Water Gypsies

When you hear the above term, do you think of a life full of excitement and adventure or does it leave a slightly sour feeling? We’ll be honest, the term can be seen in either light, and it depends very much on who is saying it and how it is said. In this article, we are going explore both sides and give some of our thoughts on what is meant when people say “Water Gypsies”

Water Gypsies…

The fairest place to start is right slap bang in the middle of the divide. And to do that we are going to get a definition. What, exactly, or should we say ‘who’ is a gypsy? Well according to the Oxford English dictionary a ‘Gyspy’ is: –

“A nomadic, or free-spirited person”

Nothing offensive there? So why the ire? We suppose it has to do with the preconceived ideas that are widely held about the apparent behaviour of the travelling community. There is social disapproval of having “no fixed abode”… There’s a good chance that if you have heard that last phrase it was probably in the local rag, giving reference to some misdemeanour performed by a character of questionable reputation.

Unfortunately, there is some guilt by association there. To many people’s minds “no fixed abode” is equal to ‘vagrant’ or ‘criminal’… If you’ve spent any time amongst the boating community then you will see how inaccurate either term is.


There is another popular saying; “there is a lot of truth is said in jest”. The phrase may be uttered as a joke, but what leads people to believe it? Well, let’s take a look at some ways in which the boating community is similar to what people traditionally associate with the word “Gypsy”: –

Paying Tax

There is an assumption that boaters live for free, especially when it comes to things such as council tax. If you have read our article on what fees boaters do pay, you’ll be surprised to learn that they do contribute.

Constantly Roving

A common alternative name for gypsies is “the travelling community”. Both boaters and gypsies share the fact that they inhabit a home which is mobile. That is where the similarity may end however. Often the public aversion to the ‘travelling community’ stems from the fact that they are inclined to stop and set up camp in wherever they choose. Or as officers of the law would call it… “trespassing”. Unless you are hijacking an end of garden mooring, this is not the case when boating.

Brightly Coloured Boats and Caravans

If you are going to draw comparisons think back to our first sentence. Do you think of gypsies as those who live in rounded, gayly coloured caravans whilst sporting a polka dot neckerchief and a flat cap? There is an element of this chic that still exists within the boating community, so it is easy to see where a blurring of boundaries occurs to the public’s mind.

In Popular Literature

Fans of the Phillip Pullman “His Dark Materials” trilogy will be familiar with the ‘gyptians’. These are a fictional group of people who are gypsies who live on the water. For many, this fictional group really exists. It seems doubtful that the author of the books had to stretch his imagination too far to make the link.

Why Might People Use the Term ‘Water Gypsy”

Daring to be ‘Different’: –

This actually frightens a great many ‘muggles’. The possibility that a person can live without ties to any place or thing is scary to some. Whether it stems from envy or a strong sense of conservatism, nobody but they could tell you.

We suspect by living your life freely and having shaken off the chains of the rat race, the presence of a boater makes those who are still stuck on the treadmill all the more aware of the futility of their morning commute, their mortgage payments or having the same old routine day in, day out. It’s human nature to trip someone up who’s ahead of you in the race. Using terms such as ‘water gypsy’ or name-calling is a manifestation of this. Essentially, your happy existence serves as an unwelcome reminder of their own social servitude.

Lack of Understanding

As we have said above there is a misguided belief that boaters do not contribute to society. Let’s give you another saying we’ve heard that summarises our thoughts on this: –

“Never attribute to malice, what can be explained by stupidity”

They may not mean to be unkind, they simply do not know what you’ve paid or what you contribute. It’s an obvious fallacy that boating is cheap, marina fees are often more, in certain areas, than an entire family pays in council tax. Besides which many boaters do have bona fide day jobs and simply live on a boat instead of a house.

It is up to the liveaboard community to reasonably educate any who have misguided beliefs about them avoiding cost and fees, particularly costs and fees that are contributed to society.

Feeling better about the term “water gypsy”

Well, we’re going to let men cleverer than we lead the way, with a few inspirational quotes that no one can argue with, enjoy: –

Not all those who wander are lost”: – J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of The Ring

“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” : -Saint Augustine

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” : – Mark Twain

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal”: – Paul Coelho

“It’s Better to Travel Well than to Arrive”: – Buddha


Prejudice, Jealousy or just plain ignorance? The term “Water Gypsy” may be used as a result of any or all. The truth of the matter is the same as for most situations, if you haven’t tried it, you can’t knock it. We can seek to enlighten, rally against such terms and ultimately be left with frustration. However we’d like to advise a different course of action, let us offer the following… The best revenge is a life lived well. Live your life well. Where are you going tomorrow?

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