Illness, mechanical break-down and the 14 day rule

The National Bargee Travellers Association, London Branch, reminds the Canal and River Trust about exceptions to the 14 day rule in the face of increased pressure on boaters to continue moving, even when they are unwell, or who have engine problems.

boat engine
Engine fucked? You don’t have to move

The NBTAL has recently become aware that CRT enforcement are telling some boaters without a home mooring that they must continue to abide by the 14 day rule, regardless of mechanical breakdown or illness.

This is leading to a situation where boaters are forced to rely on tows, or are having to pull their boats along by hand, a practice that is dangerous where there are long lines of moored boats on the towpath, .

The NBTA London has even heard of one case where a boater who did all the things CRT say they require – contacted CRT, kept them in the loop, provided evidence of ill health and mechanical breakdown, was genuinely attempting to get the mechanical problem fixed and had booked into a boat yard – yet was still told to continue moving and is now facing the loss of their licence for not moving far enough.

In following this inhumane course of enforcement with boaters who are ill or have engine problems, CRT are potentially going beyond the law, because the 14 day rule – enshrined in the 1995 British Waterway Act and from which CRT get their enforcement powers – is quite clear about reasonable exceptions being made to the need to move to a new place at least every two weeks. In fact case law and CRT’s own statements make it clear that bad weather, illness and mechanical breakdown are all counted as “reasonable” exceptions to the 14 day rule. CRT have previously said they require proof, and that boaters need to contact them and in the case of mechanical breakdown show that they are genuinely attempting to get the problem fixed, and if the boater is ill, to show proof of that as well. CRT lawyers also accept these exceptions as “reasonable” exceptions to the need to move when boater’s lawyers or legal representatives have raised them in court cases.

CRT’s published guidance on the 14 day rule states that:

“Circumstances where it is reasonable to stay in one neighbourhood or locality for longer than 14 days are where further movement is prevented by causes outside the reasonable control of the boater.

Examples include temporary mechanical breakdown preventing cruising until repairs are complete, emergency navigation stoppage, impassable ice or serious illness (for which medical evidence may be required).

Such reasons should be made known immediately to local Trust enforcement staff with a request to authorise a longer stay at the mooring site or nearby. The circumstances will be reviewed regularly and reasonable steps (where possible) must be taken to remedy the cause of the longer stay – eg repairs put in hand where breakdown is the cause.

Where difficulties persist and the boater is unable to continue the cruise, the Trust reserves the right to charge mooring fees and to require the boat to be moved away from popular temporary or visitor moorings until the cruise can recommence.”

Whilst the NBTAL believes that it is up to boaters whether they continue to move with a broken down engine or through a bout of illness, we do not believe that CRT should now be forcing boaters to do move against their will, and we will be contacting London Waterways Manager Jon Guest, and asking for a meeting to discuss the apparent new enforcement practice on illness and breakdown and press for a re-statement of already published guidance that takes into account the exceptions allowed by law.

In the meantime, we would ask all London boaters to challenge CRT if they are told to move whilst broken down or unwell, and contact the NBTAL on 07974 298 958 or nbtalondon@gmail.com if they have any problems.

The law from which CRT get their enforcement powers is quite clear. Section 17 (3) (the 14 Day Rule) of the 1995 British Waterways Act, states that CRT may refuse a licence (“relevant consent”) unless (i) CRT is satisfied the relevant vessel has a home mooring or: “(ii) the applicant for the relevant consent satisfies CRT that the vessel to which the application relates will be used bona fide for navigation throughout the period for which the consent is valid without remaining continuously in any one place for more than 14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances.”

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