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’