Skip to main content

The charity making life better by water

Roving traders

Roving traders sell goods or services from their boat at various locations around the canal network.

Roving trader Tracey and The Doggie Boat at floating market

We do not reserve mooring for roving traders. It is often difficult to find mooring in urban areas and this may well restrict the number of days you are able to trade. You should consider this within your business plans.

If you sell coal, diesel, bottled gas, other hazardous substances, provide a mobile sewage disposal service or the combined weight of your goods or tools is more than one tonne, the skipper of the vessel should hold an MCA Boat Master Licence (BML) or equivalent. You will also be required to agree with the Trust a risk assessment and method statement including an emergency procedure.

If you allow customers to board your vessel to inspect or purchase goods or to discuss or receive services you will need to provide evidence that you hold a non-private boat safety scheme certificate.

You must keep all items associated with your trade on your boat at all times. You may place one A-frame style advertising board on the land next to our boat when you are open for trading, providing that it does not cause a nuisance or obstruction.

Please note that if you trade from any one location for more than 28 days in any one calendar year planning consent may be required for the trading activity from the Local Planning Authority.

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

With regards to the disposal of waste generated by your roving trading business, it is officially classed as commercial waste and should be disposed of appropriately.

Canal & River Trust waste facilities are not to be used for the disposal of waste generated by commercial activity.

Advice on roving café businesses

In our experience, it is difficult to make a roving café business work. This is because it is hard to build up a loyal customer base, difficult to get deliveries to your boat and hard to find enough locations with high enough footfall to make the trade profitable. We therefore recommend that you consider these factors very carefully before doing any detailed planning. These businesses tend to work best when set up as a Fixed Location Trading Boat.

People walk along the towpath passed canal boats selling wares and decorated with signs.



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.

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.

A copy of the Regulations checklist for each sector can be downloaded here.

Boat Safety Scheme Certificate

You will need a Boat Safety Scheme certificate (this must be the Non-private class if customers are allowed on board your vessel). If you wish to licence an unpowered butty for trading purposes please provide a Boat Safety Scheme Exemption Declaration instead. We will accept a Declaration of Conformity with the Recreational Craft Directive in place of a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate if the boat is less than four years old (one year, in the case of ‘sail aways'). From 1 April 2018 we will require a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate regardless of the age of the craft.

Boat licence

All our price list can be found on our Fees and Terms & Conditions pages. A copy can also be found on the useful downloads on the right bottom of this page.

When the Business Boating Manager has confirmed that your Operating Proposal is acceptable, you will be able to complete your licence application within our online system.

Gold licences for business boats

Gold licences are available for self-drive holiday hire boats, skippered hotel boats and roving traders. Please note that we cannot give you our consent to trade on any moorings on EA waters as we are not the land owner. You will need to obtain consent from the relevant landowners as you travel. Business Golds are priced at 130% of the cost of the normal Canal & River Trust business licence that applies to your vessel. Please speak to your Business Boating Manager if you would like more information. As with normal Golds, they only run 1 January to 31 December of each year and they are non-refundable.

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.

Other regulations

Other regulations may apply to your business. Please read our General Guidance section and make your own independent enquiries to ensure that you understand and comply with all the regulations relevant to your proposed operation. 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.

Operating proposal

If you are a new or existing customer and wish to set up a roving trade business, you must submit an operating proposal using your boat licence account on our online system.

Please provide as much information as possible for us to assess your proposal.

For the assessment of new Operating Proposals there is a non-refundable fee towards our administration and initial assessment costs. The fee is to be paid online to progress your application and will be applicable for all submissions received from 1 December 2023 onwards.

The fees for each operating proposal are:

  1. £90 (inclusive of vat) for Fixed Location Trading Boat, Static Letting, Self-Drive Holiday Hire, Self-Drive Day Hire, Skippered Hotel, Skippered Passenger, Roving Trader (fuel, events boats & roving café boats)
  2. £50 (inclusive of vat) for Roving Trader, Trade Plate, Maintenance Work Boat, ROW, Cadets
  3. No fee to be applied to applications for Emergency & Safety Boats and Exhibition Boats.
  4. No fee to be applied to existing business who wish to add additional craft (where new craft are to be added to an existing fleet or extension to existing moorings).

Upon receipt of your submitted proposal, you will receive 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.

Useful downloads

Last Edited: 25 March 2024

photo of a location on the canals
newsletter logo

Stay connected

Sign up to our monthly newsletter and be the first to hear about campaigns, upcoming events and fundraising inspiration