Living on the canals

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.

WI's letter to Sallins liveaboards

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.

Holding tanks

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.

The principles

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.

The practicalities

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.

WI canal moorings policy

17 responses to “Living on the canals

  1. Brian, Quote from WI letter ” To be eligible boaters will also need to keep in place annual mooring and passage permit”
    So it’s not just the hundred euro but also the permit .


  2. Sure, but everybody already pays that, don’t they? And it does not confer the right to park for more than five days in one place.


  3. My ‘reading’ is somewhat different regarding permits. I disagreee that the new permit is an annual version of the existing monthly mooring permit. The monthly mooring permit – to which Robbie may have been referring – is what we previously used when we were only on the canal for a few weeks. This was the permit that entitled you to be on the canal, you then paid your locks on top of that. I wouldn’t say the monthly permit is little known. And it is, of course, still bound by the 5-day rule. Despite what RB may like to think. The annual CMP is for longer term users.

    The new mooring permit appears to be an exemption to the 5-day rule, for a fixed location and is in addition to the annual CMP – as PJ has also stated. It is, in effect, the permit referenced in 25(1)(d) – at last.

    In principle I do think it is a welcome development. There should have been prior consultation with stakeholders though. I’m also puzzled as to where this fits in with the proposed new bye-laws and why this initiative isn’t part of that process. WI’s approach is very fragmented. left hand/right hand?

  4. What I’ll do is wait for a day or so, see what other comments I get, and make a set of revisions all together rather than doing them individually.

    On the monthly permit, I have to confess I’ve never actually seen one. Does anyone have a copy I could scan and put up?


  5. As a member of the Irboa committee that has been dealing with WI’s Sallins development, I would like to confirm that while WI approached this in in a rather clumsy manner they do seem to be genuinely concerned to make the transition to regulated moorings as pain free as possible. They are engaging with, and listening to, the community at Sallins and have taken Irboa’s obvious concerns about when and where boats are moved, what services are going to be provided, and what the long term objectives are.

    Without doubt dramatic changes are coming for the live-aboard communities and these might not be all bad: a secure mooring will make cruising a live-aboard much more attractive (no fear that ‘your spot’ is going to taken in your absence) and there should be decent, safe, moorings for visiting boats to use in prime locations like Sallins. These changes are distressing for some live-aboards in the short term but, handled wisely, could\should be beneficial to both live-aboards and the greater boating community. There are obvious concerns about the need for insurance which will mean surveys for older boats, and it is possible that some live-aboards may lose their homes and for our communities to be divided along wealth lines with the wealthy living on serviced moorings and the less well off, unable to get ‘rent relief’ due to the absence of a tenant – landlord relationship with WI, having to continue as they always have on unlit unserviced moorings up the towpath. There is a lot going on and Irboa are committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for their members.

    Giles Byford.

  6. I still wonder from what legislative basis is the 100 euro charge being levied, currently charges are set by Act of Parliament. where this ones comes from I cant see.

    Id be very concerned that WI might be just trying to kick everyone out of sallins, with vague promises of “sweets” in the future.


  7. Re Dave – true the only charges are those in the schedule attached to the bye-laws. That, in part, was the justification for the new bye-laws. Greg would have an insider view on this.

  8. Yesterday, while discussing this very issue in Lowtown, mention was made of a 10 year permit. Does this really exist? Also Beth witnessed a monthly mooring-only as available from J. Conroy. Sorry, meant to take a photo.

  9. Pingback: There is no houseboat policy | Irish waterways history

  10. Liveaboard policy
    Currently living in Mexico on Westerly Pageant, thinking of shipping to Ireland (where I once lived) and “cruising” the waterways for a year. I can’t make heads or tails of the legalities so far…can someone answer if this is just possible, and how dear are the fees for such. Pageant is a bilge keeler 1 meter draft X 3.5m long X 1.3m wide (or so)….not looking for permanent moorage, just a year in dear old and then over to mainland for a canal trip to Black Sea.
    James (the bloody Yank)on “Kiloran” in La Paz
    jamesyeiser at gmail dot com

  11. You wouldn’t like to ask about something simple, like bringing about world peace and prosperity?

    Tha main thing is that there are no rules governing living on a boat as such, although we are constantly being told that new rules (byelaws) are on the way. I can’t predict what will be in any such rules so it’s possible that, by the time you get here, everything will have changed. But subject to that, here is the position.

    A single navigation authority, Waterways Ireland, is in charge of seven navigations. One of them, the Lower Bann, is not connected to the others, so I’ll omit that, leaving six:

    – the Royal Canal, which runs from Dublin to the River Shannon, joining it north of Lough Ree
    – the Grand Canal, which also runs from Dublin to the River Shannon, joining it south of Lough Ree
    – the River Barrow, which links the Grand Canal to the combined estuaries of the rivers Suir, Nore and Barrow near Waterford, and thus with the sea
    – the River Shannon
    – the Erne, which consists almost entirely of two large lakes
    – the Shannon–Erne Waterway (SEW), which links the Shannon and Erne and is a mix of canal, lake and (mostly) river.

    The first thing you have to consider, with your boat, is which of these waterways it can fit on. You should not have any problem on the Shannon, Erne or SEW, provided that you can get your mast down and back up relatively easily. If you can’t, you may be confined to one of the large lakes: Lough Derg or Lough Ree on the Shannon, Lower Lough Erne (Upper Lough Erne has some bridges). Waterways Ireland gives the dimensions, and short versions of the main rules, on this page.

    For the other three waterways, your draft may be a problem. The Barrow in summer guarantees only 2′ 6″. Deeper boats have travelled it, but I’d be a bit worried about a GRP boat: steel is safer! The two canals are being dredged, but you might have difficulty at the Dublin end: it clogs up faster.

    Now for where you can moor and for how long …. Different navigations have different rules, deriving in the main from the days of commercial freight carrying, which is why new byelaws are needed. Essentially, for the two canals and the River Barrow, you buy an annual permit for about €126, which allows you to pass through as many locks as you like and to moor anywhere you like (subject to restrictions like not blocking a lock or a bridge), provided that it is not for more than five days at a time. Whether or not you are living on your boat at the time is irrelevant. The five-day rule is widely ignored, but is likely to be enforced in future in some of the more popular areas.

    For the other waterways, you don’t get a permit. Instead you have to register your boat. You can register either for the Erne or for the Shannon (there are slightly different rules for the two) but, once you’ve registered for one, you can use the other and the SEW that links them. Registration is free; there are (small) charges for locks and some bridges and for services like shower blocks and pump-outs. I believe that, when people from outside the country want to register, the Inspector of Navigation’s staff are helpful.

    Again, the rules don’t take any account of whether or not you’re living on your boat. They simply say that you can stay, free of charge, in a public harbour for a maximum of five days (Shannon) or two days (Erne). So you can see that the essential point is that you must keep moving. However, if you anchor out, or use a private marina, or tie at the bottom of a friend’s field, the restrictions don’t apply.

    The other thing worth knowing about is that, in the winter, few boats are moving, so there is usually much free space in the public harbours. And, on the Shannon, for the months Novemeber through March, you can tie up in a public harbour for the entire period for a very small amount (which I think is €12.60 a month). Some of the harbours have shore power available too, which is nice. And, while the river sections can have nasty floods, the lakes are usually fine (although we did have floods in 2009 and ice in 2010/11) and you can have the lake largely to yourself.

    Hope this helps. Come back to me if you have more questions. bjg

  12. Wow big help ! Thanks.

  13. Pingback: More on WI’s non-houseboat policy | Irish waterways history

  14. Hi – thanks for all the information on this site. I’ve lived on boats in England for a lot of my adult life but find it a bit crowded now. I’ve always wanted to live in Ireland but wandered what was happening in boat scene there and if any of the dramatic changes you mention have happened? Or if there is anywhere to find out more??

    Many thanks Jess

  15. The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland has a forum where folk may be able to provide information. If you have specific questions about matters that fall within its scope, I am sure that Waterways Ireland will help. The situation is complicated because of different conditions on different waterways and in the two jurisdictions. bjg

  16. I have been looking for a boat to buy over the last week or so, and I researched about the process and to be honest its far too much stress for my head, all these hoops . I understand safety certificate and licences but having to move all time and now reading from you that mooring penmit to do that, and to even rent mooring your talking alot of money. If I don’t see an easier way to do this , then I need to reevaluate my living plans. Feel pure deflated

  17. If you are planning to put a boat on a canal belonging to Waterways Ireland, or any other body, you should expect to have to comply with the terms and conditions it sets. When new byelaws are made, Waterways Ireland may have more scope to provide for residential boats, but I hope it will also be able to charge reasonable amounts for the requisite permits.

    Note that my article is some years old; you may wish to check with Waterways Ireland for its current requirements.


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