Navigating and living on the waterways of Great Britain & Ireland and news of canal developments.
TOPIC: EA Thames eNewsletter
EA Thames eNewsletter 22 Dec 2017 14:51 #95967
Received from Thames Waterways today - after the Seasonal messages there are two interesting reports on Registration Compliance and a boat fire at Kingston.
Dear TNUF member,
As the first output of the TNUF communications and signage working group, please find below a brief update on recent key activity which I hope you will find useful. Further updates will be issued on a regular basis, the aim being to keep you informed on key development in between face-to-face TNUF meetings.
The information it contains is not sensitive, so please feel free to share it with your contacts if you so wish. If you have any questions, requests for information on additional matters, or any other comments or suggestions, please do let us know. Responses to all questions will be shared with the group.
Thank you for your support in 2017
Barry Russell, Waterways Manager & Harbourmaster
I would like to place on record my thanks for the time, commitment, and valuable support each of you gives us in your role as a member of TNUF. I am very aware that we ask a lot of you, and I am very appreciative of the excellent guidance and assistance you provide. This year, like every year, has been challenging for us in a variety of ways, and I know that this has, at times, made it more difficult than usual for you to hold us to account on behalf of your members, whilst simultaneously trying to improve their understanding and appreciation of the difficulties we face, and the efforts we are making to overcome them.
I would like to think that, over the last 12 months, we have increasingly worked in a mutually respectful and collaborative way, and I look forward to continuing that progress over the next 12 months, and beyond.
We all share a passion for boating on the Thames, and we are all equally committed to maintaining its position as, in my view, the best run river for boating in the UK. We all know we can achieve that more effectively by working together, pooling our knowledge, expertise, and resources to best effect. That doesn’t mean we all have to agree with each other all the time – with a finite budget I will always have to make some tough decisions which may not be welcomed by everyone; and whilst my team always sets out to meet or exceed our customers’ expectations in every aspect of our operations, in reality, we all know that we are unlikely to achieve that in every case, despite our best efforts. However, I genuinely feel that my team and TNUF have come a long way in terms of working together this year, and that can only be good for all of us who cherish boating on the Thames.
We have some uncertainties facing us at the moment, chief amongst them the possible transfer of our navigation responsibilities to CRT, but at the same time, there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes which gives me much optimism for the year ahead. Whatever 2018 brings, we will confront it better if we face it with a united front.
Thank you all once more, and may I wish you and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas indeed, and a wonderful 2018 – with as much of it as possible spent on the water.
Boat registration enforcement update
Nick McKie-Smith, Compliance Manager
Earlier this month, we carried out our second Flag Day focussed on boat registration avoidance, the first being in September. As you will be aware, Flag Days are when we deploy as many of our officers as possible, as widely as possible, to focus on a particular issue or provide advice and guidance to boaters on a particular topic. Lock staff and volunteers also get involved, as do office staff – depending on the issue or topic in question. These Flag Days are popular with staff, with our boating customers and, more importantly, are effective. Across the two boat registration enforcement Flag Days, we served enforcement notices against owners of 161 boats. We estimate this has potentially protected around £120,000 of income. Whilst this is an excellent result, what is disappointing is the 161 notices were served as a result of 815 boats being checked – giving an overall evasion rate of 20%.
This rate was pushed up by a higher than expected evasion rate amongst boats kept in marinas. We feel this is unacceptable. We expect all marina operators to work with us to ensure evasion amongst their customers is minimal, and we think it is entirely reasonable for us to expect that in marinas, the evasion rate will be far less than the average for the rest of the river. Clearly, it is not, and that’s not good enough.
What is particularly galling is that so many of the unregistered boats in marinas were sizeable and very well kept. We often receive complaints from people about shabby boats which they assume must be unregistered simply because of the way they look. In the vast majority of cases, these boats are found to be fully compliant. What we found in these marinas was the polar opposite of that scenario - costly, lovingly maintained boats …but unregistered. Perhaps we all need to direct our gaze, and opprobrium, in a new direction.
We have already had forthright discussions with marina operators and representative trade bodies about our dissatisfaction with this situation, and our expectations of them. Put simply, we expect a dramatic turnaround in the situation in 2018. I am pleased to say I was very encouraged by their response, and I want to express my thanks at this point to TNUF member Brain Clark for his decisive and very welcome support on this issue. In all fairness, I must point out that all the members of ‘the trade’ we have spoken to so far seemed as taken aback as we were, wholeheartedly accepted they need to do more, and pledged to do so. Brian and our strategic engagement manager Dan Taylor will be working with the trade on a communication strategy, the overall objective of which will be to virtually eradicate boat registration avoidance in marinas, boat yards, and other premises with a management regime which can take action to make that happen. We know there is wide divergence in evasion rates in marinas, and some are absolutely exemplary. We want the others to learn and adopt the approach of those exemplars.
As you can imagine, the time taken to confirm a boat is registered is far less than the time required to issue and process an enforcement notice, so a vast improvement in the situation in marinas will enable our officers to spend substantially more time carrying out checks elsewhere on the river – a win-win for all legitimate boaters.
I am sure there will be elements of that campaign which can be used by all of us to help amplify and extend the message and drive up compliance. We need to use every lever at our disposal to minimise evasion. Making it socially unacceptable is one such lever, and that is something we can all help to do. I have also asked our Legal Services department for their support in taking a firmer line with multiple evaders, amongst other measures. When I am in a position to update you further on this, I will. In the meantime, please do remind your contacts to renew their boat registration as early as possible in 2018, if they haven’t done so already, and to ensure their registration plate is displayed in accordance with our instructions. This makes compliance checks easier and quicker to carry out, meaning we can do many more, and bring more potential evaders into compliance. Thank you.
Kingston boat fire incident
Nick McKie-Smith, Compliance Manager
You may be aware that a narrow boat recently sank in Kingston as a result of a serious fire on board. Fortunately, the boat owner, who was asleep on board when the blaze started, was able to escape without injury; but they have lost their boat, which was also their home, and many possessions. In our role as navigation authority, we investigate the potential causes of boat fires and other incidents with support from the fire and rescue and other emergency services. We share those findings with the Boat Safety Scheme. Their role is to assess these incident reports alongside others to identify whether there are any noticeable trends such as a faulty piece of equipment of the same make and model, similar boater behaviour, or any other causes which could be avoided in future by raising awareness of preventative measures. We will be providing the Boat Safety Scheme with our report on this incident in due course. In the meantime, we have remained in contact with the boat owner and their insurers, and arrangements to remove the wreck are underway.
In situations like this, our initial responsibility is, as the statutory navigation authority, to ensure that boat owners undertake any appropriate action they are lawfully obliged to under the requirements of the Thames Conservancy Act. This will be at their own cost and liability in the first instance. In the relatively few cases where a boat owner cannot be traced, that liability transfers to the landowner, and we work with them to ensure the boat is removed and disposed of appropriately. We can, and do, intervene ourselves if necessary, once due legal process has been followed - this process can take some considerable time. We also have a responsibility to the rest of our boating customers, whose registration fees fund this work, to use that income prudently, and not to incur costs ourselves which should be borne by others and which could compromise our ability to provide other aspects of our navigation service. Unfortunately, recovering our costs when we do intervene is not always a straightforward process and, if we have to resort to legal action, can result in a significant net loss for us, so we have to be cautious.
Regarding this boat in particular, given the harrowing experience the boat owner has been through, and the desperate situation they now find themselves in immediately before Christmas, I can assure you we have tried to manage the situation with the sensitivity and understanding you would be entitled to expect from us if you were in the same predicament. It is hugely to the boat owner’s credit that they were proactive in contacting their insurers and instructing them to make arrangements to remove the wreck, despite everything else they had to contend with. We are now working with their insurers but have contingency plans in place to remove the wreck ourselves if the insurers do not act speedily enough. We will recharge our costs to the boat owner’s insurers. We also have plans to remove other boats in the area. This is dependent on us making sufficient mooring space available at some of our operational sites to be able to store them securely for as long we as we may need to before disposing of them, but we are working to achieve this. You might also be interested to know that we are working with the Environment Agency’s other waterways teams (covering the non-tidal River Medway and numerous waterways in East Anglia) and CRT on a consistent approach to managing wrecks and abandoned boats. We hope will accelerate the timescales and reduce the costs for all of us. More on this in due course. Thank you
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