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Where angels fear to tread

It’s cold and quiet and there isn’t much going on in the Harbour. So one’s mind can safely turn to dangerous things – like harbour dues.

Harbour dues are seen by some as fees for a service, and by others as a kind of kill-joy tax. They are, of course, the basis of the harbour’s funding: without harbour dues there would be no facilities.

But nobody relishes opening the casket of how harbour dues should be levied. Like most forms of charging, they are intended to require those with larger boats to pay more money than those with smaller boats. So longer vessels pay more than shorter ones; and boats with bigger engines pay more than those with smaller engines.

If only life were so simple. But sailing boats tend to be long and thin; whilst motor boats and motor yachts are shorter and fatter. This means that, other things being equal, if harbour dues are charged by length, sailing boats will pay proportionately more than motor boats.

Equally, some time ago the Harbour decided to charge higher-powered boats more than those with lesser engines; and high-powered was regarded as having an engine over 40hp. In those days sailing yachts would have had a 5 or 10hp engine and most outboards would have been 20-30hp. Today things are very different: many sailing yachts now have engines of 40hp or more and outboard engines can be as large as 150hp, and some boats even have two of these hanging off the back. Yesterday’s formula no longer works as intended – with the result that, again, higher-powered motor boats are paying proportionately less than other craft.

But changing this is not easy: indeed, it is extremely controversial. Whatever you do, there will be winners and losers. Do you need to do anything anyway? Well, first, even the existing system still has anomalies. Some of these are removed each year and this year will be no different, with a new flat-rate for most boats without an engine. I say “most” because you will still get strange results: my rowing boat (being long and thin) attracts significantly higher harbour dues than my (short and fat) motor boat.

But perhaps Salcombe’s reputation as a magnet for high-powered, fast runabouts may be because our harbour dues probably treat this class of boat more leniently than all others. We may not like it; it may not have been intended that way; but that’s how it has turned out.

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