General guidance

How to apply to set up a new boating business or expand an existing business on the Canal & River Trust's waterways and business licence fees.



This section provides general guidance to anyone operating a boating business or wanting to set one up. You are advised to make your own enquiries and do your own research rather than rely on this as your only source of information. It is your responsibility to ensure you have in place all other additional licences, permits and consent that may be required in the course of your business.


Customer service 

Good presentation and customer service will be key to the success of your business. If people enjoy what you have to offer they may well come again and recommend your service to their friends. Local tourism officers (based within local councils) can often provide free or subsidised customer service training for you and your staff.


Most marine insurance brokers are able to offer commercial insurance as well as private boat insurance. We cannot recommend a particular provider and you should do your own research. Please make sure your insurance certificate clearly shows that you are insured to carry out the trade you are proposing to undertake. Some traders take out trading insurance as a separate policy.

Here is a link to the Roving Canal Traders Association which has some recommended insurance companies in case your current boat insurance providers are unable to assist with a commercial insurance extension. 

You will need to obtain Third party and Public Liability Insurance cover provided by a company that is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority which covers liabilities of at least two million pounds for each claim.

You must provide us with evidence that you are insured for your proposed activities on application.

Trade associations and other organisations

There are many boating trade associations you can join that can help you. They provide help, advice and best practice guidance on a range of issues that will be relevant to your business. They can also put you in touch with other people operating similar businesses. You may also need to get in touch with other organisations such as the Environment Agency or the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. Details of the most common ones can be found in Boating business useful links.

Fair trade and competition

In general terms, we do not grant boating business agreements that include any kind of ‘exclusivity’ clause. It is up to you to carry out local research and decide if your business can thrive alongside existing businesses. Where there is a single or limited opportunity, we may make this available via a tendering process. 

The Canal & River Trust itself is involved in the provision of moorings (both online and in marinas) and some boating business activity through trip boats based at its museums. We have a Fair Trade Code of Practice to ensure that we operate fairly. We also try to treat all of our customers fairly.  If you feel we have failed to do this, please contact us so we can look into the matter.

Business planning

We advise you to think very carefully about your proposed business and plan as accurately as you can for investment, outgoings and income. We regret that we cannot advise on the likely success or failure of individual proposals and that we cannot waive or discount fees to take account of financial hardship.

Food, alcohol and entertainment

If your plans involve the preparation or sale of any kind of food or drink, live or recorded music or other entertainment, please contact your local authority. General advice about food regulations is provided by the Food Standards Agency.

Health & safety and risk assessment

For general advice about your responsibilities as a small business owner, please contact the Health & Safety Executive. They can also provide detailed guidance and templates to help you produce a Risk Assessment.

All narrowboats that are rented out need to have a Gas Safe Certificate.

Terms and conditions for business boat licences

All business licence holders are required to comply with our Terms & Conditions 

Please read the section on ‘Guidance for Boaters without a home mooring’ if you intend to continuously cruise as we cannot give any special dispensation from time limits because you are trading.


A checklist is available to show which regulations apply to each sector. A copy can be found here.

Transfer of ownership

Please complete the Transfer of Boat Responsibility or Change of Details form, when you cease to be the keeper of a boat that has previously been kept or used on our waters. It can also be used to notify us of a change to the Home Mooring of the boat. This will enable us to update our records and help avoid future inconvenience for you

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.

You can download a copy of the latest Boaters' Handbook and watch a video about the key information. YOu can also order your own hard copy fromj our online shop.

The Trust will send hard copies to all hire boat operators for their boats and first-time licence holders will receive a copy with their licence. A maximum of two copies per boat can be ordered. 

Boaters can also find a PDF the updated waterway dimensions on the Trust’s website.

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.

Waterside Moorings

Whether it is possible to operate a boating business from any of the Trusts Waterside Mooring site depends on the type of business it is. If it is possible, an uplift on the mooring agreement fee may be applicable. You will also require a suitable business licence.  Further details are available on our webpages:

If you're thinking of using your boat to run a business or commercial activity, or are hoping to secure a mooring to start a boating business or commercial activity, the information below will help you with your planning.  The application can run alongside your Operating proposal submission.  

Commercial / Business Use Application Form

Explanation of Commercial Use Table and Tariff


Useful downloads

Last date edited: 9 February 2022