22 June 2016

Article by boater Kate Saffin with additional contributions from the London boating community.

There are regular requests for boats to rent. 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.

Official renting

First, and most important, letting a boat is only permitted by Canal and River Trust if the boat has a permanent residential mooring, a commercial licence, insurance and boat safety checks (just like all the holiday hire boats you see around the system).

Read Canal & River Trust’s guide to renting or hiring your own boat.

Unofficial renting

Unofficial renting, is where there is a boat without a home mooring, or one on a leisure mooring.  In this instance 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 on the Landlord Law Blog.

Photo: Regents Canal – Tim Lewis

Why it’s hard to find a boat to rent

You will rarely find boats advertised to rent because residential moorings are few and far between, even in London where there are more than on other parts of the system. However, boats to rent on residential moorings do turn up occasionally and are often managed by estate agents. These agents 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. By going through an estate agent, at least you will have some recourse to law if you find something doesn’t work as you expected.

Then there are some boaters who want to let their boats but aren’t on a residential mooring and don’t have the appropriate licence, insurance and boat safety certificate. Those who know they are doing something under the radar fall into two categories:

  • First, the boater who is going away for a period of time and wants to let the boat so that it is looked after and costs are covered.  They rarely advertise because CRT may become aware that the boat is being rented and refuse to renew the boat’s licence. They will tend only to let by word of mouth to trusted friends of friends.
  • Secondly, there are a few exploitative individuals who own several boats and choose to run an illegal letting business – they too will have networks they operate through that they don’t publicise.

Then there are those who are looking for someone to look after their boat because they need to be away – perhaps working abroad for a few months. It is permissible to have a ‘boat sitter’ as long as they are not charging. 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).

Some concerns about renting boats

These are the some of the concerns that experienced boaters have expressed about renting a boat.  These are particularly aimed at those who have no experience of boating and are renting from a stranger.

“Renting a boat which doesn’t comply is the same as someone driving a car without Tax, MOT, and Insurance. If a non-compliant rented boat explodes, catches fire etc. it is unlikely to be covered by the owner’s insurance which will have been declared null and void. Any third party damage or injury will also not be covered.”

“ ’I would be happy with a continuous cruiser licence’ – but CRT would not. It is therefore technically not legal [to rent a boat without a residential mooring], which you might get away with for a while, until something goes wrong and CRT decides to take the boat’s licence away for breaking the terms and conditions and you lose your home.”

“You have no recourse to letting law.  …I witnessed a girl working on one of the cafe boats bolt down the towpath screaming ‘That’s my boat. What’s it doing here! What have you done with my dog!?’ just this summer. Landlord dispute – took the boat (apparently abandoning the dog and either stealing all the girl and partner’s belongings, or dumping them on towpath).”

“If you do a share boat or rent to buy, please make sure you get a proper contract drawn up, preferably by a solicitor. Not going into fine detail, but …I’ve heard some very odd stories indeed – one where the tenant was made homeless and evicted from the boat he was two months from owning (see note regarding ‘rent to buy’ below) and another where the tenant sold the boat with no legal comeback.”

This is not to say that it will go wrong, just that it might.

Photo: Camden, Regents Canal

Other considerations and options

There are some additional considerations and options for renting. These have also been supplemented with contributions from the London boating community.

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 in London and reflects the level of maintenance, insurance and support that is needed. 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 that offer the RYA Inland Helmsman training. You can search RYA’s website for a centre near you.
  • Walk the towpath, get to know boaters. Look for opportunities to volunteer and get to know people. There are a regular clean ups around the London waterways, some organised by boaters (watch for details on the London Boaters Facebook page), others by local groups on the River Lea or the Lower Regent’s Coalition or IWA London Branches.
  • 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 advertised in a shared boat – 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 a boat.

Things to check

  • 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 meet the legal requirements 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 shorthold tenancy agreement will have no standing in UK tenancy law.

Boat Sitting

Some things to check when boat sitting:

  • If you are boat sitting check:
    • that the owner has cleared it with their insurers,
    • when the last boat safety certificate was done, and that any recommended work 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
  • 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).

Rent to buy

Finally a note on ‘rent to buy’ from London Boater, Paul Powlesland.

“There have been a few posts recently about people wanting to buy boats in instalments. However, you should be aware that where possession and full ownership isn’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 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 were paid, but the seller then claimed that it 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.”

Please note, all of the information in this blog is meant to serve as general guidance rather than specific advice.  If you want proper advice on a specific case, please seek a lawyer or qualified person.

Photo-top: Little Venice on Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal by Adrian Rayson