Managing boats on London’s busy waterways

With boat numbers in London already very high and increasing, we’ve been finding out what approach you think we should take for managing boat numbers in very busy areas, and how you can help.

Update May 2021: Since we completed the initial engagement in January 2021, we have undertaken further work with key stakeholders. Our Navigation Advisory Group, mooring sub group and elected boater reps on the Trust’s Council have helped us explore broad options for how the busy London waterways could be managed. In February/March we commissioned facilitated engagement with liveaboard boaters on the London waterways to better understand their reasons for living afloat, and their day-to-day experiences on the water. A summary of this engagement can be seen here.

In April we published proposals for Water Safety Zones (WSZ) on the Lee. We are now focussing on carrying out further engagement with stakeholders on the Lee before we agree a way forward for the WSZ pilot and will conclude this before we publish further proposals to manage boats on London’s busy waterways. A further discussion of options for managing London’s busy waterways will be published in autumn 2021, with the aim of starting a formal consultation before the end of the year. This will avoid carrying out a big consultation during the summer months, when many people would prefer to be out enjoying the waterways.

Update January 2021: We've now completed the initial engagement phase, which started in October 2020, where we asked for your views on how we should manage areas of high demand. Your responses are being read through and summarised. We have compiled a list of FAQs from the virtual engagement sessions. We'll explain details of the next phase on this page shortly.

Read the stage one engagement report

Our waterways in London are popular with boaters and towpath users alike. As a space for all to enjoy, it's important that this growing demand is managed, especially on the increasingly busy waterspace. Without additional measures to manage the areas of highest demand, it's likely that the ever-growing number of boats will impact on everyone’s enjoyment of the waterways.

Over the past decade we've seen the number of boats using the London waterways more than double* and this trend is continuing. The growth has been driven by boats that do not have a permanent mooring (often called ‘continuous cruisers’), with many of these boats being primary residences.

In 2018 we published the London Mooring Strategy to help manage the London waterways safely and fairly. However, the strategy acknowledged that if boat numbers continued to rise then additional measures to manage boats in the busiest areas would need to be investigated, to ensure the waterways are managed safely, provide an enjoyable customer experience and are available fairly for everyone.

*National boat count in London all boats 2010: 2101 – 2019: 4274; boats without a permanent mooring 2010: 413 – 2019: 2208

What are the issues?

Managing boat numbers

In parts of central and inner London mooring space and boater facilities are already under pressure. We have no legal powers to stop or restrict the number of licensed boats on the water, so creative solutions to help manage growing boat numbers are necessary to address these challenges.

Caring for the waterways

With the Regent’s Canal celebrating its 200th anniversary, and other waterways older still, they need to be looked after as a part of the city’s heritage, as well as a vital contributor to the health of the city today. All stakeholders involved with the city’s waterways need to work together to ensure they are cared for sustainably for the future.

Improving the waterways experience for all

With a growing liveaboard boating population, and increased recreational and leisure use, the number of people wanting to use the waterways is growing. It's important that we make sure using London’s waterways is an enjoyable experience for all.

Frequently asked questions

What is the issue?

There has been a significant growth in the number of boats on the London waterways* over the past 10+ years, with boat numbers more than doubling. Many of the additional boats are being used as permanent accommodation. This has put a significant amount of pressure on mooring space, infrastructure and facilities, which were not designed to support this amount or type of use. For example, increased boat numbers adds pressure on water resources, increased wear and tear, and damage to locks and banks caused by poor navigating, collisions and mooring pins. High numbers of boats do, at times, also create tensions and issues between different waterway users.

Why are you looking to manage the London waterways experiencing high demand differently?

When the London Mooring Strategy was launched in 2018 we acknowledged that if boat numbers continued to rise in London then we would need to look at additional measures for how boats could be managed. Boat numbers in London are already far higher, and at a far greater density, than in any other part of our network and show no sign of reducing. If we don’t do something differently we won’t be able to address the current issues and challenges, let alone deal with the likelihood of ever-increasing numbers of boats in London.

What will managing areas of high demand differently mean?

We haven’t decided this yet. Before we do we want to engage stakeholders so that they understand the challenges and issues and have an opportunity to contribute suggestions as to how these could be addressed.

Who are the stakeholders you’ll be engaging with?

We want to hear from boaters, other waterway users, and other key stakeholders including people living close to the waterways, London Boroughs and the Mayor of London. Everyone can be affected by the different issues linked to busy waterways.

How and when did you engage stakeholders?

We held virtual meetings online to hear people's ideas and to answer questions. There were also opportunities for people to submit their views using an online survey, or in writing for those without internet access. This initial engagement took place between October 2020 and January 2021.

What happens now?

We'll consider the ideas and feedback we've had before publishing a proposal for managing areas of high demand in early 2021.

I didn't get a chance to give my views - will you consult on your proposal?

Yes, there will be a formal consultation on the proposal before it is finalised. We will then run a pilot of the proposal before anything is implemented permanently.

*The London waterways where we are seeing high demand include the the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal, Regent's Canal, Hertford Union Canal, Limehouse Cut and the Lee Navigation.