Toggle Main Menu Toggle Search

Open Access padlockePrints

Freedoms ebb and flow: Boaters’ experiences of water and sanitation insecurity on the inland waterways of England & Wales

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Helen UnderhillORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).


This article explores how boat dwellers on the inland waterways – ‘Boaters’ - experience water and sanitation services. Boating populations are not counted as customers of private water utilities in England and Wales, therefore existing within the ‘Dwelling Paradox’ and positioned at greater risk of water and sanitation insecurity. Interviews and auto-ethnography document a myriad of ways in which participants use these resources on different vessels and waterways. The Capability Approach emerges as an apt framework for representing nuanced journeys from water and sanitation access to perceived quality of life. Findings suggest that equitable services can be defined as those which enable Boaters to live in ways they value. This entails reckoning with diverse - and potentially divergent - definitions of a ‘good life’ supported by the personal freedoms to achieve it. We argue this research makes a strong case for centring lived experiences in service design, particularly in instances of disagreement on the constitution of adequate service levels. Co-creating knowledge with people living in the Dwelling Paradox reveals complex relationships with authority and exclusion. We extend this theory, and the principles of equitable service delivery, to emphasise the situated desires, choices and freedoms of the populations in question.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Sylvester R, Underhill H

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Water Alternatives

Year: 2024

Volume: 17

Issue: 1

Pages: 94-120

Online publication date: 10/01/2024

Acceptance date: 18/11/2023

Date deposited: 28/11/2023

ISSN (electronic): 1965-0175

Publisher: Water Alternatives