How we can help you

Welfare officer Sean Williams talks about the work he’s been doing to help boaters in difficulty and, if you need it, how we might be able to help you.

Couple driving a boat on the Coventry Canal Coventry Canal

More and more people are choosing to make their homes on water. With that in mind we want to make sure that boaters who are in need of support are able to get the help they need to enable them stay on the water. This blog post covers some of the help that we’re able to provide if you, or someone you know, is struggling.

A challenging lifestyle

Living on a boat can be fantastic but it comes with certain demands that you wouldn’t expect in a house, especially if you choose to continuously cruise. 

It can be a challenging lifestyle for some people. We want to make sure that people who have chosen to live aboard are given a fair chance to make it work for them and maintain the independence that, for many, goes hand-in-hand with a boating lifestyle. 

First welfare officer

I started as the Trust’s first welfare officer in 2014 to help staff work with boaters in need of more support, as well as linking with the organisations that can provide practical help, such as Citizens Advice, mental health charities and the Waterway Chaplains

I’ve heard many stories from staff, boaters and boating organisations about the hardships some people experience when living onboard.  Here are some of the sort of situations the team and I have helped sort out. For data protection reasons these are anonymised, but they tell the tale of the work we’re doing every day. Many people don’t realise that help is out there. If any of this chimes with you, you can get in touch with me or one of the team to talk things through.

Financial difficulties

Our local team were trying to contact a boater whose boat was unlicensed. The team couldn’t get a response and were concerned about the boater’s wellbeing. It was then that a friend of the boater got in touch with me on their behalf.

The boater didn’t have an income and had been relying on hand-outs and friends’ support. They were frightened that they might lose their boat as they couldn’t afford to re-licence it, so had stopped taking phone calls or opening their post.

I met up with the boater and talked about what potential benefits were available, how they could apply for them and which organisations could help. We spoke about immediate support and I signposted them to a local foodbank and Citizens Advice.

We were able to halt all enforcement action while the boater went through the claiming process. The benefits enabled the boater to pay for a new licence and also allowed them to improve their financial situation so that they could support themselves and no longer had to live off hand-outs from friends. I’m pleased to report that the boater is now back cruising and enjoying the boating lifestyle they love.

Mental health

A local authority got in touch with us to let us know that a liveaboard boater claiming housing benefit kept incorrectly sending their boat licence application to the local authority rather than to us. The boat was unlicensed with outstanding debts, the application form was incomplete and the boater was refusing to talk to us. 

I was able to reach out and arrange a meeting with the boater, who told me they were suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and found conversations about their licence situation very difficult. The boater had been supported by their local GP in the past and was seeking further help. 

Once we knew about the boater's situation we were able to put all action on hold while they got the support they needed. This took several months so we made an Equality Act adjustment, which allowed the boater some reasonable adjustments to meet their needs.

The boater was also able to put in a claim for benefits, which allowed them to set up a payment plan to clear the debt and manage the cost of the new licence. Working closely with their local GP, the boater is now able to access support groups to help with their medical needs.

Physical disability

A marina contacted us to say they were concerned about a person living on their boat. The boater had asked the marina to contact me on their behalf.

I managed to make contact with the boater, who told me their health had deteriorated. They were unable to manage the boat, finding it very difficult to do simple things like cooking, cleaning, dressing and bathing. They were registered disabled and had been able to manage, but now felt that they needed some specialist care. 

We spoke at length about what they wanted to do and the boater decided they wanted to move into accommodation that would help support them with their general needs. A local chaplain met with the boater and helped them access support from the local authority.

The chaplain and I spoke weekly to make sure the support work was co-ordinated and the boater has now been housed in more suitable accommodation. The boater couldn’t see how they could have managed the process without the support and signposting they received from us and the Waterways Chaplains.

Boaters' feedback

Those are just a few examples of the many difficult situations that people find themselves in. However, it’s been brilliant to help so many boaters and we’ve had some great feedback, which you can read below.

“Thank you so much for all the help and assistance you have offered us. We never knew that there was support we could get.”

“You listened, offered advice and gave us time to get help. Thank you to everyone that listened.”

“I’ve heard stories about your enforcement team but I can honestly say that they have helped me so much and I really appreciate the adjustments made.”

Get in touch

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s what we're here for. You can find all the relevant contact details in the link below.

You can also email me if you have any ideas about organisations we should be speaking to or suggestions on how we can work to support boaters better. 

Last date edited: 3 February 2021

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Our boating team bring you news of their work across our network, as well as the stories of boaters they meet

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