Why Houseboats Can move!

Here are substantial extracts of my formal complaint against British Waterways from 2009 when they surreptitiously tried to change Boat Licence conditions for Houseboats. 

It was in my view a blatant attempt to deceive people into not applying for Houseboat Certificates and highlights exactly why people like me made damn sure we got these definitions enshrined in the the primary legislation.

Then as now many residential Boaters simply don't trust British Waterways and this example highlights why that mistrust is justified. 

Stage One Complaint of 30 October 2009 

BW’s “General Terms and Conditions for Boat Licences (October 2008 version), says the following.

a) Page 1 – Definitions

“1.4 “Houseboat” means a boat that is not used for navigation and is kept on a long term mooring with planning consent for residential use.”
b) Page 14 Schedule 3 – first column final paragraph:
“If the boat is a houseboat ( see General Licence Conditions – Definition 1.5) * which is not used for navigation, and it is kept on a British Waterways Long Term mooring with planning consent for residential use, you may purchase a Houseboat Certificate. ...”
(* Also note the possible typo! – Should read “Definition 1.4” ?)
c) The same section continues:
“... Houseboats are normally boats without a means of propulsion. If you use the boat for navigation, you should purchase a Standard Boat Licence”.
(The underlines above are my emphasis to highlight the pertinent phrases)
I firstly wish to complain about the insertion of these statements as I believe they constitute a mis-statement of primary legislation and are therefore incorrect and misleading to current and prospective moorings customers generally, in particular the closing statement highlighted above, viz:
"If you use the boat for navigation, you should purchase a Standard Boat Licence”.

That craft holding Houseboat Certificates may navigate without applying for a separate licence is specified in Schedule 1 and Section 15 of the British Waterways 1995. This states:

“Movement of houseboat
15 (1) The houseboat may be moved from place to place but while being so moved may not be navigated for hire.
15 (2) While the houseboat is in the course of being moved the certificate shall be deemed to be—
(i) a pleasure boat certificate for the purposes of Part II of the Act of 1971, where the houseboat is on a river waterway within the meaning of section 4 (Extent of Part II) of that Act; or
(ii) a pleasure boat licence issued by the Board, when the houseboat is on any other inland waterway; and its use at such times shall be subject to any conditions for the time being in force for the control of pleasure boats and the holder shall comply with any requirements made by or under any enactment applicable to pleasure boats.”
It seems self evident that the primary legislation allows that craft holding Houseboat Certificates may be capable of navigation as private leisure craft and if they are capable of navigation, do not need to obtain a different licence in addition to their Houseboat Certificate in order to legitimately do so. (The only proscription apparent is that the boat in question “may not be navigated for hire.”)
Therefore the statements quoted above from your revised terms and conditions appear to be incorrect and at odds with the statutory provisions.
I request that the conditions I have highlighted be withdrawn at once to reflect a more accurate representation of the provisions contained in the primary legislation.
As I have personally brought this issue to British Waterways’ attention on many occasions, but in particular during the course of two Ombudsman complaints, I consider that the fact you have subsequently reproduced these inaccurate statements about eligibility to Houseboat Certificates to be a persistent and willful misinterpretation of the relevant statute. I invite you to comment on this accusation in your reply.

Stage Two Complaint Nov 2009
I write in response to Sally Ash’s response to my Stage One complaint. Please record this message as a Stage Two Complaint.

In your Stage One response you hold that a craft issued with a Houseboat Certificate may not be used for cruising. Specifically your reply on this point turns on the following assertion:

Accordingly, when interpreted in the light of the definition of 'houseboat' in the 1971 Act, the word ‘move’ clearly refers to a change in the location of the houseboat rather than its use for general navigation.
In view of this response I wish to draw the following to your attention and invite you to re-consider your position.

1. BW gave evidence to Parliament in 1990/91 that a boat holding a Houseboat certificate could be used for cruising.

In evidence to the House of Lords in support of the then Waterways Bill you submitted a document entitled Licensing and Certification of Vessels. Appended to that submission as item 4 you submitted the then current Houseboat Certificate Terms and Conditions which state they had been effective form 01 August 1980. Clause 11 therein says:

A registered houseboat may be used for cruising (but not for hire), the Houseboat certificate being acceptable to the Board as a Pleasure Boat Licence for the purpose of the Board’s Byelaws.

This appears to confirm that for approximately ten years before you submitted your evidence to the House of Lords i.e. since the very early 1980’s, you had interpreted the 1971 Act in a way that permitted Houseboats to be used as cruising boats when away from their home mooring.

How do you reconcile this evidence, submitted by yourselves to the House of Lords Committee, with the contradictory interpretation I have just received? You have in effect offered Parliament a different interpretation to that you have now (and previously) offered me.

2. BW also explicitly agreed with the proposition that a houseboat could also be used for cruising during detailed scrutiny of the bill, to the extent you proposed an amendment to facilitate it.

This assertion is supported by the record: The House of Lords Special Report on the then Waterways Bill, at paragraph 28 the report states.

28. Several petitioners argued that the Schedule [Schedule 1] was inconsistent in stating that houseboats could be used for navigation, but that they could not without written consent moor at another site. The Board suggested an amendment to make clear that the prohibition on mooring elsewhere did not hold good when the boat was cruising; in such conditions the houseboat could use sites set aside for cruising boats.

This seems unequivocal evidence that at that time of formulating Schedule 1 and Section 15 of the 95 Act both the Board and Parliament expressly intended that the word “move” in Schedule 1 and Section 15 were intended to facilitate use of a Houseboat as a leisure craft, if the holder chose to, without seeking a separate licence.


It appears to me that you are now set on interpreting the 1971 Act in a different way to that which you said applied when you sought the 1995 legislation and for the preceding decade.

I invite you to re-consider your present position.