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Self drive hire

These are boats that are let out on hire to members of the public without a skipper or crew.

A family taking a boat holiday on the Grand Union Canal

If you rent out your boat you'll have a duty of care to those onboard.

You'll need to organise a non-private boat safety certificate conforming to hire boat safety standards, commercial insurance and proof that you've gone through the handover procedure correctly.


Holiday hire boats (self drive holiday hire)

Holiday hire boats (SDHH) have sleeping accommodation and are let out for 12 hours or more.

They include timeshare boats and shared ownership arrangements where one or more of the owners has a business interest in the boat.

Also included are boats owned by a social club where members are able to use the boat unsupervised, and any privately owned boat that is offered out for hire to others - even if only rarely or for short periods.

Day hire boats (self drive day hire)

Day boats (SDDH) have no sleeping accommodation and are hired out for a period of up to 12 hours. These may be powered or unpowered e.g. cabin cruisers, electric boats, rowing boats, canoes, paddle-boards etc.

Alternatively, you can choose to licence your business with Paddle UK (previously British Canoeing), however you will need a quality mark accreditation from them to operate a business or a club. This would cover you to operate on our waterways, however we would advise that you still submit an operating proposal to us so we are aware.

Please also seek advice from your local waterway or area operations manager well in advance of your visit regarding any local condition and safety issues that may affect unpowered craft in the area.

More information can be found here about delivery partner licensing requirements.

A hire boat at Shire Cruisers

Key considerations

Your boat must be in excellent condition and repair if you intend to offer it for hire. We may ask for photographs or we may come out to inspect it.

You will need a permanent mooring with facilities such as fuel, water, sewage disposal, commercial waste disposal, secure customer parking and a safe place to board the vessel.

Whether it is possible to operate a boating business using any of the Trust facilities in addition to your home mooring, depends on the type of business and will be assessed on case by case basis (and only for single craft). If it is possible, a separate agreement and fee may be applicable.

Very small boats may be kept out of the water, but you will still need a safe place for customers to board. There is an assumption against handovers being permitted on the towpath / visitor moorings. There may be some exceptions which we will review on a case by case basis, however we will require evidence that there is adequate safe provision and no impact on other towpath users. There is no obligation on the Trust to accept requests for new towpath moorings.

We'll assess your proposal for impact on local navigational safety, water resource and other operational matters.



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.

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 that apply to each sector can be found here.

Boat safety scheme certificate

You will need a hire boat safety scheme certificate. Please note that not all boat safety examiners are qualified to carry out the non-private inspection, so check this before making a firm booking.

If the boat does not have any gas or electrical appliances or an inboard motor it may be exempt from the scheme. If your boat is exempt you must provide a boat safety scheme exemption declaration instead.

Please note that we will require a hire boat safety scheme certificate for all hire boats from 1 April 2018, regardless of age.

Boat safety scheme

Public consultation on proposed changes to the boat safety scheme (BSS) requirements for hire boats has ended.

The comments have been reviewed and the implementation date for a revised set of requirements and modernised checking procedures have been in place since 1 April 2017. A customer update has been issued, please see here for details.

Existing BSS certifications on hire boats will remain valid until they expire. The onus is on hire operators to ensure their boats meet the new and amended BSS Requirements from 1 April 2017.

Further details about the changes can be found here.

Handover procedure

You must prepare a detailed handover procedure which you must use each time you hire out the boat.

It needs to cover the rules of navigation, how to use waterway structures such as locks and bridges, how to operate the boat safely and how to operate any equipment on the boat.

It must contain a 24 hour emergency call out service. British Marine produces a hire boat handover scheme which is incorporated into the quality accredited boatyard scheme. Please contact them directlyfor full details.

British Marine have worked with VisitEngland to develop the boat grading scheme which was previously operated by Quality in Tourism. They have developed a two tier scheme which includes the hire boat handover scheme and a VisitEngland star rating scheme for holiday hire boats.

  1. The first part of the scheme looks at the systems and procedures that an operator carries out in running a hire boat or fleet of boats. It encompasses the requirements of the hire boat handover audit. In order to participate in VisitEngland's star rating scheme, all boatyards/boat operators must hold a current QAB certificate. QAB will not carry a star rating, but will be an accreditation, endorsed by VisitEngland and British Marine, that offers reassurances of safe and legal practices together with good customer services. The QAB assessments are to be carried out every three years.
  2. The optional second part of the assessment process will be the assessment of individual boats. This will be a star rating, one to five. A boatyard/operator will only be able to have boats star rated if a valid QAB rating is held. However, a boatyard/operator with a QAB rating may choose not to have boats star rated, or just some of the fleet. Boats will need to be graded annually to remain within the scheme.

British Marine operates the QAB and boat grading schemes under licence from VisitEngland. British Marine are able to offer assessments for both QAB and the boat grading schemes.

If you choose to pay British Marine to audit your handover procedure, you can supply us with a copy of the certificate as evidence that you have this in place. If you choose not to have your handover audited, you must supply us with a full copy of your handover document.

Three people sit in the front of a narrowboat on a sunny day.


You will require a mooring to operate your business. This may either be from an existing mooring (Waterside mooring or offside mooring) a marina or you may have identified a location where you propse a new mooring location (please note separate mooring fees will be applicable). Whether it is possible to operate a boating business from any of the Trust's waterside mooring sites depends on the type of business it is.

If you have identified a location for new mooring and you believe your proposal meets all of the the criteria within the Business Boating Online Moorings Process, you may proceed to making an application. This can be done with your SDHH Operating Proposal.

For the assessment of new mooring location there is a non-refundable fee of £90 inclusive of VAT (at standard rate) towards our administration and initial assessment costs. Payment will be requested as part of your online operating proposal application.

If you are looking to operate a boating business from any of the Trust's waterside mooring sites it will depend 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 waterside mooring webpage.

The information below will help you with your planning:

Commercial / Business Use Application Form

Explanation of Commercial Use Table and Tariff

The application can run alongside your operating proposal submission.

If your proposal requires any physical works (such as mooring pontoon, mooring rings, bollards etc) then you will be asked to complete an additional works proposal following our appraisal. We will undertake a seperate consultation.


Boat licence

The current price list for both holiday hire craft and day hire craft can be found on our fees, terms and conditions page.

When the business boating manager has confirmed that your operating proposal is acceptable, they will forward you a licence application form with the details completed for you to review and return.

Hire boat code

The code of practice sets down the basic principles of safe operation of all types of craft hired to members of the public and makes clear the responsibilities of each of the parties involved.

British Marine and the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) in May 2021 launched a revised hire boat code to ensure the continued safe operation of hire boats for all.

Further information and a copy of the code can be downloaded here.

The hire boat code outlines the standards for boats let for hire on inland waterways and carrying 12 people or less. Developed by British Marine and AINA, it provides the framework for continued safe business operations of hire boats on inland waterways, and clarifies the responsibilities of operators, navigation authorities and users. It also helps businesses through the consistent application of licensing and registration requirements through inland navigation authority waterways in the UK.

The latest version of the code includes a number of new aspects, including a new stability requirement, and formalises a number of current and new safety management procedures.

Along with all other inland navigation authorities who are members of AINA, the Trust will be incorporating the code into its business licence terms and conditions for the relevant business sectors, including SDDH & SDHH & static letting.

Please be aware of the Trust's now-mandatory requirement for all hire boat operators to meet with the conditions of the hire boat code.

Boaters' Handbook

We have now 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 waterway dimensions. There are also pointers on the extra factors owners and hirers of wide beams need to be aware of when navigating and mooring.

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.

Download it below, or order a free hard copy from the online shop.

Published Safety Guidance

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) produce a safety digest to draw attention to some of the lessons arising from investigations into accidents and incidents.

They have produced an incident report which customers may find useful as part of a handover process to warn of dangers to customers.

Download the specific document here, or download the full report from their website.

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 are non-refundable.

Other regulations

Other regulations may apply to your business. For example, boats let out for hire must have a Gas Safe Certificate.

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 new hire boat, 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.

Last Edited: 25 March 2024

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