Managing moorings on London’s busy waterways

With boat numbers in London already very high and increasing, we’re setting out and consulting on proposals to help manage mooring in busy areas.

Update December 2021:We published our London Mooring Strategy in 2018 setting out plans to improve the experience for boaters and boating in London and make the waterway a place that can be shared fairly and enjoyed by everyone. The strategy acknowledged that, with a finite amount of mooring space in London, we would need to consider further options for how boat numbers could be managed in these areas of high demand. 

We are now consulting on proposals for management of mooring space on central London’s busy canals to balance the needs of local and visiting boats. The consultation will run between between 21 December 2021 and 4 April 2022* on several specific proposals including for short-stay visitor moorings. We are also consulting on a wider in-principal options about additional permanent mooring, which could be introduced over the medium to long term.
* Consultation period extended due to a short technical issue with the online form.

Read the proposals in report on Managing boats on London's Waterways (pdf). Read word version

The consultation can be completed online. Anyone unable to complete the consultation online should contact rachel.hayward@canalrivertrust.org.uk

Frequently asked questions

Your numbers show a big increase in boats since 2010, but you brought in the London Mooring Strategy in 2018 to help manage this growth. Have boat numbers increased significantly since 2018?

The London Mooring Strategy was developed to address a number of issues related to the increase in boat numbers, but it didn’t look at managing potential future growth, and stated that further work may be needed on this.

Since 2010 boat numbers in London have roughly doubled, and they have continued to increase in 2018 and 2019. The 2020 national boat count took place in March when, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we were unable to complete the boat count in all areas of London. While this was sufficient to measure boat licence compliance, it did not provide a full count of all boats. Our weekly boat sighting data shows a continued high number of boats and suggests a small increase in boat numbers, particularly amongst those boats that do not have a home mooring. With around 4,000 boats on the London waterways and over 50% of them not having a permanent mooring, the need to ensure the busiest areas of the waterway are managed fairly remains high.

Why do you think making short-stay moorings chargeable and pre-bookable is the best way to manage boats in the busiest areas?

We want to make sure that the London waterways are open and available for all boaters to enjoy. We know that the increased number of boats in London has put off many people from boating in London. Increasing the number of pre-bookable moorings will provide more guaranteed mooring space for those who want to visit the capital as well as those who boat in London regularly and want the certainty of being able to moor for short periods in the busiest areas. The introduction of charges for these moorings means that we can employ additional towpath rangers to manage the busiest sites and respond to boaters’ issues.

Combined, the pre-bookable paid moorings will account for around 40 berths with the majority of short-stay visitor moorings, and all the 14-day towpath moorings (over 90% of all the mooring space in inner London), remaining unchanged. The proposals are intended to balance the needs of leisure and liveaboard boaters.

Why do you need to increase the extended stay charge?

We’d prefer to not have to apply an extended stay charge at all but, if boats overstay the permitted stay time, it reflects that the boater is preventing other people from having access to that mooring. The current extended stay charge is £25, which is not much of a disincentive to overstaying. Increasing the extended stay charge would help discourage people from overstaying.

Why are you proposing banning triple mooring and double mooring against wide beam boats in the inner London waterways?

It’s really important that navigation is maintained and that it’s not impeded by moored boats. The inner London waterways are very busy with many different types of boater: liveaboard, leisure, freight, and business craft as well as increasing numbers of unpowered craft. This measure is intended to ensure that there is clear navigation for everyone in these busy areas.

Do you think this is the right time to be looking at a new approach regarding managing boat numbers, when the effects of Covid-19 are not yet known?

It’s too early to know what the long-term impact of Covid-19 will be on boating on London. The early signs are that it is not yet having much impact on boat numbers. However, even if boat numbers reduce slightly, London will still be the busiest part of our network, and so we still need to think about how we manage boat numbers.

Why can't you set up more affordable moorings on the offside?

While we are not in a position to offer subsidised moorings, the London Mooring Strategy does support the principle of long-term moorings being created and managed by diverse providers, including social landlords or community-led mooring schemes, who could offer lower priced moorings. The Strategy identifies some locations where permanent moorings could potentially be created, but it would depend on number of factors such as who owns the land, access to the site, and planning permission if they were to be permanent residential moorings. Any permanent moorings that are provided by the Trust generate valuable income that helps us to maintain the waterways and deliver our charitable objectives.

You say you will be consulting until March 2022, when do you think you would be implementing any of the proposals?

Before we finalise anything we will want to consider all the feedback we get from different stakeholders. Once we have done that we will publish the final plans and set out the timetable for implementing them. We don’t expect to be implementing any proposals before summer 2022.

Have you considered what effect this might have on vulnerable boaters within the London boating community?

The proposals we have made are limited, but we will carry out equality impact assessments on them. We already work closely with partners, including the waterway chaplains, to support vulnerable boaters with a range of issues and would look to help any boater who might be affected by any changes. 

You mention that the increased numbers of boaters have put pressure on existing facilities. Why not increase the number of basic facilities in the area?

The current boater facilities across London were never intended for the current high level of use, so we regularly get complaints about them being broken or congested. We have already set out plans in the London Mooring Strategy to improve and increase boater facilities across London.

We already spend a significant amount of money on providing and maintaining boater customer service facilities in London: installing additional facilities will add to these costs and we need to ensure we can do this is a financially sustainable way. In 2019/20 we spent over a quarter of a million pounds on refuse and wet waste customer service facilities in inner London alone.

Waste                          £134,236

Pump-out/elsan         £130,130

While it’s not possible to break down the cost by area, we spend nearly £400,000 on providing and maintaining water points across the Trust's waterways each year.           

Our planned investment in existing and new facilities will help with current demand, but there are a limited number of places where we are able to install new facilities, due to lack of physical space, access (for example for bin lorries), and challenges around connecting utilities across third party land. It's not just facilities that are feeling the strain, but also the infrastructure, with more wear and tear and boat damage to locks, banks, and waterway walls. London’s canals and rivers were not designed for the current type, or volume, of usage so we need to work had to make sure they are managed and maintained for current and future generations to use and enjoy.

There are many stretches of London waterways without mooring rings. Why don't you put in more rings, so there are more places to moor?

We have identified in the London Mooring Strategy where it is possible and preferable to have more rings. We have already installed rings in a number of these locations, and others will be put in over the next year. Some stretches of the canals are not suitable for mooring alongside because of the canal profile (some of the London canals were built with a shallow dish shape meaning there isn’t the depth for mooring boats near to the bank), or because the bank itself is not suitable.

It’s important to remember that the canal was never designed for continuous lines of moored boats, and the waterway has lots of competing uses. We need to balance the different needs of those who use the waterways, and make sure there is also space without moored boats for towpath users to enjoy the water, for angling, water sport activities, and for wildlife.

Why do you use negative language when talking about liveaboard continuous cruisers when you should be celebrating the benefits they bring to the waterways?

We agree that liveaboard continuous cruisers benefit the waterways, creating vibrant communities in what were quieter parts of London and providing a natural surveillance that has increased the perception that waterways are a safer place to visit. We don’t believe we’ve used negative language to describe liveaboard and/or continuous boaters, but we have highlighted that most of the growth in boat numbers in London has been in boats without a home mooring (continuous cruisers). During the engagement sessions we have highlighted both the benefits and challenges that this has brought to the capital’s waterways.

Why don’t you promote the quieter areas around London, like the western end of the Paddington Arm, the Slough Arm and the upper Lee, to help manage boat numbers?

The London Mooring Strategy does already identify plans to put new facilities and improve mooring in quieter locations to help encourage boats to use the less busy areas. We are asking people’s views on creating some limited additional online linear mooring in these quieter places to encourage more boats there. To create appropriate moorings would require investment, hence these would be paid for permanent moorings, however increasing boat numbers in these areas would make them more attractive for other visiting boats too.

What is a manageable number of boats in London?

We are not able to set a limit on the number of boats who can have a licence and who can navigate in London. However, the increase in boat numbers in London mean that some areas can be very busy, so it’s important that we manage these areas safely and fairly.

How does the growth in boat numbers relate to the population growth of London as a whole, isn’t it just natural that, as the city grows, boat numbers will grow?

There has clearly been a growth in London’s population since 2010, which puts pressure on the availability and affordability of housing. This may have informed some people’s choice to live on a boat, however we don’t have any official data to verify this. The population growth of London is not within our control but, with a finite amount of waterway space in London, we do have to manage that space safely and fairly. The growth in boat numbers in London has made this more challenging.

Many boats do not seem to move – why?

Our boat licence support team monitor boat movement and anyone who does not move after the required time will be contacted. In some cases, boats are granted permission to stay for a short agreed overstay – for example a short-term illness or a mechanical issue, usually for just a few days. If a boater has a longer-term equality issue (for example they are disabled) they may have an adjustment that allows them to moor longer in some places. Boaters with an equality adjustment are provided with yellow ‘Trust Aware’ badges to display to make others aware, without disclosing details of their personal situation (these are displayed at the boater’s discretion). With the sheer number of boats in London, even though most boats do move, if people see places with boats always moored there, they may think that they haven’t moved – even though they may be different vessels.

Where is the reason that you need to do something to manage busy area in London?

A number of different factors have persuaded us of the need to manage the busy areas of London’s waterways. There has been a significant increase in boat numbers in London since 2010 (particularly the growth in the number of boats without a home mooring) as evidenced by the national boat count, resulting in increased use of customer service facilities, and with this increased cost for the Trust. Over the same period we have also seen a growth in other towpath and water space uses, for example canoeing, kayaking and paddle sports. We have also seen consistently low boater satisfaction scores in London. Finally, the powers we have currently are not effective for managing high number of boats in a finite area and provide no way to limit numbers.

Are you just trying to remove boats from London?

No, absolutely not. We will always welcome boats onto the waterways in London. We have to make sure that we manage the waterways safely and fairly for everyone who wants to use them – particularly in areas where there are lots of boats.

A space for all to enjoy

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.