Wide beam barge blues

The cost of securing accessible accommodation in London has now become so prohibitive that many people are now looking at innovative alternative solutions. One of the traditional alternatives has long been the use of a barge or other relatively spacious vessels, permanently moored alongside one of Thames many Wharfs.  The problem is that those have become increasingly rare (as Wharf Operators have tended to go in for other more profitable operations for their plots) and there is consequently an extremely limited range of suitable live alongside mooring arrangements in the lower reaches of the Thames.  Those who are able to acquire a vessel with a permanent right to moor in such areas are extremely fortunate, but the values that they pay reflect the scarcity of such opportunities.  If you are therefore fortunate enough to find yourself able to look at such an option, then it obvious pays to focus attention on precisely what mooring arrangement is available to you, and the security of tenure on the site.  Simply put, a good site effectively now represents a significant proportion of the value of the purchase, and whilst it is difficult to put a figure, some vessels that come complete with such moorings, are probably worth a fraction of the value of the mooring option itself.

The position is becoming increasingly difficult further upstream, particularly as regards the recent increase in the availability of converted wide beam barges.  Whereas the original narrow boats could relatively easily be accommodated along tow paths and the remaining basins in the upper Thames, the success of the wide beam barge industry has created a situation where limited long term moorings are available for wide beam barges, as quite simply few yards can take more than a small number at any time because of the volumes involved.  Little wonder therefore that the real price per square foot for a wide beam barge mooring is significantly higher than that of the conventional barge, and the availability of such moorings at a sensible price is becoming an increasing problem for Manufacturers, who find their demand essentially throttled by the limited availability of sites.

We have been involved in the purchase and sale of a number of wide beam barges, and have therefore had to look very carefully at the whole issue of the security of tenure in relation to such moorings, as a number of unscrupulous operators have essentially sold barges with the promise of a long term mooring, only to subsequently require the purchaser to move on (or remain at a grossly inflated rent) after a year or so to make room for the next sale.  It therefore pays when buying a barge to look very carefully at this issue, and to ensure that the mooring operator is, if possible, a party to the transaction to guarantee the mooring arrangements for a reasonable commercial period.  Equally, if selling a barge, it makes good sense to tie up the transaction with the owner of the mooring or yard, and to ascertain what commission would be charged in order to approve the assignment of the mooring contract, as again unsuspecting vendors have found themselves essentially blackmailed into paying huge sums of money in order to procure the transfer of the mooring contract, often losing a significant amount of the vaunted profit from the sale of the barge in the process.

As in all these things, a bit of common sense and informed advice, taken early, is the clue to avoiding such upset.

Tim is a Director and Head of the Marine department specialising in marine and admiralty law.

He specialises in all aspects of the law relating to pleasure vessels and is recognised as one of the foremost experts in the field, addressing a vast range of issues from contractual to technical, via the statutory and occasionally bizarre.

Practising internationally, Tim represents owners, insurers, boatyards and high profile marine organisations, as well as those buying or selling their boats. 

After working for brief periods as a boat builder, yacht chandler and professional sailor, he went on to study Admiralty Law at the University of Wales in Cardiff where he obtained his law degree. He is a member of the Royal Yachting Association and the British Marine Federation.

  • Technical construction disputes
  • Contractual disputes
  • Marine conveyancing
  • Title disputes
  • Salvage and towage
  • Recreational Craft Directive / Maritime and Coastguard Agency compliance
  • Marine related personal injury and fatalities



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