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A history of shared ownership

The History Of Shared Ownership In The UK.
There is nothing new is sharing boats, and people have been doing it for years, probably before the canals were even built! And once the canals came along and the commercial side of them had died off and they became a holiday destination boats were shared, companies owned boats for their staff to share, families bought boats to share between them, friends bought boats to share (I know, I was one of them, sharing a 20' Headline Cruiser).However, on the UK canals at least, in 1989 something different happened. The sharing of English Narrow Boats went from being on an ad-hoc basis to a formal basis, and firms sprang up recognising the need for the service.

Boating was big business and up until this change "Joe Public" could either hire or own, and both expensive in their own way. These new firms offered COMMERCIAL shared ownership. There for boating enthusiasts who wanted to have all the fun of boating without the hassle and cost of actually owning a boat, nor the cost of hiring one year in year out.

Contrary to popular belief Allen Matthews' OwnerShips was NOT the first company to offer this service in the UK, in the late 1980's it is thought that Narrowcraft got about 20 boats on the water with five shares each, and later Jack Graham with South Shore Narrow Boats, a spin off from a travel agents in, I believe, the North West of England, got perhaps 10 on the water before finding themselves in financial difficulties and folding. What happened to the boats is not known exactly, other than Water Jester which is still in shared ownership. South Shore kept back some shares in each boat and HIRED the boats out to cover costs........this would have been around 1990. However, there was possibly one to enter the market even before Jack Graham, and that was Howard and Ann Davis at Napton Narrow Boats who got two or three boats up and running under the guise of a company called Matalacre as early as 1985.

Around this time the two firms that were to be the "Big Players" came in to being. Ed Rimmer, fresh from leading Black Prince Holidays in to administration, formed Challenger, who initially offered HIRE, not shared craft, and Allen Matthews started OwnerShips, in September 1990, with a second-hand boat called Annabelle.

Both firms grew quickly and by early 1994 Ownerships had around 18 boats and Challenger, having shifted over to shared ownership sometime after OwnerShips started, also had several boats in their system. (Challenger's directors always kept their cards close to their chest, so exact information is hard to find....).

These two firms were joined in the marketplace by some other players, in 1994 J D Boat Services launched their first share craft and Heron Boatshare started offering shared boats. Both of these firms were boat builders in their own right. Heron only every built two boats for shared ownership and moved then in to boatbuilding for individuals, they ceased trading around 2002. J D continue to offer shared boats to this day. In 1992/3 Alvechurch entered and then left the market, but not before they put at least two shared boats on the water, and one of them is still in shared ownership today.

Another to enter the fray around this time includes The Boatshare Company formed by three retired policemen who had an interest in boating, one a former owner of a share in an OwnerShips' craft. They commissioned and sold around six boats in all before deciding there was no money to be made in managing the boats and so "gave the firm away" and it ceased trading a couple or so years later in around 2008. (This company has no connection with this web site.) Ranworth Marine International was formed in the late 90's and operated a Birchwood 340 fly bridge boat in Alicanti, Glenn Unstead then started the Southern Crusader Syndicate in late 1999 and formed the Ranworth Breeze Syndicate in 2001, both boats being for shared ownership on the Norfolk Broads. They exhibited a Birchwood 340's at the 2000 Boat Show. The boat in Alicanti, Spain was returned to the UK in 2006 and sold, from 2012 the owners of the boats based in England decided to operate them themselves. In 2003 Carefree Cruising came along, like OwnerShips and Challenger this company was not, in itself, a boat builder, rather it commissioned boats to sell in to shared ownership. Growth for this firm has been slow and steady and at the time of writing (2010) they had just launched their 14th boat. Ironically their address is given as the house that used to be owned by one of the directors of The Boatshare Company, although there is certainly no connection between the two companies....!!

You can also now look at the plethora of firms that have tried and probably failed to set up a shared ownership schemes. The web and magazines are littered with comments like "Share Ownership scheme just launched", most of these are attempts to get up and running in this area and most disappear without trace if there is little interest, and you also will find owners who are splitting up their own boat in an attempt to start a scheme, and indeed may well advertise their shares on this site.

More recent history (2008 or later)

In 2008 Challenger, with, estimated 60 boats in its scheme, went bankrupt, and in 2010 the MD was arrested under fraud investigations. ABC (Alvechurch Boat Company) Leisure bought the name (for reasons I cannot fathom but there you go) while a firm called BCBM was set up by the former general manager of Challenger and took over the management of SOME of the boats, where others have become "private" groups (i.e. with no management company) and some have had ABC Leisure take over the management of their boats. ABC Leisure themselves are main players in hire and marina ownership as well as having a timeshare arm called Deckshare.

More recently, in 2014, BCBM took over the running of the shared ownership craft being operated by ABC as ABC decided after their shared ownership manager left that it was the best way forward in the long run.

In early 2010 Allen Matthews, the MD of OwnerShips died, and soon after the company he owned, OwnerShips, went in to administration. OwnerShips managed around 100 boats, and some have gone on to become "private" and some have looked towards BCBM or ABC for management of their boats. Some staff of OwnerShips have formed Ownashare Cruising to act as a management agent for any boats that wish to join them, although this has been slow to get moving and only now (2011) beginning to show in the market place.

Shared ownership, or at least commercial shared ownership, has by now (2009 ish) become something of a dirty word around the canals, with people afraid to "dip their toe" in for fear of losing money should the firm cease trading. However, in the case of the two major companies that failed all the customers who owned "normal" shares in the boats kept hold of them. The only people to lose were those that had loaned the companies (both of them) money to fund other operations within them.

Shared ownership is, inherently, a safe place to venture in to.

Private schemes seem to flourish and demand for shares seems high.

Commercial schemes now have something of a bad reputation but as long as you know that if the firm you are with fails you will still own your share then any boat SHOULD be a safe place for your money. My only advice is to make sure the boat actually EXISTS before you hand over your hard earned cash and that the person selling it to you owns it to sell in the first place!! A boat in a commercial scheme (i.e. a managed boat) will cost you more each year as you have to pay them a fee to manage the boat for you, but some would argue that the boat would be better operated........


The stigma that had attached itself to commercial shared ownership following the failure of Challenger and OwnerShips appears to have gone away and all seems to be stable once again, indeed for some years all four shared ownership management schemes have got together and organised a "Boatshare Show" show with boats present etc. at Braunston Marina each spring, which now appears to have moved to Dunchurch.