For many years now, people have been living in boats on Irish waterways and, for just as long, the waterways authorities have been ignoring the matter. That has now changed — and a good thing too, although I have some concerns about the details of implementation.
The matter is complicated by the fact that the existing canal and Shannon byelaws do not recognise the concepts of liveaboards, residential boating or houseboats (however defined: that’s a topic in itself). It is rumoured that Waterways Ireland is developing a “houseboat policy” in conjunction with its revision and integration of its byelaws, but it partakes of the quality of a Masonic ritual or the Third Secreet of Fatima: nobody is allowed to know what it is.
Action on the Grand Canal
In the meantime, then, Waterways Ireland is tackling the matter, at least on the Grand Canal, under the existing Canals Act 1986 (Bye-Laws) 1988. Here is Section 25:
Mooring of boats and fixing of ropes.
25. (1) No person shall moor a boat—
( a ) at any lock, sluice, barrage, weir or bridge in such a way as to cause damage to or cause an obstruction to safe use of the said lock, sluice, barrage, weir or bridge;
( b ) alongside another boat except where there remains sufficient space for two boats to pass and repass at the same time; or
( c ) so as to cause danger or obstruct the passage of any boat in any part of the canals; or
( d ) at the same place on the canals, or within 500 metres of the same place, for more than 5 days without the appropriate permit from the Commissioners.
(2) No person shall affix any mooring rope to any sluice, lockgate, bridge or other property of the Commissioners not provided for the purpose of mooring.
(3) Where a mooring rope is affixed to any sluice, lockgate, bridge or other property of the Commissioners not provided for the purpose of mooring, the rope may be removed and stored by, or on the authority of, the Commissioners.
(4) Where a boat is moored on any part of the canals in contravention of this Bye-law the boat may be removed and stored by, or on the authority of, the Commissioners.
Waterways Ireland is building live-aboard berths at Shannon Harbour, and will presumably charge for them, but it does not seem to intend to do so elsewhere on the canal. The other three locations where live-aboards are at Lowtown, Sallins and Hazelhatch, near the Dublin end of the canal.
The Waterways Ireland letter
Waterways Ireland issued the following letter to folk living on boats in Sallins.
I should at this point commend WI personnel — Shane Anderson (Assistant Inspector of Navigation, Canals), Dawn Livingstone and an engineer whose name I’ve forgotten: sorry — for having travelled to Sallins to discuss this issue with concerned residential boaters.
The problem with this approach
The problem with this approach is that it confuses several different strands. It is directed at live-aboards, ostensibly in the interests of tourism, but it uses for the purpose a byelaw controlling mooring rather than living. It might be useful to try to disentangle them.
Permits for mooring
On 18 and 22 January 2007 I wrote to Shane Anderson. Extracts:
“No person shall moor a boat [...] at the same place on the canals or within 500 metres of the same place, for more than 5 days without the appropriate permit ….”
What is “the appropriate permit”? Does it differ from the ordinary annual permit as described on your website and sold for €126? If it is different, how much does it cost?
1. Does any of the permits you list allow me to moor at the same place on the canals or within 500 metres of the same place for more than five days?
2. If not, how do I go about acquiring the “appropriate permit”, one that would allow me to moor at the same place on the canals or within 500 metres of the same place for more than 5 days, as mentioned in the
I should explain that I did not actually want to moor on the canals, but I wanted clarification of what the permits allowed. Shane Anderson responded:
[...] the permits issued to pleasure craft by Waterways Ireland are: [...] Mooring Permit on the Canals £10 (€12.6) @ Month
Question 1. [...] No.
Question 2. [...] The “Appropriate Permit” as mentioned in the Bye-Laws Paragraph 25 (d) is a written permission granted by Waterways Ireland, viewed on a case by case basis and based on a written submission to the Inspectorate from the boat owner.
The canals mooring-only monthly permit is little known (except to Robbie Bayly). But in effect what Waterways Ireland is now doing is advertising the fact that it will issue an annual version of the canal moorings-only permit, for €100 rather than 12 X €12.60.
So far, then, there is no great problem. I suspect that relatively few of those who moor on the canals, whether liveaboard or not, have applied for and been issued with mooring permits (if you have figures on this, or even an impression, please leave a Comment below), and I imagine that most people would prefer to pay nothing than to pay €100, but the amount is very reasonable and I cannot find any fault with this approach. WI are fully entitled to charge for permits and this charge is very low.
The right to control mooring
I am also entirely in support of Waterways Ireland in their efforts to take control of mooring on the canal. They simply cannot allow a situation in which sections of the canal bank are effectively privatised. Past laxity is no excuse for continuing to endanger WI’s rights.
Note this term (C1) in the draft licence agreement:
In consideration of the sum of €100 [...] Waterways Ireland hereby permits the Boat Owner to use the Mooring [...] as shown on the attached map, on the Grand Canal for the period of one year.
So the boat owner gets an assigned space for the year for €100. That’s a definite benefit to boat owners.
The extent of application
The new arrangements (whereof there will be more details later) are being applied in Sallins as a pilot scheme. However, the form, Application for a 1 Year Mooring Licence, has boxes to be ticked to select one navigation from this list: Shannon, Erne, Grand Canal, Royal Canal, Barrow. I suspect therefore than boats moored elsewhere on WI’s navigations in Ireland (as opposed to Northern Ireland) will later be able to apply for similar permits. There is a precedent in the winter moorings offered, very cheaply, by WI at its Shannon harbours.
Of more importance, though, is the fact that neither the draft agreement nor the application form is specific to residential boats or houseboats. I interpret that to mean that owners of all boats, residential or otherwise, will be expected to pay for moorings unless they are continuous cruisers who stay nowhere for more than five days. Thus this matter should, I believe, be examined by all waterways user groups and should not be left to the Irish Residential Boat Owners Association.
I suspect the end result will be the abandonment, by their owners, of some of the more, er, picturesque wrecks around the system, which may mean that WI will incur cranage, transport, recycling landfill costs, but that probably won’t happen for some time.
It is possible — I would welcome information — that Sallins was chosen first because it has a much higher proportion of residential to non-residential boats and that that made it easy to contact owners.
The tourism angle
While any mobile boater would welcome WI’s ensuring that (to quote Dawn Livingstone’s letter) “moorings in key locations such as the harbour in Sallins are made available to craft touring on the canal”, I don’t think that the absence of hard-edge moorings is the key deterrent to canal tourism. I would prefer to see more promotion of canal use by Waterways Ireland; this current issue is merely what might be called a hygiene factor. And I see no reason why, with little winter traffic, boats could not move closer to places like Sallins in the winter months, when few boats move.
The draft licence agreement contains several conditions, but I don’t find any of them objectionable. They include basic legal protections for WI’s interest in the property, the exclusion of commercial use, an undertaking to comply with regulations and to have a valid mooring and passage permit and an agreement that the licence is not a lease or disposal under the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999 (which means that WI doesn’t have to get the consent of the relevant ministers north and south every time someone wants a mooring) and it doesn’t come under landlord and tenant legislation (which would involve ridiculous complications for WI and would, I suspect, cause them to get rid of all residential boats instead).
The one aspect of the agreement that may require investigation is that of insurance. The draft agreement requires boat owners to indemnify WI against various things; it also requires them to be insured against
[...] such risks as Waterways Ireland may consider necessary from time to time to include public liability, in a sum adequate to cover all reasonable risks and in a sum to be approved.
The application form asks for the date of the last survey; no doubt insurers would require surveys before insuring older craft.
I do not know what proportion of owners have their craft insured. I would hope that all of them do but, if any considerable number do not, there may be some pressure on surveyors and dry docks and, obviously, an increase in costs to those who are not currently covered. I do not think it unreasonable of WI to insist on insurance, but it might be well to ask a canal-friendly broker to advise on this.
By the way, IANAL, and readers may wish to consult their own legal advisors on these matters.
The existing byelaws say:
38. No person shall [...]
( l ) cause or permit any polluting matter to enter the canals, or deposit or cause to be deposited waste oil or any offensive matter on any part of the canal property;
( m ) extract any water from the canals, other than for the purpose of cooling the engines of boats, except under licence from the Commissioners;
( n ) discharge any water into the canals, other than water used for the purpose of cooling the engines of boats, or from sinks, wash-hand basins and showers on boats, except under licence from the Commissioners [...].
Thus the discharge of toilets into the canal is banned under the byelaws, and the new draft agreement requires people to undertake to comply with them. The application form asks whether a boat has a toilet and has a holding tank (it does not seem to provide for elsans and suchlike).
It seems likely therefore that WI will eventually move to stop the use of sea toilets. Pump-outs or lavender boats will be needed.
It seems to me that, on the whole, what Waterways Ireland is doing is commendable; so too is the fact that it has been willing to talk directly to those affected. It is fully entitled to do what it is doing and its actions will, on the whole, benefit the waterways.
However, some of the practicalities may need more attention, in particular in the application to the live-aboards at Sallins. They may end up paying higher costs (at least the €100 charge) for worse facilities (further from the harbour, perhaps with shallow or soft banks to moor to).
The key issue to me (and I appreciate it may not be the key issue to those who don’t want to spend €100) is the state of the banks to which boats are expected to moor. My impression (I have no data on this and would welcome comments) is that WI does less piling of banks that British Waterways does, so that in many places the water is shallow along the banks. That makes it much more difficult for boats to moor securely (secure against the draw of passing vessels) and for crew to get on and off safely.
t seems to me that there are two options: pile the banks or erect landing stages. I don’t think it would be unreasonable of the Sallins residential boaters to ask WI to make bank moorings usable before asking boaters to move to them. And there might be special consideration for anyone whose mobility is impaired. I don’t think that touring boaters would object if, in the short term, only one side of the harbour was cleared. And I know that touring boaters appreciate the security that a live-aboard community provides for those leaving their boats in between weekend trips.
One other point on this: a problem often raised by British boaters is that the extent of linear (bankside) moorings is such that passing boats have to stay at tickover for very long times. Concentration of boats in harbours reduces the problem but there are no offline marinas on the Irish canals. It would be interesting to know what length of the Grand Canal will be occupied by moored boats, residential or non-residential.
The wider implications
Finally, I think that the user bodies — IWAI, RCAG, HBA, IRBOA — should discuss with WI the wider implications of this pilot scheme, notably its application to other waterways and to non-residential boaters. It would be nice to see WI discuss their overall canals strategy rather than to have to respond piecemeal to individual initiatives.
Update: here is a copy of the full set of WI documents. Note that this contains a draft agreement, not the final version.