Page published 25 January 2021

Back in 2001-2002 Liz and I owned a share in the narrowboat, Stolen Time. For some time this site had a thumbnail and short statement on the Canals page hinting that the site I created while involved with the boat would appear here.

The site had pages showing all the owners, a history of the boat, some technical specifications and a full set of photographs of both the inside and outside. I thought it should be very easy to incorporate the original site's contents into this site. However, when I came to do it, I realised that times had changed and I would need to re-work all the images and create a new menu system. It was a little more work than I had bargained for, so the project got overtaken by others and the transfer never took place. However, I did write something on the old blog that summed up my thoughts about shared ownership narrowboats and this appears below.

nb Stolen Time

nb Stolen Time moored just north of Whittington Bridge on the Coventry Canal during a cruise I made solo in November 2002.

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Stolen Time's aft bedroom

The image created by OwnerShips, the company that introduced the canals to shared owner boats. It shows the layout found on Stolen Time the most popular of the internal layouts of the boats they commissioned.

Unlike some "boat share" schemes, Stolen Time was fully owned by those who cruised in her. We had a management contract with "OwnerShips", the company that originally commissioned the boat and found a set of people to buy her. Usage was decided on the basis of a rotating holiday list, so that if you had first pick of of the weeks to book her one year, then the following year you would get second choice, and so on down the list of twelve owners, before, once again, you'd get first pick. On top of this basic principle, three of the twelve shares were designated "Special", often called "School Holiday" shares. Owners of these shares never dropped below third place in the picking order, thus ensuring that they always were able to pick their share of the usage during school holidays. Such shares fetched a premium when they come on the market, but also attracted an extra proportion of the maintenance costs of the boat.

Stolen Time's aft bedroom

The bedroom, taken as you stepped down into the cabin from the aft deck

An annual meeting of share holders determined where the boat was to be based the following season, when to do any annual servicing and what special work was to be done. Because an individual owner only paid a twelfth of the costs of these works, it always appeared relatively cheap, so at one of the meetings I was at, the decision to install an expensive top-of-the-range "hospital exhaust" silencer system, practically went through, on the nod. The following year, the decision to go for an external repaint and to replace the carpet tiles throughout was taken as speedily. A single owner would probably have baulked at such costs. And don't forget a shared owner boat is probably cruising for about 48 weeks a year, whereas a hire boat is typically out for about 36 weeks, and a sole owner boat, for about four weeks a year. That means that routine maintenance tasks come round about 12 faster than they do for a sole owner.

OwnerShips advertising used to make great play of the fact that you were an owner, and hadn't just purchased a right to use the boat as one might with a time share property. However, I never saw it that way and for me the clincher came at the second annual meeting I attended.

Stolen Time's aft bedroom

The saloon showing the two chairs that would convert to berths and the cushions that one of the owners had embroidered.

An owner who I hadn't encountered before attended. An assertive lady, she had decided that she didn't like the crockery we had on board. She, and her fairly mute husband, were offering to pay for an entire set of new crockery. She had brought samples and passed them round. The new design was pleasant enough, but I couldn't see anything wrong with the old set. The great advantage of the old, from my point of view, was that it was common as muck. A plain dark duck-egg green design, it was a pattern that must be used in about 10% of all cafeterias up and down the land, and probably had been since the 1950s, if not 1930s. However, it toned well enough with the internal decorations of the boat (the proposed, modern, blue and white design did not!) and more importantly, OwnerShips had a huge stock of spares ready to put aboard should the boat return from any cruise with an item chipped or broken.

It was then that it struck me! When you buy a share in a boat, you aren't really buying your own boat, so much as investing in a hire boat for which you get a few weeks use in a year, in lieu of dividend. You book your week or fortnight slot and, just like a hire boater, have no opportunity to change your mind if the weather doesn't turn out right. You also have no control on day-to-day maintenance decisions. DIY repairs by owners were distinctly frowned upon by the management company. You get none of that sense of control that ownership of your boat would normally offer.

All you can do is decided where to take it on your allotted week. It is just like a hire boat! What is worse, because you know the people that will follow you aboard, you worry a little more about making sure the boat is clean when you leave it and end up spending the last day of your holiday in a frenzy of cleaning. "We all take great pride in our brass work", I was told at my first owners' meeting, as if to make the point that sub-standard cleaning would have you ostracised. Some of the owners assuaged any guilt for the dirt they left behind by employing cleaners to come aboard after them. How many ordinary boat owners do that?

So my words of caution for those considering a shared ownership boat are, whatever the contracts say, it won't feel like your boat - except for the bill paying part. True - that part will feel somewhat nicer than it would do if you were sole owner. It won't feel like your boat. Instead it will feel like a hire boat. Having said that, if you are a committed boater and enjoy being on the water at any time of year in any weather, it certainly is cheaper than regular hiring and you are likely to have a boat that is better equipped and in better condition - but it's not like owning your boat. Have I made the point?

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