Saturday, 14 February 2015

Calling up ghosts

CRT's new 'Guidance for boaters without a home mooring' is causing a few comments. It's interesting to note the new terminology here - these are what were previously referred to ac 'continuous cruisers', and the perceived problem being addressed here is those boaters who are nominally continuous cruisers, and are licenced accordingly, but who don't actually fulfil the requirement of making a progressive journey around the system - 'bridgehoppers', or 'continuous moorers' in the pejorative parlance often employed.

I'm not saying that I have any sympathy for people who break the rules that they've willingly signed up to, but I do seem to have less steam coming out of my ears about it than many people. For some, it's just the thought that others are 'getting something for nothing' that is most objectionable, when they are paying for a mooring. Of course, when you pay for a mooring, you do get something for your money over and above what a continuous cruiser (genuine or otherwise) enjoys: a secure, guaranteed place to leave your boat, often with useful facilities like electricity, water and toilet emptying to hand. Continuous moorers are often lumped together with non-licence payers, but this initiative is aimed explicitly at those who have paid for a licence - maybe just the 'wrong' sort. So they are still paying for the use of the waterways, and it could be argued that, in some areas at least, they are causing less inconvenience to other boaters by staying in one place than they would if constantly on the move.

The situation is reputed to be particularly bad on the Kennet and Avon, which, to my shame, I haven't yet boated to, and London. Certainly, when I visited London this week, there were many, many more moored boats through Camden and towards Kings Cross - but this was in places where there had previously not been any moorings. I thought it was an improvement to see boats there, even if they are not always the prettiest and best maintained - they are often among the most interesting. It is bringing life to what was previously quite a sterile stretch of waterway, with its impenetrable concrete banks. Yes, I know it can cause problems when visiting boats, continuously cruising or on holiday, can't find anywhere to tie up. I know it's out of season, but as Neil on Herbie has noted, and I observed myself, visitor spaces were available in Paddington Basin. Perhaps one part of an answer is to gradually increase the number of such patrolled and controlled visitor places, while leaving the towpath more anarchic.

What bothers me slightly about the very popular crackdown on 'continuous moorers' is the inequity of it. You are only required to be making a continuous, progressive, journey around the system if you do not have a home mooring - as the wording of the new policy makes clear. If you do have a home mooring, there is no requirement that you spend a minimum amount of time on it. Subject to not overstaying on limited stay mooring, or returning within the time limit if there is one, or staying more than a fortnight on one bit of towpath, you can bridgehop as much as you like. So, the same behaviour is subject to different rules and sanctions based purely upon whether you can afford to pay for a home mooring that you might in fact never use. That looks like one rule for the rich, to me. If you pay for a mooring, then you get all the advantages of that mooring, and that should be sufficient compensation for your outlay, without expecting more flexible rules as well.

I can see this leading to a big increase in 'ghost moorings' - a nominal mooring that's very cheap, on the understanding that it'll never be used and might not even exist, on a waterway well out of CRT's purview.  I've a feeling that CRT might have begun to address one issue by opening a whole new can of worms.

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