Boats operated by charities and communitiy groups

These are boats that are used primarily for community or educational use.

There are many boats on our waterways that are used primarily for community or educational use. The majority are operated as trip or hire boats, with a few trading boats and even one that moors up in different locations to offer children's play activities.


Please refer to the guidance notes that apply to the use that you want to make of the boat and complete the relevant operating proposal form.

Do not commit financially to your proposed business before receiving our ‘in principle’ approval. 

Now that we ourselves are a charity it is important for us to make sure that any organisation receiving a discount or subsidy from us in respect of a boating operation must be using that boat to deliver our charitable objectives. We are working to produce a clear set of guidelines and criteria that will help us to determine which boats we may subsidise and those that we should not. Whilst this work is ongoing we will continue to use the 'old' charitable discount and criteria as set out below.  

There is a 60 per cent discount off the business licence fee providing that all of the following requirements are met:

  • the boat is used for educational purposes by an organisation not operating for profit, or by registered charities for charitable purposes for the disadvantaged or people with disabilities
  • the boat is used only by or for the class of persons that the boat is intended to benefit
  • any charge for the use of the boat is limited to the costs of the trip.
  • the boat is not offered to the general public for hire or reward or for carrying passengers for a payment on a regular basis
  • this concession will not apply if it would create an unfair advantage over commercial passenger boat operations in the vicinity

This discount will be the subject of further review and consultation.

Boaters Handbook

The Canal & River Trust has launched a new edition of the Boater’s Handbook in partnership with the Environment Agency. First published in 2002, the Handbook is written for boat owners and hirers and contains lots of 'getting started' tips as well as important information about how to boat safely. 

The updated Handbook contains some new information on which waterways are suited to wider craft and which ones only narrow boats should use, with a map that shows which canals are suitable for each.  There’s also pointers on the extra factors owners and hirers of wide beams need to be aware of when navigating and mooring.

Download your copy of the Handbook, or watch our video setting out key information, from the same page. You can also order a free hard copy from the online shop. Copies can be ordered, a maximum of two copies per boat. 

Boaters can also find a PDF the updated waterway dimensions on our planning your trip pages.

The Handbook was originally commissioned by British Waterways in partnership with the Environment Agency and the British Marine Federation. An expert group was commissioned to develop key messages and content, drawing on other published sources and relevant empirical evidence. Since then, there have been several re-prints which incorporated best practice updates.

Operating proposal

New applicants in this sector should complete the perating proposal that is most relevant for the use of the boat that they intend to make of the boat. 

If you are a new or existing customer and wish to set up a boating business, you need to submit an operating proposal via our online system.

Please ensure you provide as much information as possible in order for us to assess your proposal. 

If you do not have access to a computer or mobile device and would like to request a paper copy of the operating proposal please email

Upon receipt of your submitted proposal, you will receive an automatic email confirmation and reference number. We will then aim to give you an in principle decision within six weeks. Please note that you may need to obtain planning permission and negotiate agreements for using our property which could take much longer to finalise.

Do not commit financially to your proposed business before receiving our ‘in principle’ approval.

Last date edited: 17 May 2021