We love and care for your canals and rivers, because everyone deserves a place to escape.

Licence it or lose it

Let’s be blunt, licence evasion is more than an annoyance that upsets law abiding boaters. Without a licence we, and other boaters and towpath users, have no guarantees that the boat is safe or insured. In addition, it’s only fair that all boaters contribute towards the cost of caring for the waterways.

We depend on around £23 million a year in income from boat licences and mooring fees – without this, we could not dredge, keep the locks in order, the tunnels safe and all the other things you'd reasonably expect from a navigation authority.

So, our title is not kidding. Over the past couple of years, we've made radical changes to our enforcement systems. We now have local teams patrolling the banks with hand held computers that show whether your boat has a valid licence – no matter what's displayed in the window. If you're not complying with the rules, your details are automatically recorded and enforcement action commences.

Our main tool for enforcement is the power for the Canal & River Trust to 'section 8' unlicensed boats. This relates to powers given in the British Waterways Act 1983 (and transferred to the Canal & River Trust) and allows us to remove boats from the waterway if they are there without our permission or persistently in breach of our licence terms and conditions – including not having a licence.

If a boat is also someone's home, we take the added precaution before exercising these powers to get a court order to remove the boat from the waterway.

Once we've removed the boat we can either sell it or, if it is of little value, we may destroy it. We have first claim on any sale proceeds which we use to recover our costs of taking enforcement action.

Pay and display!

It's also a legal requirement to display the licence on both sides of your boat. You can order a free pair of plastic holders to display your licence from our shop. If you cover it for any reason (e.g. during winter), you must paint or display the index number on the cover so that it can always be seen.

Sadly, some people ignore these rules. But our enforcement team have been successful at tracking down and dealing with unlicensed boats – evasion rates in early 2012 were down to less than 4 per cent - so we appeal to all boaters to display their licence and avoid suffering the increasing stigma of being seen as an evader.

Online boat checker

Many boaters have got into the habit of contacting us on an ad hoc basis when they see boats that appear to be unlicensed. Please do bear in mind that some people just forget to stick their new licence up in their window (or condensation has caused it to fall off!) so, if you don't see it in the window, it doesn't always mean it's unlicensed.

If you want to find out for yourself then please do use the online boat checker and, if you have spotted an unlicensed one, we'll automatically be notified of it.

Please note, we do not issue licences to our own workboats. A separate fleet management system includes ensuring that all our boats comply with safety requirements.

Last date edited: 16 September 2016