Reproduced with kind permission of Canals and Rivers, May 2007.
Jackie Sherman and her husband were bitten by the boating bug after a holiday on the Kennet and Avon. This first part of a two part feature describes how they got into boating by going for a shared option.
It only took one week on a narrow boat, cruising down the Kennet and Avon towards Bath, for us to fall completely under the spell of this tranquil and unique form of transport. Knowing that we would want to repeat the experience, we spent the next few months investigating the best way to get ourselves back onto the water. There appeared to be three options – to hire, to buy and own shares in a boat.
Before we could make a decision, we needed to clarify how much time we wanted to spend on the boat. It wouldn’t be our home, but would just be used for extended holidays, so we were unlikely to want it for more than two or three weeks in the summer and perhaps another week or so in the spring or autumn. However if we had a boat readily available, we felt that our usage was certain to increase in the longer term.
For complete freedom from maintenance or mooring worries, and with the opportunity to explore different waterways every trip, the ideal was to hire. However, looking at the various hire firm websites, we soon discovered that two weeks in the summer (making use the discounts for a second week), plus two in the mid-season would total £5,000-£4,000. In five years, taking inflation into account, we could spend well over £18,000 and have nothing to show for it but a tan and some lovely holiday snaps. For hiring to be viable, we would clearly need to cut back drastically on the number of weeks spent on the water, rather defeating the object of the exercise.
To cruise the canals as often as we liked, buying was the obvious answer. With our own boat moored nearby, we could take advantage of the last-minute delights such as sunny autumn days and crisp winter mornings, as well as extend our summer holidays and offer family and friends the chance to use the boat as well.
An investigation of moorings in Oxfordshire soon bought us back to reality. Finding somewhere we could stroll to was very unlikely. There are only two long-term mooring options here in Abingdon and both – the marina and the local boatyard – were full, with long waiting lists.
Some marina residents do let their personal moorings, the pontoons can only accommodate boats under 30ft. Abingdon no longer provides residential moorings, but does offer five consecutive days free near the town centre
During the winter the time-limit is not strictly enforced and so it might be possible to moor for a while on a quiet stretch. However, although the wharf in south Abingdon was available, we were warned that vandalism drove most people away.
The nearest reliable mooring turned out to be on the Oxford Canal near Eynsham – a twenty minute drive away but still an acceptable distance.
Three different types
When it came to buying a boat, there was three different types we could acquire: a new build; a second-hand boat; or a sail away that we would fit out ourselves.
With just two adults using the boat most of the time, our ideal was a 57ft narrow boat with a fixed double and a Pullman style dinette providing a spare bed for visitors.
We discovered that new custom-fitted boats of the size cost £60,000-£100,000. (Basic fit-outs may cost around £1,000 per foot but the luxury boats with all mod cons looked very tempting.) An internet search showed that the price of these boats drops quickly in the first two years although it then holds its value quite well, so that in five years it might be sold at a loss of around £20,000-£30,000. Taking the running costs into account, this was a far greater outlay than hiring over the same period.
Buying second-hand is clearly cheaper. On sites such as Apollo Duck and Boatshop we found a number of 57ft boats in good condition costing £45,000 or less. Unfortunately repair bills are likely to increase dramatically for older boats and could cut into any savings we might make.
For a few mad moments, we contemplated buying a sail away, as fitting it out ourselves could save around £10,000 on the price of a new fully-fitted narrowboat. However, finding somewhere local to carry out the work meant we were once again up against the mooring problem.
Even if we bought a boat, this was just the start of the expense. Insurance, a Gold Licence for travelling on canals and rivers, safety certificates, maintenance work and moorings would come to over £4,500pa – higher than the Inland Waterways Association’s suggested £3,070 because mooring fees in the south are so high. Another worry was the winter. With the narrowboat left unused for months, we weren’t sure how to protect it from vandalism, floods and gales.
For all these reasons, it seemed that the best option for people like us wanting to use a boat or a limited period each year was share ownership.
Although property time-share is common, we hadn’t come across the concept of boat sharing before, but welcomed the idea of jointly owning a boat with other like-minded people. Not only could we sell our share at any time, we could sell the boat if everyone agreed was the best option. We would also have a say in where it was moored and any refits.
There were several questions to address before we were ready to buy, so armed with brochures from different companies, we settled down to answer them
How much of a share did we want?
Being realistic, we didn’t think we would take more than 5 weeks holiday a year. This meant that we didn’t need to anything like a third or a half share but would be happy with 1/12th. With several weeks set aside for maintenance, this meant a guaranteed four weeks a year as well as the possibility of extra weeks if someone had to cancel their time on the boat.
Which weeks would we want to spend on the boat?
Several companies have addressed the “school holiday” problem and earmark shares for those wanting guaranteed time during peak season. These are either fixed weeks for perpetuity, or shareholders agree a selection process that rotates equably each year.
With two teenagers still at home, we needed to book the boat during the school holidays. Even when they left home, we still wanted to take our main summer holiday during the summer, so we needed a share that offered at least two weeks during the peak holiday season as well as a couple of shorter holidays at other times.
Carefree Cruising offers two types of share. Yellow, with three weeks guaranteed in mid-season March andMay or September to October, and the more expensive Red, offering two weeks guaranteed at high season between May and august. In both cases, the 4th week has to be taken in the winter and for the Red shares, the 3rd week has to be mid-season.
Challenger Syndicateships offers four separate weeks spread across the four seasons, but encourages exchanges and Ownerships offers a few special shares that guarantee owners three weeks during the high season. For this you have to pay a premium of 25% on the annual running costs.
How should the timetable be organised?
Although some people may want or need to go holiday at the same time every year, we were not happy to be tied to the same weeks year after year and so discounted The Boatshare company who work on this basis. Another company, JD Boats was also not suitable as the share is restricted to the same two consecutive weeks each year (e.g. during May or late July) with the chance to bid for the two “floating “weeks between October and April.
How much control did we want over the management system?
There are numerous shares available on the internet, many offered by private individuals. Being new to narrow boats, we weren’t sure we wanted an ad hoc arrangement as we could see ourselves constantly contacting everyone about timetables, cleaning, maintenance, moorings etc. We therefore decided to stick to share ownership companies who, for an annual fee, will look after all the documentation, arrange shareholder meetings, be available for emergencies, hold the “sinking fund” and run the scheme. Costs can vary from £250-£450 per year.
How old should the boat be?
Clearly, the newer the boat, the more expensive the share but lower the likely maintenance coast, and so it was quite difficult to decide on the ideal age. Looking at the cost of 1/12th share of a new build, we immediately discounted buying one at £8,000-£9,000, but shares in older boats varied from £2,000 for 1991 boat to around £5,000 for one only five years old. In the end we felt that a 1997-1999 boat with shares costing between £3,000 and £3,500 was probably a good compromise
After all our discussions, we decided to try and purchase a 1/12th share in a pre-2000 57ft boat offering summer holiday cruising.
The company that best suited all our needs best was Ownerships and so we arranged to visit their Rugby boatyard and look at some of the boats that they had on offer.
Copyright: Canals and Rivers 2007