CANAL COL­UMNS

Canal Boat - - This Month - STEVE HAY­WOOD Award-win­ning cur­rent af­fairs TV pro­ducer, jour­nal­ist and au­thor who has been a boat owner for nearly 40 years

The haz­ards fac­ing Lon­don’s new live­aboards; What do you do with­out a plan?

Alive­aboard woman lost ev­ery­thing she owned when her boat sank re­cently. Even so, she’s a lucky woman. She could so nearly have lost her life.

Her boat went down on the River Lea. She was cruis­ing with her boyfriend when the boat started to take on water. Within min­utes it tipped over and was sub­merged. “It was pet­ri­fy­ing,” she told the me­dia. “Just gut wrench­ing watch­ing your life-long pos­ses­sions and a beau­ti­ful boat go down in un­der five min­utes.”

The boat went down be­cause the weed hatch had been left open, which is about as ba­sic a mis­take as you can make on a boat – and one of the most dan­ger­ous, too.

Had the boat gone down in a dif­fer­ent place, un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, I would be writ­ing here about a dou­ble fa­tal­ity. The trou­ble is, I fear I soon will be writ­ing about a fa­tal­ity un­less the Canal & River Trust gets to grips quickly with the un­der­ly­ing causes of this in­ci­dent.

Be­cause it wasn’t the cou­ple who had failed to tighten the weed hatch. In fact, they seemed to have known very lit­tle about the weed hatch and its po­ten­tial dan­gers.

It was her ‘land­lord’ who’d failed in this ba­sic task – that is, the per­son who’d rented the boat to her a cou­ple of months be­fore, charg­ing her not just a steep rent but also an arm and a leg as a de­posit on some cock-eyed scheme she was told made her a co-owner of the boat. It didn’t. Or at least not in any sort of mean­ing­ful way that would wrig­gle around the reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing the com­mer­cial use of boats – which is what this co-own­er­ship scheme was ac­tu­ally de­vised to do.

From what I un­der­stand, the boat had no com­mer­cial safety cer­tifi­cate, which means it can’t have had any ad­e­quate in­sur­ance, ei­ther.

And it seems not to be the only boat this owner is rent­ing out. Us­ing a web­site through which they sell the idea of ‘liv­ing the dream’ to Lon­don­ers des­per­ate for a home, they seem to be mak­ing a fi­nan­cial killing rent­ing out other boats at the same time.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, de­tails of the boats were taken off the web­site af­ter the sink­ing which, had it turned out dif­fer­ently, the au­thor­i­ties might have viewed as a rather more lit­eral killing.

The land­lord is not the only one at it, though. There are other web­sites – and pri­vate own­ers op­er­at­ing by word of mouth – who are jump­ing on the band­wagon rent­ing out boats to would-be Lon­don live­aboards. They’re even up for rent on a web-based site for book­ing self-cater­ing hol­i­day lets.

One of them was a cabin cruiser with a leak­ing petrol gen­er­a­tor and no heat­ing. Guests were ad­vised to use the gas oven and hob to keep warm.

In a re­view, the guests com­plained of damp and headaches, from which it was pa­tently clear that the owner – a new boater, ap­par­ently – knew noth­ing about car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing or the ex­plo­sive dan­ger of petrol fumes and naked flames.

The ad for the boat was spot­ted by one Lon­don boater who re­ported it and it was re­moved. It reap­peared a few months later.

The haz­ards of this new in­dus­try rent­ing out boats to vul­ner­a­ble young wannabe Lon­don­ers are ones recog­nised by the com­mu­nity of Lon­don boaters it­self.

The Lon­don Boaters’ Face­book site con­tains dire warn­ings about the sort of rental scams that young peo­ple might find them­selves drawn into, ad­vice co-or­di­nated by Lon­don boater Kate Saf­fin who in an­other guise is cur­rently tour­ing the UK wa­ter­ways in her show about the vol­un­teer boat­women of World War II.

But there’s a prob­lem, as Kate recog­nises. “How can you reach peo­ple through a site aimed at a par­tic­u­lar boat­ing com­mu­nity when they’re not part of that com­mu­nity?”

Or, as the woman said af­ter her nar­row es­cape, “I thought this was a com­pletely le­gal way that peo­ple rented boats.”

C&RT must act quickly to counter this grow­ing men­ace. They could start by leaflet­ing ev­ery boat in Lon­don list­ing the dan­gers of il­le­gal rent­ing.

Bet­ter though would be to deal with the own­ers of the boats be­ing il­le­gally rented, some­thing that could be done first by re­fus­ing to is­sue li­cences of any sort to them, and then by tak­ing them to court and throw­ing the book at them. Or does some­one have to die first be­fore some­thing is done?

‘Lon­don Boaters’ Face­book site con­tains dire warn­ings about rental schemes young peo­ple might find them­selves drawn into’

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