Monthly Archives: October 2021

my alerts!


First of all, a little background.

Canal living is particularly attractive to retirees… as a result, the boating community tends to be significantly older, on average, than the population at large (the latest reliable estimates suggest that, since the turn of the millennium, the mean age of a permanent boater had risen by a little over four years, to 59).

Sadly, the wisdom of age is served with a generous side order of underlying health conditions, ominously referred to in these pandemic times as 'co-morbidities'.  A fact that I know all too well!

It gradually dawned on me that, should I become incapacitated in some way, then giving first responders or carers access to my medical information would significantly improve my treatment and prognosis.

My own research revealed that all front line emergency workers (Police, Fire fighters, Paramedics & hospital medical staff etc.) are trained to look in a non-responsive patient's wallet, purse, bag or pockets for medical notifications.  They also routinely examine a patient's wrists for 'medical alert' bracelets;  silicone wrist bands that are widely available to purchase on the internet from around a fiver or so, and cover a wide variety of conditions and drugs.  Unfortunately, these bands only alert to one specific condition or medication.

In my case;  I have type 2 diabetes, and take anticoagulants (so called 'blood thinners'), beta-blockers and a vasodilator for a heart condition, so I used to wear four.

I should, in fact, have worn at least one more, but the medications prescribed for that particular condition changed too frequently for my Amazon account to keep up with all of the orders… thank goodness I didn't have any dangerous allergies, or I would have run out of arms!  :o)

With a professional background in web software development, I set about designing a better mousetrap, and the result is now available to you as MyAlerts!

Guaranteed privacy…

When you register online, you'll receive a membership card with a holographic Personal Identification Code (PIC), which gives first responders instant access to your most important medical information on a mobile phone, laptop or tablet, 24 hours a day.

MyAlerts! will never ask for your name, telephone number or email address, and there's no need to worry about anyone guessing your PIC... with 1.6 Billion possible combinations, a hacker would stand a better chance of scooping the Euro Millions jackpot more than ten times in a row!

You can update your Public Alerts as often as you wish, including any underlying health conditions or dangerous allergies you have (or may develop over time), changes in the medications you are taking, your vaccination status, blood group and emergency contacts.  Because this page is only accessible using the PIC on your card, and doesn't identify you by name (unless YOU decide otherwise!), it is wonderfully secure!

Try it from the point of view of a first responder, by going to and accessing our boater's demo account using the PIC  Z6T84Y

Plus;  the reverse of every card has a QR code which will take a first responder DIRECTLY to your own Public Alerts page.  Again, try accessing the canal demo account by scanning the QR code below…

MyAlerts and What3Words

No internet?  No problem… every card also carries an emergency 03300 telephone number that will be answered 24/7 by one of our volunteer Angel Operators, who will read the contents of your Public Alerts page to the caller!

(03300 numbers are charged at the normal rate from landlines and are included in free minutes from all mobiles!)

MyAlerts! on the cut

Whilst not developed specifically for boaters, MyAlerts! does provide a solution to some of the unique challenges of life on the cut, such as the lack of a fixed address.  For example; when you cruise to a new mooring, simply update the location in your Public Alerts page… and you can show the EXACT position of your boat on any canal, river or marina in the UK using what3words.

Imagine trying to give the Ambulance Service directions to a remote mooring on the Grand Union, South West of Northampton, just after the village of Bugbrooke… about halfway between the Camp Hill canal bridge and Robinsnest Mooring.  Or, just go to and tell them you are located at;  screamed.candle.resorting

(Watch out for more ways you can use what3words in a future issue of CanalsOnline Magazine)

Similarly, although you may be amongst the minority of boaters registered with a doctor's surgery, accessing your medical records is far less straightforward when you could be on any waterway, anywhere in the country.

If you should suffer an accident or medical emergency, whether onboard or during a shopping trip to a nearby town, MyAlerts! could be a genuine life saver.

MyAlerts for pets at home


Imagine a situation where you are unable to return to your boat… what will become of your dog, cat, parrot or goldfish left alone onboard?  This section of MyAlerts! is designed to ensure that whoever you nominate will be alerted to look after them in your absence.

…but at what cost?

MyAlerts! is operated not-for-profit, and so Membership is just £20.99 for five years (then we give you an extra six months free, so that you have plenty of time to renew)… which works out at exactly one penny a day!

MyAlerts and What3Words Editor's note: I sent off for my own MyAlerts! pack, which arrived promptly. I then went online to activate my card and fill in my medical information. It was very easy to do. I now wear the wristband all the time, and go nowhere without my MyAlerts! card - usually tucked in my phone case. I have the reassurance that now, should anything happen to me, all of my medical details are available to those who will need them, and my pets will be safe.

To order your own pack today, simply go to MyAlerts!

barge association conduct survey on mooring prices

Why do boat owners decide to live “afloat”? Are the reasons changing? If affordability was important then how do you know what it’s going to cost? Has the pandemic made it more difficult to pay for where you and your boat live? Can you help all UK liveaboards achieve the best deal for each of us?
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madness of moorings

the madness of moorings - are you paying too much?

the barge association mooring survey

Why do boat owners decide to live “afloat”? Are the reasons changing? If affordability was important then how do you know what it’s going to cost? Has the pandemic made it more difficult to pay for where you and your boat live? Can you help all UK liveaboards achieve the best deal for each of us?

There’s no doubt that moving onto the water has become not just a lifestyle choice but, for some, a lifeline when housing costs become too much to bear. City dwellers faced with impossible rents and mortgage payments have looked to the canals and rivers as a seductive alternative but are they? For many, this means “continuous cruising” with no fixed mooring just to avoid the fees. For others who want or need a more settled life, it’s a hunt for an affordable mooring.

But have those calculations changed during the pandemic? Some who live in cities have enjoyed the enviable position of being moored in managed marinas with national commercial landlords or Trusts who claim charitable status. Others have to negotiate their way (and their bank balance) through the fog of privately or corporately-owned moorings where you have to pay what you’re asked with no idea if this is a good deal or a rip-off.

And the bigger you are, the more difficult and expensive it gets. To find out just how difficult, DBA - The Barge Association, which represents not only barges and large broad beam boats but has members with craft of all sizes, is running a national survey, comparing mortgage figures & bricks-&-mortar rentals with mooring fees.  The equations, particularly for London & the Home Counties are already quite startling and the survey now urgently needs more information from all areas of the UK in order to complete a comprehensive database to aid owners in their hunt for moorings and in negotiating new or renewal terms.

Already it is clear that for some, monthly mooring fees for vessels are between 50% & 100% more than comparable apartment rental costs, and almost exactly the same costs as 20 year mortgages And the fundamental difference is that after every payment, every year, the vessel owner is left with nothing and the building buyer is a year nearer to owning the property.  For example, In East London, a modest two bedroom flat will attract a rent of between £12,000 & £15,500 per year and a mortgage for such a property may be between £1,000 & £2,700 per month. Meanwhile, marinas & docks in the borough of Tower Hamlets will be costing liveaboards in the region of £420-£640 per week!

The strong impression is that mooring owners are able to defy the laws of economics to charge more and more per year whilst delivering less and less value. Meanwhile, the renter or purchaser gets less and less for their hard-earned salary. For many, the challenge of continuous cruising is too much. Experienced boaters often say it requires similar time and effort to a part-time job on top of what you do to earn money just to service the boat plus, for those who work from home, which is hugely attractive to a boating lifestyle, the need for reliable power and wifi is a significant driver for needing a permanent mooring alongside the option to cruise when you can.

So, for those walking past a barge owner, the universal question is no longer; “Is it cold in winter?” but “Are your economics on thin ice?” You can help NOW by contributing to the DBA Mooring Survey for wherever your boat is moored, whatever its size and whatever you do with it.

The survey is open NOW

Please help us all find out what is going on, create a national database which will be available  to the public and then please use it to help you!

For further enquiries please contact:

Mike Gibbons, Chair DBA - The Barge Association

Email or telephone 07885 239643


brigadoon! launches in london

Roving Traders — canal boat owners licensed to sell goods and services on UK canals — have to be mad.  Consider the challenge of living sideways in an improbably elongate tube.  Now consider shoehorning a business in there with you.  And if you somehow defeat the odds, and are hard working and fortunate enough that your product finds an audience … your continuous cruising license requires that every two weeks you leave your customers behind.
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roving traders are mad

roving traders are mad

Roving Traders — canal boat owners licensed to sell goods and services on UK canals — have to be mad.  Consider the challenge of living sideways in an improbably elongate tube.  Now consider shoehorning a business in there with you.  And if you somehow defeat the odds, and are hard working and fortunate enough that your product finds an audience ... your continuous cruising license requires that every two weeks you leave your customers behind.  

For a business reliant on good weather (in a country famous for not having it) there are yet more obstacles: like the law, and a licensing organisation who should, but rarely does, protect you.  

Sam Keay Gangplank spirits and preservesConsider Sam Keay, owner of Gangplank Spirits, whose loyal customers chase her around the countryside, bringing wild-gathered fruits in season to swap and flavour her gins and cordials. For years Sam says she was welcome wherever she went. With the pandemic and challenging times, however, she finds herself increasingly confronting licensing officials — five times this year — demanding she have a local street traders license, obliging her to cease doing business and move on down the Cut.

It’s unpleasantly reminiscent of how authorities have traditionally responded to people on the edge of town whose lifestyle threatens their own.  It also appears to be in contravention of law.  The Pedlars Act of 1881 decreed that one authority’s permission to trade be respected nationwide.  Reciprocity — it was understood — is necessary to  preserve the peddling tradition, a profession as old as almost any, and iconic in British history.  

Which explained Sam’s anger when both the Canal and River Trust, who issued her the license, and the Roving Canal Traders Association of which she is a member, declined to rise to her defence.

A CRT official obliquely threatened they could simply do away with the Roving Traders license should her demands persist. The Roving Canal Traders Association, which purports to represent her, declined to enter the fray, afraid that complaining would only make the situation worse.  

Nevil Ingram, a Small Business Advisor at City of Bristol College, however, was spoiling for a fight.  A Roving Trader himself (his business is “The Big Cheese”), Neil helped launch a successful “Justice for Roving Traders” Crowdfunder campaign.  With £2000 they paid an attorney to craft a legal opinion for roving traders to present next time they are challenged by local licensing officials.

But legal arguments don’t help roving traders crack the London market where the sheer popularity of canal boats is precisely what excludes them.  With upwards of 3,000 boats in London — and seemingly all of them wanting to moor on the 10-mile stretch between Little Venice and Hackney — a roving trader doesn’t stand a chance.  Few even try.  

floating boulangerieLindsey and Jeremy Morel, owners of the Floating Boulangerie, are the exception that proves the rule.  Based in Kings Cross during lockdown, customers queued for two hours to buy their bread.  Their calendar was crammed with £20 breakfast reservations.  They were the picture of a successful enterprise, with  thousands of followers on Instagram and testimonials from people who’d cycle 30 km to buy a croissant.  Film students made videos about them.  But lockdown ended and CRT demanded they relocate far from Central London. 

A month later I found them on Acton Road, dejected, miles from the adoring customers who only months before had them investigating rental of a kitchen to meet excess demand.  

Jeremy was throwing away stale croissants.  “It’s just too much” Lindsay explained.  “Between Brexit increasing the cost of our supplies, and CRT putting us on a restricted license, we’re going back to France.”

Indeed, their boat and business are now for sale.  But who is mad enough to buy it?  If a trained chef and baker with savvy businesswoman wife, a sensational product and thousands of customers can’t succeed on London’s most popular canals, who can?

A whole bunch of them perhaps, organized as a perpetual floating market, planned sufficiently in advance for the Canal and River Trust to reserve them moorings across London.

That’s the essence of Brigadoon!, which launches this week. Inspired by the mythical Scottish Highland village which magically appears every 100 years, this Brigadoon — with music, theatre, workshops and roving traders — will appear every two weeks along the canal.  

From October 22 until November 4, a small flotilla of roving traders will pitch up under the Westway overpass in Ladbroke Grove.  A boat with stage for performance, a Dutch barge whose captain leads historical walking tours, a seafood boat and a pizza boat, along with vendors from Portobello Road selling merchandise in time for Christmas, are the core around which this market is organized.  

Organizers’ ambitions are more than commercial, however. By creating a locus of activity in a historically problematic location they focus attention on its unexploited potential.  The Westway overpass — whose construction famously obliterated much of the North Kensington neighbourhood it transects — protects almost 100m of canal from the rain.   It is the one weather-proof canalside location in London that can host outdoor events, something post-Covid London needs now more than ever, and which a neighbourhood with the storied musical history of North Kensington can exploit more than most.

Before the market relocates closer to Paddington Station for its next two-week manifestation, interested parties will convene to create a Friends group to take ownership of the site, plan its future, and start organizing future events — with and without boats — that reflect the needs and resources of the community who will own events there going forward.

Sounds mad, but perhaps the only thing mad about it is that no one’s ever done it before.


Your Canal Boat CIC, the official organizers of Brigadoon, are working with the Canal and River Trust to plan a year’s worth of stops across London.  Discussions allow for the growth of the market to include as many as 20 boats.  Roving traders who want to be involved are invited to contact Your Canal Boat CIC Director

reflections of a narrowboat newbie

reflections of a narrowboat newbie

our first year onboard

My partner and I moved onto our narrowboat one dark evening in late winter. Cocooned in the warmth of a tiny cabin, we awoke to find our new life upon us, serenaded in by an astonishingly loud dawn chorus. 

We peeked out into the marina, a couple of shy newbie curtain-twitchers, intrigued by the orderly rows of narrowboats impossibly sandwiched in side-by-side. It was a strange new world to us and one which we and our boat were shortly due to leave, now the formalities of the sale were complete.

But how to operate this awesome beast? We are both dreamers; we get excited, jump first and think later. Sometimes we land on our feet and sometimes we land on our backsides. Which was this to be?

Step One: to find and buy the boat. Thoroughly researched and now done.

Step Two: the next bit… This had been largely ignored, beyond the wistful fantasies provoked by glossy narrowboating magazines. Now it seemed incredible, irresponsible (downright dangerous, even) that we were allowed to control 20 tonnes of motorised steel with zero experience and no brakes. As if sensing my growing panic, a kindly nearby boater called Ken volunteered to accompany us on our maiden voyage. Ken, if by chance you are reading this, know that I have since blown you many kisses of thanks!

Freshly armed with a few hours of intense tuition from guardian angel Ken, we started the engine and untied our new home. We slowly manoeuvred this ginormous 57ft long creation out of the marina, painfully aware that we were surrounded by watchful eyes and expensive boats, with little room for error. The Gods smiled down upon us and we made it to the canal without incident.

And so our journey through ever-changing landscapes began. The world abruptly slowed down. The sun gently rose and fell, followed by the moon. A rhythm all of their own to light this watery wonderland with two suns, two moons, one still, one dancing.

There were the odd moments of horror amid our newfound bliss. I can still picture the frantically shaking head and wild hand gestures of the poor man inside his boat as we attempted to moor for the first time. All three of us realised during those last painfully slow seconds that we were about to clout hard and fast into his pride and joy. He had the good grace to laugh once I’d babbled my apology and told me at least his whisky hadn’t been knocked flying, or we really would have been in trouble.

Winter drifted into spring, each day holding the promise of a new adventure. We too drifted with the seasons, never knowing what was waiting to be discovered around the next bend. We passed crumbling mills, factories and huge old pottery kilns, still fighting to show themselves above the crazy tangle of brambles clawing their way up like a scene straight out of Sleeping Beauty. These relics were from a frenetic age I had heard of way back in the dull, lethargic classrooms of my childhood where I'd only half-listen, daydream and wait for the bell. Now they were up close and real in glorious technicolour. So many abandoned monuments built and occupied by people who are long since gone. We were wide-eyed and curious, imagining what once was, listening hard and watching for ghosts.

And then out into worlds free of humans and their paraphernalia. Two tiny spellbound spectators perched on the back of a now seemingly tiny boat, drifting through vast, outstretched landscapes, full and rich and empty of anything not created by Mother Nature herself. We would moor up and proudly survey our enormous garden, sometimes so far from new provisions we would have to rummage deep into our supplies and concoct bizarre dishes from what we found lurking there.

Summer was glorious. Deep in ancient woodlands the reflections became so still and vivid it was utterly disorientating and impossible to tell where foliage ended and water began. A thousand shades of green, sprinkled with the vibrant jewels of wildflowers. I would wander free as a bird to plunder these gems, my hoard of multi-coloured treasure carried gleefully back in warm, sun-kissed arms. We were never alone, no matter how far-flung; the slow-motion rise of a heron, the glimpse of a water vole, the startling blue flash of a kingfisher, geese honking overhead, bats swooping at dusk. We delighted in spying them all.

The silent descent of the first few leaves, carried on freshly stirring winds, warned us the spell of summer was starting to break. Soon the air was thick with them and the towpaths buried deep in blankets of gold. Replacing sandals with boots, I would kick my way joyously through, marvelling at their abundance. All the world seemed golden then; the skies, the trees, the flames flickering in the newly lit evening stove.

And so we came full circle, back into winter. The palette changed to silvers, blues and greys. The holidaymakers and fair-weather boaters were long since gone, the canals fell ever more deserted and desolate and belonged to us. Our boat became a retreat; a warm, softly-lit and friendly refuge from the fierce forces of nature doing battle outside her trusty steel walls. We let them fight, tucked up and content, safe in the knowledge that spring would emerge victorious all in good time.


For Anne and Jack Day, who designed, adventured upon and loved this beautiful boat before us.