floaters, boaters and the housing crisis

thoughts on floaters, boaters

and the housing crisis

There is a certain animosity reserved for London boaters within the British boating community. The stereotype goes that London boaters don’t move in accordance to the CRT rules, they moor badly, they only want to be in central London which is why it is always so busy there, and perhaps worst of all, they are utterly clueless about their boats. There is even a cute nickname for this mythical breed, they are ‘floaters not boaters’. I believe this boils down to some more seasoned boaters becoming frustrated with the influx of young folk moving onto the water and perhaps not abiding by the unspoken code, or even CRT rules. Much the same as the certain demographic who vilify the youth of today with condemnations such as ‘young people today don’t know how easy they have it’, or ‘back in my day…’. It even reminds me of Kim Kardashian’s advice to women in business; ‘get your f***ing ass up and work, it seems like nobody wants to work these days’. Basically I think that people can be pretty unsympathetic to those they believe to be less experienced, less rule abiding, less well off than themselves.

VIctoria Park, London moored boats

I believe that the housing crisis has affected the demographic of people who move onto boats, and this has had a knock on affect on the nature of the boating community, especially in London. I believe there are also other factors such as advances in technology that have made boat life easier and more appealing, but I’d put money on money being the reason accounting for most of the increase. In 2000, when both housing and rental prices were more affordable, there were approximately 1,600 boats with no home mooring on the network. According to the latest CRT data in 2023, there are now approximately 6,650, which is a 316% increase. I would suggest that back in 2000, people who chose to live on boats did so because the lifestyle appealed to them, this being the primary reason. When the cost of life on land is manageable, the lure of a rent/mortgage free life is probably less appealing, therefore leaving those who are simply attracted to the nomadic lifestyle. I can’t be sure, because there wasn’t really any boaters survey back in 2000 with this kind of information on it. But if I am right, there has been a stark change, with a pretty large proportion of predominantly young people moving onto the water for economic reasons. In 2000 the average London renter would expect to pay less than £200, these days you’d be lucky to find something for 3 or 4 times that number. House prices have also skyrocketed which means that the amount of people renting their home has doubled and is expected to double yet again in the next 10 years, while Londoners often spend half of their income paying somebody else’s mortgage. I would therefore suggest that this is probably the primary reason for the increase in people choosing to buy boats, rather than pissing hard earned money up the wall paying rent.

My partner and I bought our boat in spring 2022, I was 25 and had been renting house shares in London for 4 years. Our 52 foot narrowboat cost us £40k, which we took a loan to cover. We now pay what we used to in rent as loan repayments, as I write this we only have 3 years left until we finish paying it off. We now have a home that is completely our own, which is something we wouldn’t have been able to do any other way. The lifestyle is something that definitely appealed to both of us as well (albeit a somewhat romanticised idea of the lifestyle), but I honestly can’t say what might have happened if renting was affordable or buying property at all feasible. I love the lifestyle so much that I like to think I would have done it anyway, but it wasn’t something I even considered until my partner and I wanted to move in together having had enough of shared houses, before realising how expensive studio flats are.

So I can imagine that young folk like ourselves might decide to buy a boat as a way of escaping the parasite that is the London rental market. They are sold the romanticised boating dream, perhaps don’t do their research properly and then realise that it is actually really hard work. You have to be practical, prepared to learn a lot and get your hands dirty. You need to be prepared to spend a big chunk of your free time doing boat stuff, which is something I don’t think people realise. It’s not a life hack, it’s not even as cheap as people expect because maintenance costs money. But can you blame them for not knowing? Or thinking they could do it before realising it’s actually too much? I believe these are some of the ‘floaters not boaters’ that get absolutely lambasted on Facebook for asking stupid questions, or laughed at for not knowing things they maybe should.London Moored Boats

Don’t get me wrong, it is frustrating when people moor badly or don’t move for 6 months, and I do believe that we all have a responsibility to the boating community to not be a dick, and to be considerate of other waterways users. Especially in London and other cities, where mooring spots are harder to find, and the facilities are busier, one dick move can have a knock on affect on other boaters' moving day.

We have all experienced it, and it doesn’t feel great, but we move on. I think it’s so easy to point fingers at certain people or even a certain demographic as to why the boating community and life on the water isn’t what it should or could be. But I don’t understand how the grumbly farts on Facebook can’t take a step back and look at the wider social and economic climate, and see pretty clearly why exactly things are like this now. It’s not down to individuals who don’t do their research or can’t really hack the lifestyle, it’s the broader power structures that have brought about the housing crisis, the cost of living crisis and mass youth disenfranchisement and alienation. It feels utterly hopeless to know you will never own your own property and will therefore always be at the mercy of the parasite class with no rent control, you’ll work a 40-50 hour week well into your 70s, with a crumbling NHS and no safety net. So can you blame them for absolutely clinging to that what appears to be a way out? People are desperate, they want some ownership over their lives. Humans are a successful species because we are incredibly adaptable, this is just one way that people are trying to survive in a hostile environment.

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About Lizzie Jones

I moved onto our narrowboat ‘Harvest Moon’ with my partner 2 years ago as a continuous cruiser, mostly because the lifestyle appealed to both of us as outdoorsy types who dream of being self sufficient and off grid. Since moving onto our boat we have become involved with the NBTA, campaigning for boater rights as the community has been very important to us, and I feel that protecting this way of life is crucial.