The number of Londoner liveaboards is rising, but new regulations in England might change that.
Although total houseboat numbers have remained more or less static since 2012, the number of boats without a home mooring — so-called “continuous cruisers” — have grown year over year, partly as a response to property prices that are increasingly out of reach.
Last year Greater London saw a 34 percent increase in continuous cruisers, bringing the total in England and Wales to 4,904, according to City Metric.
Under the terms of the 1995 British Waterways Act, a boat without a home mooring must move its location every 14 days and be used “bona fide for navigation.” It is a license that recognizes the canals have been used for hundreds of years by working, migrant families.
But recently the Canal and River Trust, the authority that manages 2,200 miles of the waterways in England and Wales, announced new plans to crack down on those boats without home moorings that it deems to be violating the license by not moving “far enough or often enough.”
There is nothing in the act that defines how far a boat should move or how long a boat must remain away from one place before returning. As such, many continuous cruisers who live aboard move just far enough to keep their place of work, their children’s' school and their community within reach.
The CRT has long debated the interpretation of the phrase “bona fide for navigation.” Analysis carried out several years ago by British Waterways, as CRT was known before 2012, showed that half of the continuous cruisers on the canals moved between two points less than 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles apart over the course of their annual license.
CRT's proposed minimum distance of 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) was dropped in response to these findings, as it was seen to be unrealistic to place half of all boats into the enforcement process. In the same document Sally Ash, who was then CEO, said that setting a minimum distance would be an overreaching of the CRT’s power.
An open letter published by the National Association of Boat Owners has asserted that many of its members are being alienated by CRT's communication strategy. But Pamela Smith, of the National Bargee Travellers' Association, who represent the interests of boat dwellers, describes boaters as being “frightened and panicked.” A petition against CRT's proposed enforcement has gathered almost 15,000 signatures.
“I feel worried about my future living situation,” said Ulli, a musician who has lived on the canals for five years. “I want to protect and support the life on the rivers and the tradition of continuous cruising, but I find that CRT does not prioritize this huge part of UK history. They only see it as a problem.”