Coronavirus and boating FAQs

Many of your questions regarding coronavirus and boating are answered on this page.

The Government has announced that, in England, from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December, non-essential travel should be avoided, and overnight stays limited to work purposes only.

All navigation in England should be limited to essential use only. Boaters who are not currently occupying their boat should not take short overnight breaks on their boat during the period. Those living aboard are advised to limit their navigation, moving only a minimal amount to access essential facilities or services when necessary – or to move along to a quieter mooring if they are finding the towpath too busy for them where they are.

Boat licence terms & conditions regarding moving every 14 days will be suspended for the four-week period from Thursday until 2 December when the restrictions come to an end. 

In Wales leisure boaters should follow Welsh government guidelines to stay local and limit the times they leave their homes.  The 14-day movement requirement will remain suspended until 2 December in line with the English national restrictions. 

We ask everyone to be considerate and make sure that vital boater facilities and services are accessible to those that need them. 

From Wednesday 2 December

As of 2 December 2020 our navigations will be open for you to cruise – and stay on board overnight – subject to ongoing government guidance. The Government advises that people should specifically try to avoid leaving or entering very high alert level areas (tier 3), other than for things like work or education so we would strongly advise against travelling to or from your boat, or boating for any distance, in these areas.

Please check the Local COVID alert levels in England to see if your area, or the area you want to visit, is affected.

In Wales leisure boaters should follow Welsh government guidelines to stay local and limit the times they leave their homes.  

Are towpaths open?

Our towpaths have remained open during the national and local lockdowns for people to enjoy exercise and being in the outdoors, close to nature. We’re following the government’s advice and taking the appropriate action so that everyone who visits, or lives on or around, our canals and river navigations is able to enjoy their time by or on the canal whilst remaining safe.  Enjoy your local canal but please follow the latest government advice, including advice around social distancing.  Keep your distance from both other people and moored boats where people may be living aboard.

As towpaths in some places can be narrow, when you pass someone, please make sure you use the full width of the towpath, keep moving, stand aside to allow others to pass, in single file, when necessary. If you can’t avoid passing a moored boat please keep as far away from it as possible and pass quickly by.

Our plea to everyone thinking of visiting our canals and river navigations is to act always with consideration and respect for other users.

We will keep the situation under active review and update you in line with changing circumstances and Government guidance.  Please refer to the government guidance for England and Wales for more information and contact your licence support officer if you have specific issues.

Please remember that all Government guidelines should be followed – this includes social distancing, wearing masks where necessary, and regular handwashing, especially before and after using any facility or structure.

Below are answers to some of your other most frequently asked questions. Jump straight to the section you'd like to read:

General advice for boaters  Boater facilities and services
Boat licences and Boat Safety Scheme Other activities
Support for boaters needing extra help Contacting the Trust

Updated 9 November 2020

General advice for boaters


What is essential boat travel?

If you are a live-aboard boater or are currently occupying your boat, then essential movement could be:

  • to access water or waste facilities
  • to access essential food and supplies
  • to access hospital, GP, and other medical appointments, or visits where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health
  • for emergency mechanical service for your boat
  • for emergency vet treatment for your pet
  • for caring responsibilities

From Thursday 5 November to Wednesday 2 December you should not be making short trips or breaks on your boat for leisure purposes, these are classed as non-essential journeys.

Can I use an employee-operated structure?

From Thursday 5 November to Wednesday 2 December, our employee-operated locks, bridges and tunnels in England will be open only for emergencies and essential services such as water, pump out or waste.

Do you have any general advice for boaters?

We would ask boaters to follow good boating etiquette and think about others so everyone can get to the services they need. We ask everyone to be considerate and make sure at least a minimal amount of essential movement is maintained to keep vital boater facilities and services accessible to those that need them.

How do I reduce the risk of transmission through touching facilities or locks that have been used by others?

In line with the government advice to all, it is advisable to wash your hands or use hand gels frequently and wear a face mask in enclosed public spaces to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus.


Support for boaters needing extra help

What should I do if I am self-isolating and need help but don’t have any support networks?

Please get in touch via our online webform or contact your local boat licence support team. We will work with partners to support boaters self-isolating as best we can without adding to the risk of transmission.

Are Waterways Chaplains still helping boaters in need?

The work and ministry of Waterways Chaplains at this time is especially important, especially for those who are isolated and financially challenged by the crisis. Please visit the Waterways Chaplaincy website for the latest information.


Boat licences and Boat Safety Scheme

My Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) certificate is due. What does the government advice mean for renewal?

The Government guidelines are clear that those needing to access homes to carry out work can do so. Those needing a certificate should do their best to use a local examiner to minimise non-essential travel, and let us know if they are shielding or isolating so we can arrange an examination as soon as possible once it is safe to do so.

For the latest information on the BSS examination process, please keep your eye on the Boat Safety Scheme website.

Has there been any reduction in licence fees?

In recognition of the severe restrictions on boating due to the pandemic, we extended all Canal & River Trust leisure boat licences held at the time of the initial lockdown by one month at no cost to boaters.

Will there be a further reduction in the licence fee due to this second lockdown?

As boating is generally limited during the winter stoppage season, and given the Trust’s need to continue managing and maintaining the waterway, we do not propose to offer any further extensions to licence fees. We’re carefully managing our finances and focussing on ensuring we can maintain all essential work until we get through this national crisis.

Is there any discount on Gold Licences?

No, the Environment Agency is not offering a discount. The Gold Licence is a joint agreement between the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust.

What if I’m facing extreme hardship or financial difficulties due to the coronavirus crisis and can’t pay my licence fees at all?

We will do what we can to support anyone in this situation during these highly unsettling times and we will try to be as flexible as we can regarding payment where there is genuine hardship. Please get in touch via our online webform or contact your local boat licence support team. If you are in this situation but currently pay by direct debit, please contact us rather than default on these payments as that could cause more problems.


Boater facilities and services

I have booked a winter mooring in the national lockdown period, can I still access it?

Yes. If you had difficulty getting there before 5 November, you can continue travelling until you reach your booked mooring. The standard winter moorings terms and conditions apply.

Are boater facilities still available and being maintained?

If you have any coronavirus symptoms or have had a positive test result then you should not use any customer service facilities. We have increased our cleaning regimes of our facilities but government guidance should still be followed. This includes washing your hands before and after use as well as only using the facility if it is unoccupied.

How can I get hold of pump-out cards and facilities keys?

Pump-out cards and facilities keys are available from our online shop – please order well in advance as they may take longer than usual to be delivered. Our offices remain closed for all but operational purposes until further notice. If you have difficulty using the online shop or receiving post, please get in touch and we will see how we can help.

What is happening with your winter works programme this year?

We are planning to carry out a £45.1 million programme of repairs on waterways across England & Wales this winter, replacing lock gates, dredging to ensure the water is deep enough for boats, and carrying out a host of tasks to keep the 200-year old network open and help ensure its resilience to climate change. Despite the Trust forecasting a reduction of income of around 10% (£20 million) due to the pandemic, we have been able to prioritise spending to maintain a full winter works programme of 128 large-scale repairs across 50 canal and river navigations.


Other activities

Can I hire a boat at the moment?

Subject to national and local restrictions, hire boat companies are operating with appropriate safety measures in place. In affected areas, hire boat operators will be able to advise you on their protocols, which may vary between operators. If you have a hire boat holiday booked, please contact the operator for further information.

Can people fish on the towpaths at the moment?

Read our latest guidance on coronavirus and angling. In affected areas, please follow the government guidance.

Can I still canoe or kayak?

Read our latest guidance on coronavirus and paddlesports. In affected areas, please follow the government guidance.


Contacting the Trust

How should I get in contact with the Trust?

Please use our online contact form in the first instance. Due to reduced staff numbers our customer service phone number will be operating reduced opening hours of 8am–6pm Monday to Friday (Bank Holidays 9am–5pm). until further notice. If you have a general question and want to speak to someone, you can call our Customer Service Team on 0303 040 4040. Boaters can also contact their local boat licensing support team.

If you want to buy or renew a boat licence, please use our online web licensing portal where possible, while you can buy pump out cards from our online shop. Please only think about visiting one of our offices if you have no other options.

Last date edited: 27 November 2020