The charity making life better by water

How we tackle boat licence evasion

Our boat licence customer support team is out and about on our canals and rivers, constantly working to make sure all the boaters on our waterways have the right, up to date licences.

Boats moored on both sides of a wide stretch of the Fossdyke Canal

In 2022/23 private boat licences added up to £25.2 million, around 11% of our total income and, once the money from moorings and boating businesses is included, we received £47.3 million directly from boating activities. We wouldn't be able to take care of our wonderful waterways without your contribution. However, sometimes, we come across boating customers who, for a number of reasons, haven't paid their licence.

Boating for all

In March 2023 there were around 35,800 licensed boats on our waterways. Each year our boat licence customer support team works hard to keep licence evasion as low as possible.

National boat check

Every March, we carry out our national boat check, a log all boats on the waterways. The local teams patrol the banks with hand-held computers that show whether your boat has a valid licence, no matter what's displayed in the window.

If you're not complying with the rules or your licence has expired (even if it's only expired in February), your details are automatically recorded and the follow-up process begins.

We'll always try to work with you to get your boat licensed

Initially our office team will call to help you licence your boat. We do work with a number of boaters who struggle to pay their licence so more information about the support available is on our vulnerable boaters page.

But sometimes, we're left with no choice but to take further action and the case is past to a licence support officer.

Removing boats is a last resort

Our main tool is the power for the Trust to “Section 8” unlicensed boats. This relates to power given in the British Waterways Act 1983 (and transferred to the Canal & River Trust). It allows us to remove boats from the waterway if they are there without our permission or persistently in breach of our licence terms and conditions, including not having a licence.

If a boat is also someone's home, before exercising these powers we take the added precaution of getting a court order to remove the boat from the waterway.

How can I report an unlicensed boat?

There's no need to call or email us, our rangers are out checking. However, bear in mind some people just forget to stick their new licence up in their window (or condensation has caused it to fall off) So, if you don't see it in the window, it doesn't always mean it's unlicensed.

We no longer use our online boat checker, having reviewed the usage, of all the boats checked over the review period, 37% were unlicensed but already in our enforcement process. The other 63% were either licensed, in places where a licence wasn't required or the details were incorrect. We thank those that used the checker; please be assured that we will continue to maintain high levels of licence compliance on our waterways.

We've also been asked why we do not issue licences for our own workboats. Don't worry, it's because we have a separate fleet management system makes sure all our boats comply with safety needs.

Last Edited: 04 October 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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