Thursday, September 23

More boats in canals and rivers than in the 18th century, thousands choose life afloat | Water transport

LJust over six months ago, Paul and Anthony Smith-Storey were still living in a three-bedroom townhouse near St Helens in Merseyside. But now the couple, and their dog, Dexter, have traded it all for a life afloat in a narrow six-foot-wide boat on the Peak Forest Canal in Derbyshire.

“We took the equity out of the house, bought the boat and thought we’d enjoy it while we were still alive,” said Anthony, 48, an NHS sonographer. They are not the only ones.

Record numbers spend time on Britain’s rivers and canals, according to the Canal and River Trust. Its popularity is such that the charity, which runs 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, says: “There are more ships in our canals now than at the height of the industrial revolution.”

In March, there were 35,130 people with a boat license for rivers and canals. – compared to 34,435 last year and 32,490 in 2012. Confidence surveys put the share of “liveaboard” at around 25% (an increase of 15% in 2011) nationally, and believe that the majority of boats in London they are permanent homes. The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) said there are around 80,000 motor boats on the waterways of England, Scotland and Wales.

Meanwhile, boat builders and sellers are reporting record demand. Jamie Greaves, who has worked in the industry for over 20 years and has owned Aintree boats in Liverpool for more than a decade, attributes the surge in interest to the pandemic.

Anthony, left, and Paul Smith-Store, with Dexter the dog, in their motorboat at Bugsworth Basin, Derbyshire.
Anthony, left, and Paul Smith-Store, with Dexter the dog, in their motorboat at Bugsworth Basin, Derbyshire. Photograph: Gary Calton / The Observer

“People don’t want to travel abroad right now, they don’t feel safe, they prefer to spend a boat holiday in England.” Others, he said, are taking advantage of rising house prices to sell, buy a boat and save some money. The last year has been so busy that they have been turning down jobs.

Chris Hill, Managing Director of the New and Used Boat Co, which has offices across the country, said it had record sales in January and February, with a 50% increase in business from last year.

He said clients, who tend to be between 45 and 60 years old, but 25% of whom are younger, have told him: “Savings in the bank don’t make a lot of money, you can’t really travel abroad, always we wanted a boat. ” , so we just say ‘shit, let’s do that.’

The value of new and used boats has risen, but he said the average for a used canal boat is £ 45,000 to £ 50,000 and £ 140,000 for a fully equipped new wide-girder boat.

Alison Smedley, IWA’s campaign and public affairs manager, said there had been a “steady rise over many years” rather than a sudden rise, but television shows like the BBC’s Canal ship diaries they have highlighted the appeal of waterways.

Matthew Symonds, national navigation manager at Canal & River Trust, said: “During the industrial revolution, the canals were private and used to transport cargo, so the number of vessels was much smaller and also only for work purposes. But now we have many more people who use the waterways for leisure, but also people who use them for living. “

In London, the housing crisis has influenced people who choose to live on boats, he said, and for some it is not a lifestyle choice or a passion, but “one of the few options they have.”

Andrew Carpenter, boat director and head coach at the Pirate castle, a community boating charity in Camden, cautioned that while it is positive that more people are enjoying the canals, the recent surge in boating has put pressure on canal-side services such as drinking water and sanitary facilities.

Permanent moorings can be expensive and difficult to find, but many people cruise continuously, which means they have to move at least once every 14 days.

Annie Mellor, 28, and Hayden Crocker, 32, who work for tech startups, have lived on the River Lee and Regent’s Canal since they bought a narrow boat in September, inspired by their closed walks on towpaths.

“It is quite attractive from a financial point of view,” said Crocker, “and it is a way of living a life that does not conform to the rules and without great resources.”

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