ROVING narrowboaters are facing a huge increase in the cost of calling the canal network their home.

Around 80 per cent of boat owners rent or own space on a marina, which is known as a 'home mooring'.

The remainder, known as 'continuous cruisers', constantly move around, staying up to 14 days at a time on public moorings, which their Canal and River Trust (C&RT) boating licence permits. 

All boaters must have a C&RT licence which typically costs between £1,000 and £1,500 a year, though the waterways charity has made it clear all will be facing above-inflation price rises in coming years.  

Northwich Guardian: Constant crusiers already pay for a licence which allowd them to tie-up at public moorings for up to 14 daysConstant crusiers already pay for a licence which allowd them to tie-up at public moorings for up to 14 days (Image: NBTA)

However, C&RT is now set to introduce a new surcharge for continuous cruisers, which will rise from an extra five per cent on their licence fee next year, up to an extra 25 per cent by 2028.

This is on top of the announced above-inflation increase in the standard licence fee. 

The National Bargee Traveller Association (NBTA), who represent the interests of continuous cruisers, say the move will endanger their whole way of life.

NBTA claims C&RT is offsetting its budget shortfall by making constant cruisers, many of whom live on small and fixed incomes such as pensions, pay more than they can reasonably afford.

Chairman of the National Bargees Travellers Association, Pamela Smith, said: “CRT’s latest attack on the travelling boater community is discriminatory, unpopular, financially illiterate, and quite possibly unlawful.

“However, they’ve only strengthened the resolve of many in the boater community - both with and without home moorings - to resist their attempts to eradicate our whole way of life and demand one licence for all.”

Northwich Guardian: NBTA campaigns for the rights of constant cruisersNBTA campaigns for the rights of constant cruisers (Image: NBTA)

Gerry Coleman, a constant cruiser who’s now moored in Middlewich on the Trent and Mersey Canal, said:  "C&RT really don’t see us as any kind of asset other than our cash value on a spreadsheet."

“They don’t want to accept we're a community, because that would mean them having to acknowledge our rights as such.

“They try to herd us around like floating sheep as they corral us with their ever increasing mooring restriction zones."

The 71-year-old added: "We are very much a community. The canal system is like a big, long, thin village. 

“People are genuinely troubled by this. Living the way we do requires very careful management of our assets.”

C&RT say the new pricing structure for licences is to make up for a reduction in income they receive from the government to maintain the waterways.

They also claim it is ‘reasonable’ to charge continuous cruisers more because they use the network most.

A C&RT spokesman said: “We have seen the number of people choosing to boat without a home mooring increase dramatically in the past decade, and this growth has led to increased costs to manage and meet their needs.

“While just one fifth of the 35,000 licensed boats on our waterways do not have a home mooring, they accounted for three quarters of the boats sighted using our waterways in the past year.

“With the cost of looking after our ageing canals increasing and the income from government reducing, the Trust is targeting all income streams to raise the funds needed to keep the canals open for future generations. 

“This means all boaters will see above-inflation price increases each year for the next five years.

“We feel it is reasonable that the licence cost reflects the utility different boats receive, hence the introduction of a surcharge for boats without a home mooring. 

“We are aware for some, this increase may be difficult to budget for alongside other cost of living rises. 

“Our dedicated welfare support team, in addition to our boat licencing support officers, will assist all those struggling wherever possible – including directing them towards benefits that are often available for those living afloat on low incomes.”