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So you want to rent a boat …
written by Kate Saffin with additional contributions from London boaters

There are regular requests on the London Boaters Facebook group for boats to rent from those who want to try living on the water before deciding whether to buy a boat. However, be warned – this isn’t a guide to finding a boat to rent. It’s a summary of why you will find very few, what is realistic and what to be cautious of, if someone offers you something that looks too good to be true…

IMPORTANT NOTE: I am merely a boater who sees the question being asked regularly. 
I have put this rough guide together, with help from the London boating community, by way of informal help and advice. It has no official status or authority.

JUNE 2017: I originally titled this ‘So you want to rent a boat in London…’ but since then the issue comes up in other parts of the country and several people have asked to share it. This update has been prompted by a change in CRT rules to allow renting on long term moorings as well as residential ones (see below for link) and the rise of new websites offering boats to rent or to broker rentals without being clear that they are taking your money to set up something that may not be safe or legal or you could do just as easily yourself.

Until recently, letting a boat was only permitted by the Canal and River Trust if the boat had a permanent residential mooring, a commercial licence, insurance and boat safety checks (just like all the holiday hire boats you see around the system).  This has recently been extended to boats on long term leisure moorings – BUT the requirements for commercial licence, insurance and a non-private boat safety certificate are exactly the same.  And at the same time they intend to crack down on boats let illegally ie without a home mooring.

Start by reading this:

Renting a boat

There are some companies who offer longer term cruising hire – primarily aimed at the visitor to the UK who wants to spend several months exploring our waterways. If you find one that suits you it might be a way to try out the lifestyle but it won’t be cheap and if you are planning to be in London, you may find they are less than keen to take you on as they are concerned about things like double mooring.

As a boat owner: renting a privately owned boat as a liveaboard without a home mooring will contravene the terms and conditions of the owners licence. There is also the risk that your tenant will sell the boat (it has happened), damage it (living on a boat requires some training) or not move far enough over the year so that you end up with a restricted licence the following year. Assuming you haven’t had your licence revoked for letting in the first place…

If you are looking to rent and find a boat without a home mooring then you are not renting a home, you are simply paying for the use of a ‘chattel’, a possession.  This means that none of the legislation designed to protect tenants applies. There is a good summary of the issues here:

Landlordlawblog

You will rarely find boats advertised to rent because: residential moorings, even in London, where there are more than on other parts of the system, are few and far between (the new extension to allow renting on long term moorings won’t make much difference in London). However, they do turn up occasionally and are often managed by estate agents. Who may not know very much about boats so if you do find one take someone with boat knowledge with you when you go to look and don’t be fooled by nice decor. However, at least you will have some recourse to law if you find something doesn’t works as you expected. And they will cost much the same as a flat. A quick search as I completed this update brought up six possibilities; five two bed boats on the Thames c£1500/mth and one 57’ narrowboat on the Regent’s canal at £1300/mth.

  • If the boat doesn’t have a home mooring, the owner knows they are doing something under the radar that risks their licence so they aren’t going to shout about it in public. These fall into two categories:
    • the boater who is going away for some reason and wants to let the boat so that it is looked after and covers the costs.  They rarely advertise because CRT monitor these things and do not look fondly upon them and will refuse to renew the boat’s licence if they become aware that it is being rented. So, the boater(s) will tend only to let by word of mouth to trusted friends or friends of friends.
    • there are a few exploitative individuals who own several boats and choose to run an illegal letting business – they too have networks they operate through that they don’t publicise.

It is acceptable to allow someone to boat sit. Owners who are looking for someone to look after their boat because they need to be away – perhaps working abroad for a few months. It’s fine as long as money does not change hands. They rarely advertise because the boat is their home and they are very unlikely to let someone they don’t know live on it in their absence. They do not want to return to batteries that have been damaged or to letters from CRT because the boat hasn’t moved far enough. They will tend to look for a suitable sitter by word of mouth. Again it will be to trusted friends or friends of friends.

So, in a nutshell, you will very rarely see a boat advertised to let. And if you do, please check it out carefully. Be particularly careful of the person who implies that you will have the same legal deal as renting a flat (you won’t).


At the same time, if all this is making any boaters think that a spot of illegal renting wouldn’t really be a problem (after all, none of that tenancy stuff applies) beware… Rob Mclean (Boat Safety Examiner) offers the following comment:

Anyone letting a property that gets convicted of not complying with those regs could easily face a jail sentence or £000s in fines and costs. There is a growing list of rogue landlords being successfully prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive. It is flavour of the time and I don't see any let up in the fervour of the HSE to pursue wrong-doers.

Likewise should a tenant be injured by something that was the landlord's responsibility to address, there is the likelihood that criminal prosecution will be considered by the navigation authority.

And finally if that doesn't make any boat owner with Rackmanish thoughts nervous enough, please note that the police may seek to prosecute any boat owner whose actions (or inactions) result in the death of someone aboard their boat – whether they are paying rent or not. 

So as I continue to say, worry plenty about the Canal & River Trust licensing conditions, but worry shed loads more about the other responsibilities you have if you 'lend, lease or rent' your boat to someone else.

Apparently above board renting…

Things have changed a bit since I first wrote this – apparently above board businesses are popping up. They usually have very glossy websites and look very convincing…

‘rent to buy’

London Boater, Paul Powlesland, wrote the following:
Quick legal info post (please note, this is meant to serve as a general warning rather than specific advice- if you want proper advice on a specific case, please seek a lawyer):

There's been a few posts recently about people wanting to buy boats in instalments. However, you should be aware that where possession and full ownership aren't exchanged at the same time, there are serious risks for both the purchaser and the seller.
From the seller's point of view, if the buyer stops paying the instalments, they can obviously sue the buyer. However, depending on the facts of the case, if the buyer has sold the boat on to a third party purchaser for value without notice (the so called "equity's darling"), there is a strong chance that they will not be able to recover the boat and they will probably have a tough time tracking down the buyer who has made off with the cash.

It's not all rosy from the buyer's point of view either, as there have been cases where all the instalments have been paid and then the seller has claimed that this was merely rent and demanded back possession of the boat.
In short, consider very carefully before entering into an agreement to buy or sell a boat in instalments.

Brokering

A fairly new development is glossy websites offering ‘rent to buy’ or to broker deals between those who want to rent and those who want to let. It is very easy to get drawn in – it all looks above board, there are references to insurance and boat safety, so it must be fine…

However, read the small print very carefully, what are they actually offering? One I read recently had a whole page about licence etc. but none of it related to commercial letting and there were several disclaimers meaning that the company wouldn’t be accepting any responsibility if you found that the boat wasn’t insured.  Personally I couldn’t see what I would be paying for…

1% ownership

Renting in which you own 1% of the boat, the owner will tell you that this makes it legal. In practice it is a device (some have called it a scam) to get round the licensing requirements. A young woman recently lost her home after her landlord did some work and didn’t secure the weed hatch properly.  When, a couple of weeks later, she moved the boat, it sank. She lost all her possessions, her deposit and that months ‘rent’. She, and her parents, had thought they were entering into a legal agreement and that it would be a good way to test out the lifestyle. She could have taken out a loan and bought a boat for the monthly rental she was paying (and that deposit which she lost would have covered the initial year’s licence, safety certificate and insurance).

 

Finally…

If you still want to pursue the idea:

  • Don’t do it because you think it will be cheaper – generally it isn’t, or not much, especially if you are renting legally.

  • For most of us living on a boat is a lifestyle choice not primarily a financial one. You need to want to empty a toilet regularly (and worry about whether the facilities will be in working order to do so), manage a temperamental solid fuel stove, live with running out of gas at midnight, wonder what that strange noise from the engine/water pump/bilges is, worry about security on the towpath and whether your bike is still on the roof…

  • You can try a long term commercial rental if you want to be on the move or can’t find a boat on a mooring. The rent (£940-£1400/mth) will be similar to a flat and reflect the level of maintenance, insurance and support that is needed. You may also find that they aren’t that keen on London – they’ve heard too many stories about overcrowding.  Google ‘long term narrow boat hire’ and you will find a few companies plus some other possibly useful links.

  • Note: searching on terms like ‘boat’, ‘rent’, ‘London’ will bring up a number of old adverts that contain very out of date information – ‘When I lived aboard I generally lived in the East London area…’ – try that now and you’ll be in trouble very quickly!

  • Learn how to handle a boat – there are numerous centres including Islington Boat Club that offer the RYA Inland Helmsman training.

  • Walk the towpath, get to know boaters. Look for opportunities to volunteer and get to know people. There are regular clean ups around the London waterways, some organised by boaters (watch for details on London Boaters), others by local groups on the River Lea Project or the Lower Regent's Coalition

  • Check with any marinas in the area as to whether they allow their residents to rent and if so, keep an eye out for any opportunities.

  • You might also find the occasional room in a share advertised – these are usually on the bigger static houseboats to be found on the Thames. Search terms; houseboat (actually a static structure that just happens to be on water), rent, London.

  • Consider buying

And if you find something

  • Check whether you are being offered a legal rental – if so, make sure it meets the CRT requirements as above. Check that the licence, boat safety and insurance are legal for renting (because it they’re not, you may be the one to suffer).

  • If it doesn’t and you still want to take the risk, get an agreement drawn up by a solicitor that is specific to the boat and your circumstances – an off the shelf short-hold tenancy agreement will have no standing in UK tenancy law. And check the same things as the boat sitting…

  • If you are boat sitting check:

    • that the owner has cleared it with their insurers,

    • when the last boat safety was done, and that any work recommended has been done,

    • that you know how everything works, particularly the smoke and CO alarms,

    • that you have someone to call on for advice and help – on a day to day basis as well as in an emergency,

    • And this list is not exhaustive or perfect!

  • IF THE BOAT HAS NO HOME MOORING YOU MUST MAKE YOURSELF FAMILIAR WITH THE CURRENT (AND CHANGING) RULES ABOUT MOVEMENT – if you don’t you could put the owner’s licence at risk (and thus your home). Currently this means covering a range of at least 20 miles in the course of a year and moving every 14 days (or more often).

This article was written by Kate Saffin with additional contributions from London boaters and appeared in
Summer 2017 edition of the IWA Waterways magazine, details last updated in June 2017.


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