For the past 15 years I have been a member of, and actively recruited other liveaboard boaters to join, the Residential Boat Owners Association (RBOA). I am now sorry that I did so and will be resigning my membership and encouraging others to do so.
Why? Because it has abandoned liveaboard boaters without a home mooring who obey the rules set by the 1995 Waterways Act and the Terms and Conditions set by C&RT, along with the 'guidelines' on distance and 'range'.
Instead it has decided sucking up to the prejudices of the Inland Waterways Association and other organisations dominated by non-liveaboard boaters with home moorings and massive prejudices against continuously cruising liveaboards who don't travel enormous distances.
RBOA Chairman, Alan Wildman, said “Irrespective of the uncertainty emanating from the 1995 Act, continuous cruising should apply to boaters who have a primary intent to cruise extensively around the inland waterways. In most cases this will not be compatible with having lifestyle connections with one place – for example: education of children, employment or health needs.
“These are individual decisions and responsibilities (in which the RBOA will support its members as best it can); it should not be assumed that either navigation authorities or local authorities should be providers in every situation.”
“RBOA envisages that some form of progressive journey is implemented. This need not be rushed but as purely an example of our thinking, cruising for one day in the allowable 14 days moored at one place would equate to between 200 miles and 300 miles per year.”
When I challenged his abandonment of thousands of Ccers who simply stick to the rules, he went on to claim: “Thankfully, the required cruising range can only ever be advisory.”
Asked whether the RBOA's members had been consulted about the decision he said: “The suggested figure we put out was reached after lengthy debate (and a majority vote) at a Committee meeting.” It is also the case that the poorly attended annual meeting of the RBOA did not approve any such major change of policy.
According to Wildman, the younger boaters and families who will not meet the RBOA's massive cruising range should just bite the bullet.
He said: “An accepted larger cruising requirement might be hard to bear for some but, at least, we could remove the uncertainty and stress for many.
If London boaters, for instance, cruised the whole of the London Region during the year they would be more than compliant and the pressure would be off them. It still wouldn't help the leisure boaters who say they can't moor anywhere but it would be a start.”
In fact Alan is happy to repeat the criticisms of legitimate continuously cruising liveaboard boaters made by other organisations: “Time and again recently, though, when attending meetings with other boaters or boating associations, we have detected a noticeable and growing development of anti “CC” feeling – freeloaders, bridge hoppers, continuous moorers are all unpleasant terms we hear being used more and more.
“Long standing boat clubs are allegedly unable to organise club cruises because of the lack of moorings at traditional cruise locations.
“By taking a realistic approach to Navigation Authority governance we may appear to some as if we are giving ground. That is certainly not the case. What we are trying to do is preserve the right to live afloat, with or without a home mooring, before the pressure on parts of the system becomes unsustainable, the consequences of which could well deny all of us the floating lifestyle we have chosen.”
Sadly this capitulation and abandonment of perfectly legitimate CC liveaboards is likely to result in the death throes of the RBOA. Born from a group of liveaboard boaters on the Thames 50 years ago it has been overtaken by more effective campaigning groups and failed to adapt and change.
The officers of the committee have been the same people – sometimes changing hats – for many years and any outsiders who attempt to drag the RBOA into the current century are either driven out or leave in frustration and their inability to penetrate or influence the old hands. Even allegations of financial irregularity resulted in the departure of the whistle blower rather than an open investigation.
Boater Alison Tuck is one of those who attempted to help the RBOA and her Facebook reaction will be echoed by many other members: “OFFS! sometimes I really wonder about the RBOA. Is it really trying to get residential boating to be an honest thing and not as is at the moment under the radar.
“You know what really makes me mad about this, is IWA, RBOA and CRT are always asking the question how to we get younger folk interested in canal and boating.
“Well now lets see!!! Its not f******* rocket science, Young folk can't afford housing and keep a boat for recreational use its not like it was for the baby boomers who could afford to have it all.
“Young folk need to work otherwise they cant afford to run boats, soooooooooo instead of restricting usage of the canals to the retired which is what C&RT, IWA and now RBOA policy does; Oh, I dunno, why dont we change the way the canals are used and enable younger folk to live and work or bring up children on the canal?
“Instead of vilifying anyone who is below the age of retirement, why don't we turn 50 per cent of visitor moorings in to long stay moorings?
“Why don't we agree a small route if someone wants to get their kids to school, why don't we have online moorings again, instead of building marina's that nobody can afford to stay in?
“Why don't we make sure that when C&RT sells (sorry leases) land for property developers that they have to put in a percentage of residential/long stay moorings instead of concreting the bank and having no mooring signs?
“Why don't we have a mandatory percentage of marina spaces as residential moorings otherwise the marina doesn't get built?
“Its simple, just embrace the new boaters and let them decide how they want to use the canals. If someone wants to rent a CC boat let them just regulate it reasonably.
“We should be enabling not stopping people from boating because the old ways are unsustainable. Embrace the future and think outside the box. Turn London into linear residential moorings with 10 per cent VMs and make money out of it for waterway maintenance.
“Get the councils onside by offering a percentage in council tax, Give people choices not restrictions.”
As for me? I despair of the blinkered thinking of the RBOA, the stranglehold a small group has on the organisation and it's failure to consult its membership before making such a momentous policy change.
I despair of it's failure of courage and it's apparent inability to recruit and welcome those young boaters who are the future of the system and of living on board yet have been kicked in the teeth by a bunch of relics living on the glories of 50 years ago.
The RBOA could and should have been working alongside London's boaters and those in other popular areas, co-operating with and assisting organisations like the National Bargee Travellers. It could have become a genuinely campaigning organisation once more – genuinely representative of those who live on their boats, whatever their individual circumstances.
Instead it has cosied up to authority – more concerned to appease the bigots of the IWA and the bureaucrats of the Canal & River Trust – and it will now slowly but surely be rejected by any but the complacent, self-satisfied and well-heeled who think their way of living on a boat should be the only permissible way.
Once again I apologise to my many liveaboard friends I encouraged to sign up. I was wrong. The RBOA is not an organisation worth your money. It deserves to wither, curl-up and die in the arms of C&RT.