David: What did the EU ever do for us?

Published: Monday, 21 March 2016

With the EU referendum coming up my thoughts turned to the benefits that EU membership has brought to the canal boating community.

There have been many infrastructure projects for which, according to the plaques which are always put up, a Brussels contribution has been received. The plaques, however, never specify how much the payment was—there are always other contributors—and it could be argued that this is simply our own money being returned.


Then there's red diesel. A few years ago Brussels decreed that British boaters should no longer be allowed to use red diesel for propulsion—somehow or other this was unfair to European boaters, who didn't have the same concession. Our own government fought against this, but was eventually forced to accept it and thus came up with the present messy compromise which has to take account of the fact that we are allowed to use red diesel for non-propulsion purposes. The net result of this gratuitous interference is that we pay a lot more for diesel and a considerable number of canalside providers have closed, as the bureaucracy is simply too much hassle.

About 15 years ago Brussels came up with the Recreational Craft Directive, which lays down all sorts of rules for the building of new boats. It is difficult to see what this achieves that our own Boat Safety Scheme does not. It does, however, impose a considerable administrative cost on boat builders which has to be passed on to buyers.

Then there's the things they haven't done yet, but would like to. These include the Grey Water Directive, which would require at least new boats, and in the worst case all boats, to cease putting their 'grey' water (from sinks and showers) overboard and keep it in a holding tank for later pump out.

The same goes for a requirement for some sort of compulsory helmsman's qualification, which is already in operation in some European countries and which Brussels would like to extend everywhere in the interests of their famous 'level playing field'. So far our government has fought these off, but as with red diesel they will probably be overruled in the end.

Boating in ice

I have had some happy times boating when the canal is frozen and see no good reason why it should be restricted—in any case enforcement would be impossible. Doing it is fairly self-limiting anyway; once the ice is an inch thick it becomes nigh on impossible to break it, unless you are prepared to keep backing off and charging or adopt more desperate measures like using a gas cylinder on a rope or the boat pole—these don't work, by the way. Narrow locks become impossible to work, since the loose ice prevents the gates from opening properly and lift and swing bridges tend to freeze shut. I can well remember pouring kettles of boiling water onto a Llangollen bridge to try and un-stick it—that didn't work either.

I remember being told a long time ago about British Waterways reaction to complaints from fibre glass boat owners that their craft had been damaged by ice disturbed by passing steel boats. Realising that any restriction on boat movement in ice would impact on their own work boats they simply pointed out to fibre glass owners that the bye-laws required that their craft should be 'fit for purpose' and if they were damaged by ice they clearly weren't fit and please would they remove them. No further complaints were heard.

David Hymers