The number of people who lived on boats in the Tang is unknown, but tenth-century Quanzhou was home to “floating boat people” who made their living as fishermen and traders, while in other inland areas as much as half the population was waterbound. The practice of living on houseboats has never died out, and while there are far fewer today, an estimated forty million Chinese lived on the water “in some shape or form” in the mid-twentieth century.

Lincoln Paine The Sea and Civilization: a maritime history of the world Atlantic Books, London pb 2015

10 responses to “Houseboats

  1. Wow. Ireland, per capita, has far more navigable waterway than the UK, and about 10% of their houseboat population. Ireland’s administration is very unfriendly towards anyone who doesn’t fit neatly in their pigeonholes.

  2. On the other hand, folk in Britain are willing to pay for the space they occupy. I am sure that Waterways Ireland would be delighted to rent spaces to houseboats provided that the rental produced a decent income. About ten years ago, or perhaps more, it cost £7000 to moor a narrowboat in London (in addition to licence fees etc). Perhaps Irish boat-owners’ organisations should lobby for the introduction of realistic (ie high) charges for the use of boats on the waterways.


  3. That is fair “rent”, where there is water, sewage, power and phone connections provided. W.I. have twice commissioned reports on how the should utilise Dublin’s waterways. Twice they have been promptly discarded. They very reluctantly tolerate houseboats in Grand Canal Basin, but Grand Canal Dock should be buzzing. Many of Europe’s houseboat locations are tourist attractions, here, they are hidden away in a corner.

  4. They’re hidden away in a corner to leave the outer section of the dock for watersports activities.

    I haven’t been keeping up with the arguments, but I don’t think WI can do anything about serviced houseboat moorings until they get new byelaws, which (IIRC) various objectors have been holding up. The byelaws are needed to enable WI to charge reasonable amounts of money.


  5. In Athy, a resident in a canal-side flat, phoned W.I. to object about a boat that was berthed near her ! There is minimal sport carried out in GCD, and that is very intermittent. The first report was presented to them about 15 years ago. If that isn’t long enough to iron out the wrinkles, I don’t know what is. We should have a nationwide houseboat policy, for harbours, riverbanks, canalbanks, and docks. Can you imaging GCD with 50 well maintained houseboats, dockside markets, and cafes ? There would still be plenty of space for the minimal amount of watersports that is there, and more.

  6. Plenty of space, but unless the boats are concreted into position their inhabitants will object to the wash from passing boats.

    There is no point in a nationwide houseboat policy because the legal regimes applying to water bodies are so different. Consider, for example, the Lakes of Killarney.

    WI has, AFAIK, done its best to advance new byelaws: it was not itself objecting to them.


  7. The complaint from Athy was from a land resident, objecting to a boat, in the canal. I wonder if you have experienced living afloat ? I am now 58, and have spent more than half my life living on boats. Initially in Shannon Harbour where W.I.s attempt at houseboat berths is. Why anyone would even want to live there, I don’t know. It is about as back-of-beyond as you can get, and a desolate place in winter. We were there to make use of the warehouses (now demolished AFAIK) to build boats. Comparing to the UK, sandpits and quarries are full of boats,, though most of the houseboats are on the interconnected waterways,, and only about half of them pay significant rent.

  8. The warehouses at Shannon Harbour are not demolished, although the canopy over the transhipment shed has been removed. Several people are living (and, I presume, paying) in Shannon Harbour: any time that I’ve been there recently, the houseboat berths have been full (or almost full). Waterways Ireland has spent money trying to improve Shannon Harbour, with a toilet block and other facilities; it has significantly tidied up the place.


  9. No, houseboat residents are unlikely to object to passing boats, unless they are speedboats, driven by inconsiderate or ignorant (of the wake-producing properties of their boats) people. The very occasional use of the dock by high-speed craft doesn’t justify keeping it empty. I actuallyy submitted a proposal to W.I. some years ago, for pontoons to accommodate house and leisure boats. It has some innovative features, but they said that they liked the features, but … no, without taking the trouble to say why. Every other city in Europe that has navigable waterways, has serviced houseboat berths in rivers, canals and docks, and have done for decades. Houseboats have been there for centuries.

  10. Perhaps the relevant authorities in Galway, Tralee or Limerick would be more receptive. bjg

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