The Canal & River Trust (CRT) has published maps purporting to define “places” for the entire waterway system in an unlawful attempt to prescribe and control the movement of boats licensed without a home mooring.

Section 17(3)(c)(ii) of the British Waterways Act 1995 states that boats must not remain “continuously in any one place for more than 14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances”. The maps, published on 14th August 2014, widen the definition of “place” to encompass multiple towns and villages.

For example, according to CRT’s maps, the villages of Warland, Summit and Calderbrook on the Rochdale Canal no longer exist and have been subsumed into Littleborough, and Wilcot, Honeystreet and the Wide Water on the Kennet and Avon Canal are now all in Woodborough.

CRT does not have the legal power to define statutory words in this way. “Place” is not defined in the 1995 Act. CRT is acting beyond its legal powers in seeking to define where and how far boats should travel, and its definitions of “place” defy geography. The names and boundaries of places have evolved over centuries. CRT cannot re-draw the map and expunge hundreds of years of history. This is the action of a totalitarian regime.

Indeed CRT’s move to define “places” contradicts its own Guidance for Boaters Without a Home Mooring, in which CRT states that a “place” can be a village or hamlet, a suburb or district within a town or city, or an uninhabited area; that exact precision is not required or expected, and that it is not possible or appropriate to specify distances that should be travelled. This is despite the fact that CRT also stated on 14th August that compliance with this Guidance now requires compliance with the maps. CRT’s Guidance has never been endorsed as lawful by a court.

The National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) maintains that CRT’s maps of “places” are an unlawful erosion of the rights of boaters without home moorings to travel freely from place to place after a stay of 14 days in a cruising pattern of their own choice. This puts yet further pressure on live-aboard boater families with children, jobs, medical needs or other reasonable reasons for needing to stay in a closely defined area. CRT does not have the legal power to enforce this arbitrary, unreasonable and irrational modification of geography and the NBTA urges boaters to resist it.

The NBTA therefore recommends:

1. “Place” for the purposes of compliance with the 1995 Act depends on the geographic location. In an urban area “place” may be smaller than in a rural area. If a “place” is marked on a map (by the naming of a town, village, district or hamlet) this is extremely persuasive and may be decisive. Towns will usually be sub-divided into smaller places. There can be more than one “place” in a parish. Local knowledge is also important. A feature that takes much time to traverse (such as a lock flight) will have places at each end and may also have further places along its length. It would be unreasonable to assume that a boat length is a “place” and therefore something larger than this is necessary.

2. For the purposes of a defence it is helpful for “places” to have names, so if a boater can say “I was in New Town on 1st January and went to Old Town on 14th January” then this is easier to understand. Obviously the space in between New Town and Old Town is also a “place” but it is more difficult to identify what that place actually is.

3. Although some might find it intrusive the NBTA strongly recommends keeping a written log including 12-digit grid references of each place moored, the date of arrival and the place name. These can be recorded using the GPS in a smart phone. This is extremely useful evidence for a defence.

4. In addition to travelling from place to place, the 1995 Act also requires boaters without home moorings to use the boat “bona fide for navigation”. It is recorded in the Minutes of Evidence of the House of Commons Select Committee on 29th June and 1st July 1993 that Parliament accepted BW’s evidence that the definition of bona fide navigation was in fact staying no longer than 14 days in any one place. Mooring is in itself part of navigation so “bona fide navigation” also includes mooring for up to 14 days (unless it is reasonable in the circumstances to stay longer).

5. Given the unlawful nature of the Guidance for Boaters Without a Home Mooring, the NBTA maintains that CRT’s national maps are of no assistance. The NBTA recommends a focus on the 1995 Act, the use of place names taken from an Ordnance Survey 1:25000 map and local knowledge. There is no lawful obligation to engage in a progressive journey.