Is it time to introduce some sort of additional safeguards regarding the hiring of canal narrowboats to stag and hen parties?
I ask the question following an incident on the Kennet and Avon Canal at Bradford on Avon on Sunday in which a boat sank after being involved – with other craft – in an incident with a hired boat.
The incident is documented on Facebook in an exchange of comments. I have taken a visual from part of that dialogue – which is in the public realm.
It has encouraged one man to start an on-line petition demanding the Canal and River Trust tighten up its regulations.
A petition from Rick Hemmings asks the Canal and Rivers Trust to:
‘Make all predominantly single sex narrowboat holidays, also known as Stag or Hen crews compulsory to have a qualified skipper, that is an individual with a RYA Helmsmans Certificate, to be in control of the vessel whilst underway. This individual may be an employee or sub contractor of the hire boat company.”
“There has been an increasing rise in anti social behaviour and dangerous boating attributed to these groups hiring boats on the canals. Boaters, and the general public have been verbally abused and threatened, private boats have been damaged and the reputation of the canal as being a safe and pleasurable experience for all, severely tarnished.
It is fair to say that all users of the canal have a Human Right not be harassed or abused and for those boaters that call their boats their home, whether on the Cut or in a Marina, that their homes and way of life should be threatened nor abused in any way.”
“Even though the incident near Bradford on Avon spurred me on to start this petition I am not involved with the incident. I am however very aware of the issues having worked at a hire company that caters to single sex ( stag and hen ) crews.”
The following account is taken from the public blog of one boat owner Dru Marland. I have taken it directly from Facebook.
“Two hireboats had just come at speed round the bend from Bradford on Avon. They lost control and went into the offside bank; careered off with the use of poles; and collided with Deb’s boat, just up from mine. George, whose boat is just around the corner they’d come round, was following them; their wake had thrown his boat around particularly badly; and they were shouting abuse at him, then at Jim and Deb, who had come out too, and Jenny, in the boat between us. “When was the last time you paid Council Tax? -Are you on drugs?” and so on.
They were drunk, and obviously enjoying the fun. “Do you want to say anything to me?” asked the young bloke on the bow of the first boat. “No; I do not” I replied. I did, though, call the shouty fellow on the tiller a “fucking entitled shit”. He, indeed they all, had that braying drawl that you associate with the feral middle classes and the arseoisie. He responded by calling me a “tranny”. I suppose it was intended as an insult.
They carried on at speed, their shouting receding into the distance. Passing Laura’s boat, they cause things to fall off the shelves in her kitchen; she asked them to slow down; they responded with “Oh shut up; not you as well; fuck off you cunt”.
The canal social media was alive with reports of their progress, and of complaints made to the police and to the hire company. Apparently the police did come out and have a word with the young men. But the next morning there were further reports of drunkenness, speeding and abuse as they proceeded to Bathampton.
But the next morning also revealed that George’s boat had been sufficiently damaged by the thumping it had received, to sink overnight. He’d been woken at 4:30 to find the cabin awash. By daylight, it was sitting firmly on the bottom of the canal.
The boaters swung into action, bringing the community emergency pump down from Bradford wharf, collecting dry clothes and Useful Stuff, brewing coffee, making bacon butties. The day was spent shoring up and pumping, in rain that varied from light to heavy, but always persistent.
And by dusk, we’d got absolutely nowhere.
George is being put up on a friend’s boat for now. There may be further attempts at salvage today. But he has lost his home, at least for now and possibly completely; and all he owns is soaked through or ruined.
And still the jolly young men are on the hireboats, partying, at Bathampton. Though I understand that the hire company will not be letting them steer the boats back to Hilperton themselves. So the canal continues to be a theme park where outsiders can come to act out vicious, drunken and antisocial behaviour with impunity, and then go home to their ‘respectable’ lives.”
The Canal and River Trust has now issued a statement as follows:
“The Canal & River Trust is concerned to hear reports of a group acting inconsiderately on the Kennet & Avon Canal at the weekend that contributed to a boat moored against the bank sinking.
Once the local Police and the hire boat company were made aware of the actions of the group they were swiftly removed, and the boat returned back to base.
Richard Thomas, director for Wales and South West at the Canal & River Trust, said: “This is an awful situation. Thankfully the boat owner managed to get to safety before the boat sunk and is now being cared for by the waterways chaplain and the local community.
“Anyone in charge of a boat needs to be aware of the responsibility they have. We want everyone to have fun but there’s got to be someone who’s got the responsibility for people’s safety at all times, be that the crew or those in the vicinity”