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The charity making life better by water

General guidance

This section provides general guidance to anyone operating a boating business or wanting to set one up.

Canal festival

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.

The Roving Canal Traders Association has some recommended insurance companies in case your current boat insurance providers are unable to assist with a commercial insurance extension, which you can find here.

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.

Water resources

Our water management and engineering teams work closely with the independent reservoir engineers to minimise the disruption where possible, such as through the timing of the works or the development of flood forecasting systems. Details on how we manage water, FAQs and overview of water resources are available [here](/specialist-teams/managing-our-water/drought/water-management-faqs](/specialist-teams/managing-our-water/drought/water-management-faqs).

Food and drink boat

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 & conditions for business boat licences

All business licence holders are required to comply with our fees terms and conditions.

Please read the section on guidance for boaters without a home mooring if you intend to continuously cruise. 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.

Useful downloads

Last Edited: 01 August 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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