Coronavirus and boating FAQs

Many of your questions regarding coronavirus and boating are answered on this page, which we are regularly updating. The two main ones are likely to be:

Can I visit my boat?

Yes. With the government announcing steps to lift restrictions on outdoor activities, we have lifted restrictions on boat owners visiting their boats.  Please note that slightly different rules apply for England and Wales as detailed below.

From 29 June 2020 the Government is introducing a local lockdown in Leicester.  We are reinstating lockdown rules for boating and other waterway and towpath use.  Read our latest guidance on the local lockdowns.

If your boat is in a privately operated marina or mooring, please check with the operator before travelling, to make sure that they are open.

Can I go out on my boat for a cruise?

Our navigations are now open in full, subject to some exceptions which are listed in our stoppage notices, and you can go on longer journeys in England.

In line with the latest government advice, from Saturday 4 July boaters in England will be able to stay overnight on their boats, with some local exceptions.

Please visit the local lockdown page to see if your boat use will be affected. 

In Wales, you can go out on your boat if you can do it locally. This generally means not travelling further than five miles to where your boat is moored. There should be no overnight stays on boats, no landing in any place beyond the immediate local area and a return to the point of departure. The restrictions on staying local will be lifted on 6 July, if conditions allow. 

As you start to make use of equipment that may not have been operated for a few weeks, we would ask you to be cautious. We’re getting out to check the network, but if you come across a problem or something that isn’t working, please report it in the normal way. We will respond as quickly as we can, but our response times may be longer than you are used to in more normal circumstances.

Please remember that all Government guidelines should be followed – this includes; regular handwashing, especially before and after using any facility or structure and social distancing of at least one metre.

Updated 23 June 2020

General advice for boaters

What does this mean for continuous cruisers?

Mooring exemptions came to an end on 23 May and our guidance for continuous cruisers came back into force. If you are in a high-risk group, and need to continue to shield or self-isolate, then please get in touch via your licence support officer if you haven’t already told us.

How long can I stay on a short-stay visitor mooring?

Short-stay visitor moorings returned to their normal stay times from 23 May.

Do you have any general advice for boaters?

We would ask boaters to follow good boating etiquette and think about others so that everyone can get to the services they need.

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 to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus. It is advisable to wear face masks in enclosed public spaces.

Can I cruise at night to avoid other boaters?

There is always an increased likelihood of accidents when travelling at night, so please think carefully and only make a night-time journey if you are an experienced boater. We’ve also had reports of night-time cruisers leaving lock gates open and paddles up, which can result in the loss of water and potential problems for any boats moored in the area.

Are volunteer lock keepers still operating?

Small numbers of volunteer lock keepers are starting to return on a phased basis at some sites.


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 you making any changes to support boaters in at-risk groups?

We have proactively contacted boaters who we know to be in a high-risk group, including those with equality adjustments, those who have told us they are pregnant, and those who have told us they are over 70. We’re also asking anyone who lives permanently on their boat and falls into one of the extremely vulnerable categories listed to get in touch with us and let us know so we can work with others to ensure their support.

If you or someone you know lives on their boat and is in a high-risk group, shielding or self-isolating, and you have not already informed us, please contact your licence support officer.

What if I’m a key worker and need to remain close to my place of work?

If you live permanently on your boat, are a key worker in one of the categories listed, and you need help, please get in touch with us and let us know. 

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. Most of that support may be via phone or email to minimise physical contact. 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 suspension on BSS examinations has been lifted and new guidance for boat owners on preparing boats for examination in the time of COVID-19 has been published here, BSS Examination Preparation Linked to Covid-19 protocols.

As there is now a considerable backlog of boats needing to renew their certificates, the temporary extension to safety certificates for those craft requiring an examination has been extended until 31 July 2020 to provide all boaters awaiting their examinations with sufficient time to arrange this.

We strongly urge those who can to book their examinations to do so as soon as possible so that examiners can resume working in line with the agreed BSS Examination Preparation protocol, to start to address the backlog of examinations and keep the waterways safe for all to enjoy.

If you are a boat owner who is self-isolating or are in a high-risk group who is ‘shielding’ and whose BSS certificate has or is due to expire and require an examination, you should contact your licence support officer to discuss your circumstances.

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

Is there going to be any reduction in licence fees?

We recognise that due to the national lockdown boats have not been able to move for some time so, in recognition of the severe restrictions on boating, we have extended leisure boat licences by one month at no cost to boaters.

Do I need to do anything now?

No, we’ll automatically extend all licences.

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.

What if I’m not facing financial difficulties and don’t want the equivalent of a free month’s licence?

The free month will be applied to everyone but, for those who can afford and want to, you can make a donation to the Trust to help us to offset the lost month’s licence fees we are now facing. The Trust is facing significant financial challenges of our own, with a large and costly historic network to maintain and keep safe during this crisis, and we depend upon the income we earn to fund that work – with everything being funnelled back into looking after the waterways. Any voluntary donations would be gratefully received.

What if I have an automatic renewal set up?

If you have an auto-renewal set up that is due to happen from May onwards, these will be delayed by one month and you will receive a renewal with confirmation when this has been done. Your existing licence will be extended by one month.

Does this apply to boats with three and six-month licences also?

Yes, we will add a month to anyone who currently has one of these licences.

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.

Do I need to change my licence disc as it will have expired?

Once we have updated your licence with the new dates you can download your new licence via the licensing website. If you are unable to do this then we can send you a copy in the post at your request.

What if I don’t currently have a licence and am purchasing one for the first time?

This can currently be done via our online licensing web-portal, new licences will only be issued for 12 months.


Boater facilities and services

Can I still get hold of pump-out cards and facilities keys?

Pump-out cards are still 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 operationally essential purposes until further notice. Please note that items can be delivered to any address you nominate. If you have difficulty using the online shop or receiving post, please get in touch and we will see how we can help. Facilities keys are only available from our offices and we are not able to provide them at the present time.

Are boater facilities still available and being maintained?

Yes, we are maintaining essential boating facilities. Please follow government advice and wash your hands after using the facilities. At the moment facilities are for boaters’ use only, so please remember to shut the door securely after use, and please don’t remove toilet roll or antibacterial gel.

Can I still use privately-operated boater facilities?

Please contact individual providers for further information. If facilities that you are dependent on are not listed, please use our online webform to let us know.

Will I still be able to get access to fuel when I need it?

The Trust does not provide fuel for boaters directly, but fuel should still be available from the usual sources such as marinas, boatyards and fuel boats.

What essential activities are Canal & River Trust carrying out?

We aim to maintain critical activities and essential service, limiting physical interactions with other team members, customers and volunteers wherever possible. A list of the activities can be found here.

Are you undertaking grass cutting on the towpaths?

During lockdown we reduced grass cutting to follow Government guidelines to only provide for essential services. With the change in advice allowing increased access to public open spaces, we need to reinstate grass cutting across the whole network to normal levels to provide the best space possible to allow social distancing and “sharing the space”.

With a few exceptions we are just re-establishing the grass cutting regimes to what we would normally do at this time of year – leaving verges at the front or back of the towpath uncut if that is what we would normally do at that location.

We are restoring the normal balance between safe public access and retaining some spaces for wildlife where we can, so that people can use our waterways safely in the current circumstances.

What is happening with your winter works programme this year?

The impact of coronavirus on our planned construction and repair works for spring 2020 will have a knock-on effect throughout the rest of the year and over next winter. The public consultation on our winter programme began on 1 June and you can find out more here.


Are towpaths open?

Are towpaths open?

Our towpaths remain open 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. 

You can enjoy the canals while following the updated advice around social distancing, keeping at least one metre from both other people and moored boats where people may be living aboard. When on the towpath, please move aside to allow others to pass safely, using the full width of the path.  If you are a cyclist, please remember that pedestrians always have priority, so take it steady and be ready to slow down to give way to others, including those by their boats or fishing. You may want to consider using an alternative route away from the towpath for your exercise if you want to avoid other people.

We continue to remind people to act with consideration and respect for others.

On our Welsh canals the Welsh Government is advising people to stay local. We strongly advise that you regularly check its website for updated information.

What do I do when people pass my boat when I’m moored on the towpath and I’m trying to keep a safe distance?

If you remain in your boat when you see people approaching then you will be able to socially distance from anyone passing on the towpath. If you find it intolerably busy where you are moored then it may be better for you to try mooring further along. Please under no circumstances confront others.

I have been subject to confrontation on the towpaths, what should I do?

Everyone using our towpaths should be treating one another considerately and calmly, keeping a safe distance and moving swiftly past. Any physical encounter, verbal aggression or inappropriate language is not acceptable, in any circumstances, by anyone. If you find yourself subject to a confrontation on the towpath, this is a police matter and we ask you to contact your local police force about the incident. Wherever we can, we will assist the police in addressing inappropriate behaviour, by anyone – whether a boater or a towpath user. 

I have found obstructions placed along the towpath, how do I report this?

Under no circumstances should members of the public or boaters place obstructions on the towpaths (sometimes our staff or contractors may have to temporarily erect barriers whilst undertaking necessary works). If your passage along the towpath is blocked, please report this to the Trust using our online contact form or by calling 0303 040 4040 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday (Bank Holidays 9am–5pm).


Other activities

Can I hire a boat at the moment?

From Saturday 4 July holiday hire boat companies in England will be able to freely operate. We would expect only hire businesses who can clearly satisfy themselves in terms of applying appropriate safety measures – with clear risk assessments prepared – to consider re-opening.

Are Canal & River Trust museums and attractions open?

All of our Trust-operated attractions, cafes and retail sites remain closed until further notice.

Can people fish on the towpaths at the moment?

Read our latest guidance on coronavirus and angling.

Can I still canoe or kayak?

Read our latest guidance on coronavirus and paddlesports.


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 03030 40 40 40. 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.

Where can I find out more?

Last date edited: 30 June 2020