one. The hull needed to be re-plated.

I have watched boat surveyors in action on more than one occasion and it is a fascinating procedure, the “hit it with a hammer” school of testing is particularly dramatic. At the end of the survey you get told what the examiner has found and whether or not, in their opinion, the price is a fair one. Before we booked our survey we did a bit of research into the surveyor recommended by the Marina and of course we were there on survey day poking our noses in and generally getting in the way as the potential purchaser is meant to.

With that in mind I started by having a look to see who Craig Allen was: he is listed online as an independent boat surveyor and boat safety scheme examiner. There is no evidence of his company number on his website nor is there any reference to his qualifications. However, a quick search using the Boat Safety Scheme Find an Examiner page pulls up his entry so far so good.

Next step, finding his entry on the International Institute of Marine Surveying’s site. This proves more difficult although I can find Steve Hand MMIRC, the guy who did our survey, with very little difficulty. When I do find Allen I discover that he is listed as SuppIIMS. I know enough about membership of professional bodies to wonder what that means so I go and look at the various different types of membership that are available. It appears that SuppIIMS means Supporting Member of the IIMS a supporting member is defined on their website as:

Individuals having an interest in Marine Surveying and who encourage and approve of the aims of the Institute.
Past, Full or Associate Members who have retired and retain an interest in Marine Surveying and Consultancy, but no longer carry out surveys.

If alarm bells aren’t ringing by now they should be. On the other hand it is fairly normal to ask the marina you’re buying the boat from to recommend a surveyor so the fact that the two surveyor’s listed on Whilton Marinas website are a SuppIIRC and GradIIRC (he’d be the one to go for) is in itself slightly worrying.

**

Oddly, I wasn’t undaunted [sic] and went back to the marina office to give them an update on the surveyor’s verbal comments. A couple of salesmen gave me a price per foot for re-plating but pointed out they were not necessarily the cheapest and there were other companies who could do the work.

By the end of the week, I had the full survey report and a copy had per my instructions been sent to Whilton. After a couple of days, they put a cost on the safety and insurance work of £ 14,010 inclusive of V.A.T. The surveyor’s Conclusion & Valuation had stated, “Upon completion of all Insurance and boat Safety works, I feel the offer of £ 17,950 to be a reasonable one.”

I find that last sentence quite interesting, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to force the vendor to do the work (which would almost certainly be undertaken at Whilton Marina who have admitted that they are not necessarily the cheapest, and it subsequently turns out couldn’t do it in a time frame suitable to the purchaser) and then stick to the original price. The purchase was “subject to survey” and it failed the survey, this is the moment to either walk away or renegotiate the price based on the results.

I was told by Whilton that after commission, the vendor would get £ 2,240. Someone had mentioned that the boat was his pride and joy and as such, news of the work needing undertaken must have been heart-breaking. I really felt for the seller and was prepared to increase my price to cushion the blow slightly. That was how things were left on Sunday.

This is clearly guilt-tripping, the state of the vendors finances and feelings are not, at this point the purchasers problem. It was very nice of Deane to consider raising his offer a little to “cushion the blow slightly” but not good business practice. It could be this admission that caused him to be taken for a ride.

It is now the 25 November.

On the afternoon of Tuesday 27th November I was contacted by Whilton and told that the vendor was not prepared to sell at the agreed price but wanted their original price of £ 20,950. I had already paid a £ 1,000 deposit which is meant to stop gazumping and yet, here I was effectively being gazumped. I countered with a verbal offer of £ 19,495 which a short time later I was told had been accepted.

At this point it becomes clear that Deane really wants this boat and is being taken for a ride. Personally I would have walked away before this, you wouldn’t put up with this kind of behaviour when buying a house or a car. This is not an auction, you’re not supposed to be fighting to pay the most. If the vendor wants more for the boat than it’s worth then so be it. Walk away, you’ve lost £500 but saved a whole lot more.

That was when things took an unexpected turn. A salesman called Robert from Whilton told me that they had bought the boat from the vendor and waived their commission as they would make their money on doing the re-plating work. I was suddenly in a situation where I was no longer able to consider other companies but being forced to accept Whilton’s price and their terms.

This is all very odd, why on earth would anyone from Whilton Marina tell a purchaser this kind of information? Come to that why would the buy the boat and waive the commission when they could have had the commission and the remedial work?

They do buy boats for cash and it is possible that the vendor decided just to hand the boat over because they would get more for it that way, it’s unethical but could be worth the vendors while in the circumstances.

They made it clear that the plating could not be started until late January or February which I had stated was unacceptable. As my plan had always been to have the boat transported to Scotland by road, I saw no problem in taking it to anyone who could do the work. Needless to say I remembered the words of the salesman who had said there were other companies who could re-plate for less.

What is not made clear here is how much Whilton Marina wanted for the boat at this point.

I’m assured by Whilton that these are standard practices which I would love to doubt. Setting that aside however, there is the issue of Whilton buying a boat at a knock-down price based on a survey that I had paid for. I asked if the survey money would be reimbursed as a result but was told they would only ever do a hull survey which would cost £ 250 (not the £ 500 I was charged). My reaction was to ask for that but was told it would not be forthcoming if I decided not to proceed.

This does not seem like standard practice to me either, although Maffi has stated that he thinks he remembers something like this happening before with Whilton Marina I haven’t heard of it. There does seem to be a problem of procrastination here, and of Deane admitting that he could afford to spend more than he’d offered. Had he walked away after the survey and gone looking for another boat there’s a fair chance that Whilton Marina would have acquired the boat for cash on the basis of the survey that Deane had sent to them anyway. The only difference is that Deane wouldn’t have known about it. It also would, no doubt, have popped up on the “recently surveyed” section of their website.

**

So far, so tragic. But, having read it through a second time and gone to Deane’s twitter feed I suddenly realised there were inconsistencies.

I settled after several months of looking, on a boat called “Manu Tahi” being sold at Whilton Marina[.]

This statement, that he has been looking for a boat for several months doesn’t map with Deane’s Twitter statement on 20 November:

After 6 months tweet

Although to be fair he does post this about an hour later:

Update tweet

That’s just 8 days ago. It is 6 months since he mentioned that his house had been sold though:

House sold tweet

So lets assume, for the sake of argument that he has been looking for a boat to “make the ultimate pad” for most of the time that he’s been living between the “rental property” and France.

He also tells us that the survey happened on Monday 19 November, which is the day before he announces on Twitter that he’s looking for a boat.

The third major inconsistency is the claim that the vendor is looking for the original asking price of £20,950. The Wilton Marina page states that it was originally £21,950.

**

There seem to be gaps in this story. Why did Deane wait so long to confirm the purchase in the first place? Why doesn’t he respond to @ mentions on twitter individually. There were if I remember only two of them in the first place.

So, the survey had actually happened when he tweeted that he had put an offer on a boat and would be re-negotiating subject to survey, was he thinking about going public with this story even then?

If true this is a horrible thing to have happened, however, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are two sides to every story and that it is unlikely that Whilton Marina will be able to comment on this case.

**

Incidentally, I have satisfied myself that Roy Deane is a real human being – I can tell you the address of the house he sold in Perthshire (along with the date he sold it and the price he sold it for), his private phone number and the name of the woman who he lived with (though I have no idea of the relationship). I have not spoken to him other than the tweets wanting to know if he’s real or not because it all seemed a little too convenient. Mr Deane if you happen to read this and would be happy to be interviewed then please let me know and I shall contact you using one of the methods above (or possibly your email address).

Continuous cruising and access to primary healthcare

As those of you who’ve read previous posts on this blog will no doubt be aware, I am a traveller. Specifically I am a live-aboard boater who continuous cruises. There are all sorts of problems with the continuous cruising guidelines, not least that CART are attempting to make my way of life if not illegal at least impossible. Like most younger continuous cruisers I (and my partner Skippy) have to work – if we’re lucky then we don’t have to work all the time or we can arrange to work in such a way as to allow our lifestyle to carry on regardless but, for both of us, working means staying around an area for a year or so while we work through our contract(s). What this means in reality is that we are tied to an area within two hours commute of our places of work for a year or so, then we move on. I’ve been doing this since 2006, Skippy joined me in February, in the time I’ve lived-aboard I’ve lived/worked in Reading, London and Bath with significant amounts of cruising in-between (if you’re following Miss Inexperience I will be taking the journey across to the west country fairly soon I promise).

Today, having been without a GP for the last three months I registered at my local practice. It just so happens that my local practice is near to my registered address. It’s a sad fact of life in the 21st Century that you are not really allowed to be a person “of no fixed abode” so an address on the land is essential as is pointed out in this RBOA quote from an article about living aboard – it seems to be under the impression that all itinerant live-aboard boaters are elderly, however this is not the case, Skippy and I use our parents addresses (as we always have done, they’re never going to get rid of us):

Once on board permanently, you will be a person of no fixed abode. This is not acceptable in today’s Britain where the first piece of information you are always asked is your postcode. To have a credit card, a bank account and a British Waterways licence you will need a permanent address on shore. This is why you have children. They’ve used your home as a convenience for years, it’s your turn now. (From RBOA article “Life as a Continuous Cruiser”).

My registered address is the one I use for the usual suspects (bank account, mobile phone contract) it puts me in an interesting position but most of the institutions I deal with are very tolerant of my itinerant lifestyle, as all of my interactions with them are online or over the phone it’s not really a big drag on my life. When I’m sure I’m going to be in an area for long enough (i.e. I’m looking for a job there) I arrange a Mail Boxes Etc account in the local area so our post can be forwarded to us and we can arrange for things to be delivered to a local address, and, of course we can register with a doctor.

The NHS guidelines regarding registering with a doctor state that the first thing you should do is:

Choose the GP surgery that you want to register with and check it covers the area where you live.

Well that’s all very well but the CART Guidance for Boaters Without a Home Mooring [PDF] state:

“Place”
The law requires that stops during such cruising should not be “in any one place for more than 14
days”.

“Place” in this context means a neighbourhood or locality, NOT simply a particular mooring site or
position.

Therefore to remain in the same neighbourhood for more than 14 days is not permitted. The
necessary movement from one neighbourhood to another can be done in one step or by short gradual
steps. What the law requires is that, if 14 days ago the boat was in neighbourhood A, by day 15 it
must be in neighbourhood B or further afield
. Thereafter, the next movement must be at least to
neighbourhood C
, and not back to neighbourhood A (with obvious exceptions such as reaching the
end of a terminal waterway or reversing the direction of travel in the course of a genuine cruise).

What constitutes a ‘neighbourhood’ will vary from area to area – on a rural waterway a village or
hamlet may be a neighbourhood and on an urban waterway a suburb or district within a town or city
may be a neighbourhood. A sensible and pragmatic judgement needs to be made.

It is not possible (nor appropriate) to specify distances that need to be travelled, since in densely
populated areas different neighbourhoods will adjoin each other and in sparsely populated areas they may be far apart (in which case uninhabited areas between neighbourhoods will in themselves usually
be a locality and also a “place”).

Exact precision is not required or expected – what is required is that the boat is used for a genuine
cruise. [emphasis mine]

Even ignoring issues regarding the exact wording of the British Waterways Act which merely states:

the applicant for the relevant consent satisfies the Board that the vessel to which the application relates will be used bona fide for navigation throughout the period for which the consent is valid without remaining continuously in any one place for more than 14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances.[British Waterways Act 1995 Section 17.3.c.ii]

without any guidance as to what constitutes a “journey” (although I personally would argue that moving backwards and forwards between neighbourhood A and neighbourhood B as I know some so called continuous moorers do, does not in fact constitute a journey, except perhaps, in the sense that one might take a journey to and from work/school/university). That aside, the requirement to remain in one place for “14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances” is well known amongst the live-aboard community if not well respected. According to CART

Circumstances where it is reasonable to stay in one neighbourhood or locality for longer than 14 days
are where further movement is prevented by causes outside the reasonable control of the boater.
Examples include temporary mechanical breakdown preventing cruising until repairs are complete,
emergency navigation stoppage, impassable ice or serious illness (for which medical evidence may
be required).

Such reasons should be made known immediately to local Trust enforcement staff with a request to
authorise a longer stay at the mooring site or nearby. The circumstances will be reviewed regularly
and reasonable steps (where possible) must be taken to remedy the cause of the longer stay – eg
repairs put in hand where breakdown is the cause.

Where difficulties persist and the boater is unable to continue the cruise, the Trust reserves the right
to charge mooring fees and to require the boat to be moved away from popular temporary or visitor
moorings until the cruise can recommence.

Unacceptable reasons for staying longer than 14 days in a neighbourhood or locality are a need to
stay within commuting distance of a place of work or of study (e.g. a school or college).

This document was significantly changed in 2011 following the judgement [pdf] in BW vs Davies and has been subsequently amended during the BW/CART handover to make the definition of both place and journey clearer.

So what is the relevance of this to my attempting to register with a GP? Well, not a lot if I don’t tell the GP that I live on a boat however it’s quite hard to avoid doing this as it permeates every aspect of my life. If you’re lucky, as I have been on several occasions it’s possible to get yourself registered with a GP who realises that live-aboard boaters without a home mooring are unlikely to ever be within the catchment area of the surgery for more than 14 days at a time (given that catchment areas for GP’s surgeries and neighbourhoods tend to be of a similar size). Since requiring an individual to register with a new GP every two weeks is ridiculous as a proposition there tend to be surgeries in areas near the canal who will take on continuous cruisers without issue, aware that their situation is not comparable to that of the static community. In fact, for those of us who try to cruise within the spirit of the legislation and keep ourselves moving over large distances for large proportions of the time our situation is closer to that of the Roadsiders in the land-based travelling community who

have great difficulty accessing primary health care and it is almost impossible for people to access secondary care without a referral from a GP. Many Roadsiders will only access health care at the point of crisis as homeless services are heavily over-subscribed and waiting times can be extremely long. This results in an overdependence on A&E Departments with many people opting to use these instead of crowded and sometimes culturally inappropriate Walk in Health Centres. At A&E departments people know that they will not have to explain their housing situation, will be guaranteed to be seen that day or at least within a few hours and will generally receive a good level of care. It must be stressed however that this is not an “easy option” for many Gypsies and Travellers, but one taken by many because they feel they have no other choice. [1]

I don’t have the cultural barriers to healthcare access and, as a middle class, university educated woman with an RP accent (when I try anyway) I’m good at getting access to the services I am entitled to use even given my itinerant lifestyle. The problem here is not in fact my ability to find a surgery who will be reasonable about my lifestyle and will give me the assistance I need but that not everyone has access to that. In theory it doesn’t matter where you live you should be able to walk in to any GP’s surgery and make an appointment if you need it. The problem is, that if you don’t have an address you can’t get registered at that first point. This situation has lead to me being without a GP for nearly 6 months, it doesn’t massively matter to me, I’m not on any regular medications (other than contraceptives, and there are ways round picking those up) but itinerant lifestyles are not just for the young and healthy, in fact most true continuous cruisers are in their later years and as a result are more likely to need regular access to primary and secondary healthcare. It’s time the NHS stepped up and did something about this terrible state of affairs, no one should be told as I was earlier today that there was basically no point in my registering as I’m going to be moving my boat soon and therefore will be moving out of the catchment area of the surgery, and will no longer be allowed to use their services. Of course if I move far enough away for it to be impractical to go back to my surgery for an appointment I will move my GP, of course I will, but in the mean time I should be allowed access to primary healthcare without being made to feel like a freak for not wanting to live in a house or a marina (which tbh is the “respectable” way to live-aboard).

1. Friends, Families and Travellers, Fair Access for All? Gypsies and Travellers in Sussex, GP Surgeries and Barriers to Primary Healthcare [pdf]

Frequently Asked Questions

Generally when people find out I live on a boat there are a few questions I get asked. So often in fact that I thought I’d write this. Coming in at number one is:

Isn’t it cold in the winter?

I usually answer this with no, but yes actually it can be. It’s cold in the morning when the fire’s not going properly and obviously the colder it is outside the colder it’s likely to be inside. Something which is pretty much true of houses too – think about it, unless you have extremely good insulation your central heating has to work harder to maintain the temperature inside your house when the temperature outside is lower. And, like houses, there is a great deal of variation between boats. I live on an old, poorly insulated one, so my fire has to work pretty damn hard in order to keep the place warm. A lot of the energy I use is wasted, and as a result I don’t bother to try and heat the whole of the boat, I just reduce the space I spend most of my time in. Newer boats tend to be better insulated and have back boilers on their solid fuel stoves (a bit like a radiator) which move the heat around the boat more effectively. A revelation for anyone who lives on a particularly cold boat is something called an ecofan which dramatically improves the area it’s possible to be in without using ANY power or extra fuel. Mine’s old and battered (it’s been knocked off the fire so many times now I’ve lost count) and has a permanent rattle despite my best efforts at reshaping the blades, however it’s still going strong; like Tilley hats they are damn near indestructible.

The alternative to a solid fuel stove is a diesel fired one. I don’t know much about them other than they are noisy. If you hire a boat this is the kind of heating you are likely to have. I suspect they are simpler to use than solid fuel stoves; as anyone who’s ever used one will tell you there’s a ‘knack’ to getting and keeping a fire going and not all stoves respond to the same tricks. Some live-aboards love diesel heaters, some hate them (one I met recently had bought one, used it for a while and has since taken it out).

What do you do about, you know, toilets?

There are two solutions to sewage (actually three but one of them is illegal on inland waterways craft) both of which involve some kind of holding tank. The first and simplest is a cassette toilet like you’d get in a caravan – sounds nasty but actually isn’t. Put plenty of ‘chemical’ in there (DO NOT put bleach in with your toilet chemical, as a friend of mine discovered, this WILL result in an exploding chemical toilet) and don’t think too much about it. There are regular emptying points around the system, however it is worth having a spare cassette as it will almost invariably fill up at the most inopportune moment and (in the winter) there’s always the possibility of being iced in. Solution number two (which I’m not a great fan of but some people swear by) is a ‘pump out’. The toilet looks a whole lot more like the one you’d have in a house and the effluent is secured out of sight below the floor. Most boatyards and some British Waterways (BW) service points have pump out equipment, however unlike cassettes, which are free to empty at BW facilities, there will be a charge for this. It’s a matter of personal taste when building a boat which is put in. Most hire boats have pump-out toilets to avoid hirers having to deal with effluent, this is sensible for a variety of reasons not least that full cassettes are heavy and the chemical put in them is toxic.

BW Waterpoint

For the sake of completeness the third solution is a macerator or ‘sea-toilet’; these are perfectly legal on yachts but not on inland waterways craft with one exception. Not all live-aboards do so on boats that are capable of moving. Static houseboats can have macerators which are connected to the mains drains in the same way a house would be. The macerator is there merely to make sure the sewage can fit through the narrow pipe. Those I have talked to who live with this system find that while it works well most of the time, when it goes wrong it does so properly and leaves them without a functioning toilet. Depending on the facilities available at their mooring this either means using a central toilet or going to stay with someone who has a house.

What about water?

Every boat has a water tank which is filled using a combination of a hose and one of the many BW taps which are scattered around the network and paid for via a boat’s cruising licence.

What do you do with your rubbish?

BW supply bins at regular intervals around the network. Better service points also have recycling facilities which tend to be relatively well used. There are some waste products which cannot be left at these points, for example used oil and batteries have to go to local municipal facilities; however, when you buy new batteries boatyards will take away your old ones for recycling so this shouldn’t be too much of a problem. BW also provide litter bins in certain areas (usually around towns and cities), these are NOT to be used for boaters domestic waste and anyone caught misusing them in this way is generally in quite a lot of trouble, often from other boaters. This is our life; we don’t want a minority of idiots ruining it for us.

Where does your electricity come from?

I can’t quite believe we still get asked this one, as a large number of live-aboard boaters now have wind-turbines and/or solar panels and it’s quite hard not to spot these; however we do. So, solar and wind generation aside, most boats use their engines or a petrol generator to create power which is stored in batteries. These are, yes, you guessed it, a bit like the one in your car, just more of them fastened together. So now you know.

Everything inside the boat will run on 12v, or occasionally 24v dc, unless the boat has a very large bank of batteries and runs an inverter which converts the stored energy to 230v ac. A surprising amount of everyday stuff doesn’t actually require 230v in order to function anyway, and mains chargers/leads often step the voltage down, which means that things like mobile phones and even laptops can be run directly from a 12v supply. You know the charger you have in your car to put a bit of power in your phone/laptop while you’re out and about? Yeah, one of those. Increased interest in being able to use things like computers, phones and televisions in cars has actually been a great thing for those of us who live on boats as it’s brought the prices down quite dramatically.

How often do you have to move?

BW Patrol Notice

This is a difficult one; it depends where you moor in the first place. The assumption is that you can stay for a maximum of 14 days unless there are signs stating otherwise (some are 7 days, some 72, 48 or for very popular places even 24 hours). In the winter however, it is possible to purchase a winter mooring which allows you to stay in the same place for 5 months. If someone’s been on a mooring for a while and has a mooring licence which expires in March (BW mooring licences have a large coloured M in the middle of them) and hasn’t been issued with a patrol notice from BW, then they probably have a winter mooring for that location. BW mark winter mooring sites with temporary notices as well, however these are often removed, so a lack of BW notices doesn’t mean a winter mooring isn’t available in that location. If you want to check, I’m sure either a BW employee or a call to their head office will answer your question. That said, not everyone who ‘overstays’ is on a winter mooring and not everyone who has a winter mooring will put their licence up. Strange but true.

How much does it cost to buy a boat?

How long’s a piece of string? It really depends what you’re looking for and whether it’s new/second-hand and how much work you want to put into it. I wouldn’t pay less than £15,000 unless you really know your stuff. Always get a survey done on a second hand boat and check out whether there’s any debt connected to it (the debt belongs to the boat not the owner). The boat should have a current cruising licence and a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate (BSC); don’t forget to find out when they’re due for renewal. It’s also important to know whether any work’s been done on the gas and electricity systems since the last check – remember gas can kill you and electricity can cause fires; water is not so much of a problem, however if you do spring a leak things will get wet so it would be a good plan to give it a once over for glaring problems. Do your research: buy a couple of waterways magazines such as Waterways World or Canal Boat and take a look at reputable websites and forums. And, unless you are actually planning to cruise the whole system or at least a significant proportion of it, for goodness’ sakes FIND A MOORING!

Cost of living – or is it expensive living on a boat?

This is usually a selection of questions that people ask one after another. Like living in a house there are both ‘fixed’ (licences) and ‘variable’ (consumables and temporary licences) costs.

Licences:

  • cruising licence which is payable annually and dependent on the length of the boat and where you intend to use it. There are three main categories – river only (which covers BW controlled rivers), canal and river (sometimes known as a standard licence) and gold (which covers both BW and Environment Agency (EA) water such as the Thames). There are temporary licences available for short periods spent on EA waters and it is possible to buy an annual EA licence for boats permanently on EA water.
  • mooring licence: BW mooring licences are usually dependent on the length of the boat, however private moorings may have different structures (charging more for wider boats or in some cases just a flat rate berth cost). Not everywhere has an annual charge for a mooring, some charge on a monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual basis.

Consumables:

  • Gas: how much gas you use will depend what you use it for – sound obvious? Well, yes it is. Boats can have gas cookers, gas fridges and gas water heating; not all boats will have all of the above and some may have both gas cookers and a solid fuel stove with an oven for winter cooking – you really, really wouldn’t want to use a solid fuel oven in the height of summer. Water heating may be via a calorifier with heat coming from either and/or both the engine and solid fuel stove. I use about 13.5kg of gas a month – my cooking, water heating and fridge are all powered by gas.
  • Diesel: if you have a diesel powered stove you will use more than if you don’t. Either way you are entitled to declare a proportion of your fuel for ‘domestic purposes’ (often referred to as ‘heating’) this is the proportion of your fuel on which you will pay VAT at the reduced rate. The rest of your fuel must be declared for propulsion (unless you are incapable of movement); this portion is subject to both VAT at the reduced rate and fuel duty. The proportions will vary depending on your circumstances and are subject to a declaration at point of purchase, or annually if always purchased from the same location and your requirements are unlikely to change. Prior to 01 November 2008 there was no duty due on red diesel for use by pleasure craft, this is no longer the case so while it may seem sensible to purchase your fuel on the black market it is an extremely bad idea. As ever when VAT or duty are involved this is a very complicated area and the Residential Boat Owners Association do a far better job of explaining it than I do, if you are still confused it’s worth contacting HM Revenue and Customs for clarification. THIS DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL OR TAX ADVICE.
  • Coal: I use somewhere between eight and ten 25kg bags of anthracite a month depending on how cold it is outside. When possible I supplement this with wood. There appears to be some confusion around the use of smoke-free fuels (such as anthracite) on boats. Boats themselves are not exempt from the Clean Air Act however many appliances are. Each country within the UK has different regulations and DEFRA publishes lists of the appliances which are exempt: the majority of solid fuel stoves used for heating boats appear to be included. Please, check these lists before arguing that the Clean Air Act doesn’t apply to you. However, traditional coal, like wood, tends to burns very hot and very quickly so it’s harder to keep a fire in over night with this type of fuel. If you don’t mind getting up to a freezing boat in the morning go right ahead – personally I use a smoke-free coal and wake up to a merely chilly boat.
  • Post Box: unless you are lucky enough to have friends/family who are prepared to take post in for you or you aren’t planning to live on your boat full time and therefore have a house you can use to send post to, you’re going to need a post-box. If you are moving a lot poste restante can be used along your route, however it is only available for 3 months in any one town and PO Boxes are only available to people who have a physical address in the area (PO Box Terms and Conditions pdf). There are several companies such as Mail Boxes Etc which will allow you to take a box for a month, a quarter, 6 months or annually – charges are usually payable in advance and there’s often a surcharge for receiving parcels. Even if you don’t get much post it’s worth it for the safety, and the fact you can give an address in the area which side steps the issue of you being a ‘traveller’. If you live on a residential mooring this won’t be an issue as your mooring will have an address.

How do you claim benefits?

It may be the area I now live in but I’ve been asked this one a couple of times. I don’t, I work for a living. Some live-aboards do, and I’m sorry I have no idea how they manage it – it’s hard enough persuading the benefits agency that you need them when you live in a house, so it must be damn near impossible for those who do need to claim disability or state pensions who live on boats.

UPDATE: This from KANDA makes it clear that it is possible under certain circumstances to claim housing benefit to cover cruising licence, boat safety certification and third party insurance under certain circumstances (normal residency in a particular authorities area). It is also possible to claim mooring fees even under circumstances where planning permission has not been granted for residential mooring at that location. However, I suspect this only applies to moorings where there would be no reasonable grounds for denial. So there you go, that’s all I know about applying for benefits when living on a boat.

Do you pay income tax/council tax?

Er yes. Everyone pays income tax and National Insurance when they’re working and have earned above the personal limit (currently £6,475) – further detail available from HMRC: Income Tax Rates and Allowances. I am not an accountant – just capable of reading.

Council tax: I thought I knew the answer to this one, however the more I look at it the more I realise I haven’t got a clue and, as I don’t have all year to become a specialist I am not even going to attempt to answer it. I am not resident on a mooring which either has residential planning permission or which would not justifiably be refused it if it were applied for and, as I have already stated I am not an accountant, nor do I work for HMRC. So, if you’re interested, details of how council tax is applied to both moorings and caravan pitches, is available from the Valuation Office Agency: VOA Council Tax Manual – Practice Note 7: Application of Council Tax to Caravan Pitches and Moorings.

And finally:

Isn’t it romantic?

Yes, if you think hauling your own effluent around, and running out of water in the middle of a shower is romantic. Yes, in the summer, sitting on the back deck with a glass of wine does seem quite appealing; I’ve even been known to do it. Yes, if I dislike my neighbours I can just move. Yes, I do have a freedom that isn’t truly available to those who live in houses. It’s also hard, physical work, can be cold and I wouldn’t swap it for the best appointed house in the world. Not even for the largest bath you can find. Oh and any relationship which can survive living on a boat, is a relationship designed to last.

Assumptions

I am other.

I am white, well-educated, middle class and other. 4% of the population of the England and Wales are similar to me according to the 2001 census [1] (which is somewhat out of date; however, if I wait for the 2011 results to post this the moment will definitely have passed). There are always variations in any externally imposed grouping however, so my statement that I am other may seem a bit odd. Surely everyone is different in some way or other? Yes, they are and that is why I am writing this.

You see, what I have missed from my social précis is that I am a traveller. I live on a boat, a narrowboat to be precise, and a rather scruffy one at that. I’ll answer all the usual questions about the practicality of living on a boat later. For now it’s enough to know that I do.

Prejudice comes in all shapes and sizes, against all groups and sub-groups, and frankly I’m a bit sick of it. Some of my friends fight prejudice every day, some of them are in danger if they go to certain places or walk home on a dark night. I am not one of them and I am lucky. I have chosen to live the way I do. Some of my friends are not so lucky, they’re gay, or transgender, or disabled, or Muslim, or Jewish, or black. And, sad to say, there are some places where all of these things still matter. What matters to me is that I love them for who they are, and I enjoy spending time with them. Prejudice is an ugly word and I don’t bring it up lightly, in fact I wouldn’t bring it up at all if I hadn’t just come across some assumptions that bordered it.

So, the point of my starting this: some things that are not necessarily true about travellers:

  1. Just because I live on a boat does not mean that I am unskilled. I have been a manager/senior member of staff in a variety of different sectors. I have also done my fair share of unskilled work – even students and writers in their turrets have to eat/pay the bills. If I’m on a winter mooring I’m not going to doss for the whole time. If I do that I won’t be able to afford to eat and neither will my dogs, which is probably more to the point.
  2. I am not claiming benefits. When you move around a lot it’s very difficult to claim benefits – what with not having an address. I am a traveller, not a bum. I choose not to live in a house; that doesn’t mean I’m a drop out and I don’t pay my way. There are quite a few retired people living on the water, cruising from place to place; their boats are usually shinier than mine – would you assume they hadn’t paid their way?
  3. I do not necessarily have an alcohol problem, abuse/use drugs or have severe mental health issues. Someone who goes out every Friday night and drinks themselves into a stupor has an alcohol problem, as does someone who drinks a bottle of wine a night every night and the person who drinks vodka for breakfast – I bet you know at least one person with an alcohol problem, whether or not you know it. And they probably live in a house, possibly a nice house, in a nice area and have a full-time job and don’t really seem to have a problem. So, drugs. I know quite a lot about drugs as it happens; I used to be a youth worker. That means I know what can happen to you if you take them. And frankly if I don’t know what’s in it, then no thank you. Which leaves mental distress. According to Mind’s website [2] the ONS estimates 1 in 6 people will suffer mental distress at any one time, though the more commonly quoted study suggests 1 in 4. Either way that means someone in your life, someone close to you, will suffer from some form of mental distress at some point. Does that make them any less of a person? Several famous people have ‘come out’ as having or having had mental health issues: Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax, Gok Wan to name three[3]. Since 1 in 6 people don’t live on boats it’s not that likely that I have a mental health problem is it? Having said that, as a proportion there probably are more people living on the water who have some or all of these issues, just remember not everyone who chooses to live this way does.
  4. I am not a hippy. I do burn the odd joss stick, I travel mostly by bicycle or on foot, I’m an ecotarian [4] (one of many labels for my lifestyle choices) and my choice of abode may be a little less than orthodox. This does not make me a hippy. I’m not entirely sure what would make me a hippy but I’m fairly sure I’m not one. Joss sticks are very common in certain cultures but that doesn’t make everyone who lives on, say, the Indian sub-continent, a hippy. Hundreds of people travel by bike, usually in or around cities and most probably don’t cover the distance I do but again this doesn’t make me a hippy (I can feel a post about cyclists coming on in the near future too). So why the ecotarian? I like vegetables; it’s better for the planet and is an extremely healthy diet. I don’t eat meat substitute, I just eat less of it (I can’t remember the last time I ate meat actually but that’s a different story). As for the boat: I like it and living this way is my choice.
  5. This one’s closely related to two: just because I’m scruffy doesn’t mean I’m poor. Actually currently I am poor, but that’s because I’m an unknown writer rather than because I’m too lazy to work. My clothes are quite often dirty; there is a reason, and if you’ve been paying attention you’ll know what I’m about to say. I live on a boat and canal banks are muddy. I also have dogs, and dog walks are muddy. I’m not dirty all the time; quite a lot of the time you’d never know but if you meet me on the tow path or out with my dogs I’m likely to look quite scruffy. Yes, my dog walking jacket has a hole in it. It’s an old jacket; I use it for dog walking because it’s an old jacket. I bet some of you have gardening clothes, people don’t often see you in your gardening clothes because your garden is your space. My deck is my space, it’s just that you can see my space. I don’t sunbathe naked on my back deck but I do fill my coal scuttle there. This is a dirty job so I’m hardly going to do it in a suit now am I?
  6. For any other boaters reading this: I have a current cruising licence and I’m looking for a mooring. The one I was going to take turned out not to be what I’d been told. Any other questions? Not all live-aboards object to paying to use the water just as not all holiday boaters are happy about it.

It may seem like I’m making a bit of a mountain out of a mole hill here. The prejudice those of us who choose to live on the water suffer may appear to be really quite minor. But the truth is that prejudice is prejudice. It’s not OK to be rude or patronising to me because I choose not to live in a house, I used to and I may do again one day. That’s my choice and I would really appreciate it if you would respect my choice. I respect yours. You may think that my priorities are screwed. I’m sorry that I don’t think owning a 50 inch flat screen HD television and an SUV are the be all and end all of life. You may not either. You may only buy fair trade and organic; I’ve got news for you – I buy local, fair-trade, organic. I’m like you, some of you anyway, I’m not any-woman and neither are you.

[1] Census information available from Office for National Statistics: Neighbourhood Statistics. Percentage of the population calculated in terms of ethnicity, approximate social grade and qualifications.
[2] These statistics and many more besides are available from Mind.org.uk
[3] All three have pledged to help end discrimination against those suffering mental illness on time-to-change.org.uk. Gok Wan has talked about the effects of bullying and having anorexia nervosa in his autobiography Through Thick and Thin (Amazon.co.uk link)
[4] I first came across the term ecotarian in Andy Atkins’ Guardian article: Debate on meat eating does not cut the mustard