Recently I had a chat on our Facebook page with Jonathan from Oxfordshire Narrowboat Trust. At 42 years old he is the youngest crew member on nb Venturer on the South Oxford Canal. The recent TV series Great Canal Journeys featuring Prunella Scales and Timothy West perhaps confirmed the misconception that the waterways are just a tranquil haven for retired couples.
In a recent Boaters Update on the Canal and Rivers Trust website Ivor Caplan reported that
“Although the number of private powered boat licences has grown steady, the age of their owners has changed dramatically. A recent survey of licences indicates nearly a third are over 65 and only 3% under 35. This is hardly surprising, budgets are tighter than at any time and the cost of boat ownership has increased considerably. Hire boating has also changed, with fewer family groups, and some other ways of taking up boating such as camping boats are virtually ended.”
Because canoeing and other forms of non-powered boating is more affordable to young people CRT hope to incorporate these activities into the wider Trust’s leisure strategy and have discussed whether there are ways of transferring this enthusiasm to the powered boating sector.
The NCBA and many of our member organisations are striving to use the waterways to engage with young people, (although many of our members also offer services to disabled people of all ages and other disadvantaged groups.)
Many leaders of community boating projects, NCBA senior trainers and also our NCBA trustees are older people, since their ages reflect their many years of experience on canals. This may also be partly due to the fact that community boating can involve voluntary work, and perhaps younger people in full time jobs have less free time to commit to volunteering. However our organisation welcomes members of all ages and anyone can volunteer to get more involved with the NCBA or community boating if they so wish.
Social media is a great place to get in touch with boaters of all ages. I am a member of many Facebook groups for boaters which seem to have a broad range of ages including young people, discussing a variety of issues, and there is no age barrier on Twitter where I sometimes join in with the hashtag #boatsthattweet.
To encourage a new, younger, generation of boaters, volunteers and supporters, in February 2014 the Canal and River Trust appointed 19 year old Chloe Donovan as the first chair of the Youth Engagement Advisory Group. They hope to inspire a new generation of waterway-enthusiasts by “getting young people involved in aspects of the waterways that interest them the most – anything from volunteering through to music and performing arts projects.”
Jonathan and the Oxfordshire Narrowboat Trust are trying hard to recruit younger members but he says it all falls down to time.
“People who are retired have the time where as people who have to work can’t put the time in themselves so it ends up with a greater portion of older people being involved.”
I know that when I was in my twenties finances were a barrier to me affording my own boat. Back then I didn’t realise that I could become actively involved with the waterways by volunteering. I have since met Louise, who was a teenager when she first started volunteering as a community boater in Hillingdon, West London. It gave her the opportunity to undertake a recognised steering course: Volunteering on canal boats: Louise’s story
“I found that volunteering at Hillingdon was a great way to give my time and energy and learn so much in return… I would recommend community boating and undertaking a training course to anyone who loves boating and helping other people enjoy the benefits of a day or two cruising in the fresh air passing scenic routes.”
You may also like: How I became a professional skipper