What is ‘continuous cruising’ on the canals?

If you wish to live aboard but have no ties binding you to a specific location then you are absolutely in the best world of all. The entire canal network is yours to cruise at your leisure and you have no need to pay a monthly or annual fee for mooring, because it’s permitted under the terms of your boat licence to stop almost anywhere along the canal for up to 14 days (mostly) for free as long as you then move along to somewhere else. See this page for full info.

This freedom does come with a caveat however, which the Canal & River Trust are trying to clamp down on with varying degrees of success depending on who you talk to:-

The law under which the CRT operate the waterways is the British Waterways Act 1995 and in s.17.3.c.ii it states that if you don’t have a nominated home mooring and are instead continuously cruising, you must be “bona fide navigating the network” – in other words, you must genuinely be cruising and not simply trying to stay in one location without paying, by shuffling on by a few yards every 14 days.

“Bridge hopping”, it’s sometimes called; when a boater shifts from one side of a bridge to the other when the 14 days is up, then back again 14 days later! This is clearly not “bona fide” navigation (the phrase is Latin and means “genuine” or “without intention to deceive”)

Whilst it might seem harmless, the trouble with such shuffling is that when you get multiple boaters doing the same thing in a popular location, there’s simply no space left for any legitimate boaters to come along and stop for their permitted 14 days.

Unfortunately, in part because of the high costs of a mooring and in part because of the absurd cost of housing, incidents of boaters claiming to be continuous cruisers when in reality they’re not, is on the increase and it leads to very bad feeling amongst those who really are trying to cruise the network.

In London in particular, moorings are staggeringly expensive and property likewise, so many people have turned to canal boats as a ‘cheap’ way to live (although this can be a fallacy but it’s cheaper than buying or renting there at least) but even if they wanted to pay for a mooring there aren’t enough of them, so the canals have become hugely congested with so-called “continuous moorers” who actually just want to live in London.

Ditto the centre of Bath and much of that stretch of the Kennet & Avon canal.

The Canal and River Trust has issued guidance about this but even they admit their own guidance doesn’t specifically have the force of law. There have been a couple of court cases[1] to try to decide if the CRT is applying the law correctly but these have not lead to any particularly useful conclusions. The only bit that’s legally defined is that boaters should be “bona fide” cruising and of course that’s open to interpretation, hence the court cases.

You may choose to chance your luck with shuffling around a location where you need to live but there’s always the prospect that a notice will be served upon you to the effect that you are breaching your licence terms.

On rivers, there is no general right to moor anywhere even for one night so the whole argument is entirely moot on those waterways as you just have to pay regardless.

[1] British Waterways v Davies 2011 (see https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/british_waterways_vs_davies) and Brown v Canal and River Trust 2014 (see https://www.bargee-traveller.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Brown-v-Canal_and_River_Trust_2014_EWHC_588_Admin.pdf)