Coronavirus and boating FAQs

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

Following the Government’s announcement on 22 February 2021, all navigation in England and Wales should remain limited to essential use only. We are closely monitoring the guidance and will confirm any update on cruising as soon as we can.

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. Please moor considerately.

Boat licence terms & conditions regarding moving every 14 days will be suspended until the restrictions come to an end. If you have any questions, please contact your licence support officer.

How does the Government’s roadmap apply to boating?

We believe that the Government’s roadmap applies to boating in England in the following ways – please note that this is subject to further confirmation.

There is no change until Step 1 part 2, potentially from 29 March, when it is anticipated that the official stay at home order will end but people will be encouraged to stay local. Limited local boat movement may be possible but you should avoid travelling if your boat is not located close to where you live, and only those living aboard are permitted to make an overnight stay.

In Step 2, from no earlier than 12 April, holiday lets are expected to reopen. We believe that at this point cruising can be done freely and overnight stays on boats and holiday hire boating will be allowed, as long as you are one household or support bubble. The boat movement suspension will be lifted (with boats required again to move every 14 days).

In Step 3, from no earlier than 17 May, indoor mixing on your boat will be allowed with up to six people or, if it is more people, two households.

We are awaiting further guidance on advice for Wales.

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.  Enjoy your local canal but please follow the advice around social distancing at all times, keeping your distance from both other people and moored boats where people may be living aboard.

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 23 February 2021

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 5 January you should not be making short trips or breaks on your boat for leisure purposes, these are classed as non-essential journeys.

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 can I access the Covid vaccine if I am a continuous cruiser?

You will need to be registered with a GP surgery. If you’re not, you can temporarily register with a GP near to you. You do not need proof of address to register. Visit the NHS site for more information, and if you are having problems registering, call the NHS England Customer Contact Centre on 0300 311 22 33. Appointments are being arrange by text and/or letter, so please make sure your details are up-to-date and your post is being checked.

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.

Can I use an employee-operated structure?

From 5 January 2021 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, until the restrictions are lifted. Please book passage in advance.

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.

How will this affect my restricted licence?

If you have been given a restricted licence, we understand that you will be unable to make changes to your cruising pattern during lockdown. During this period, we will not take any additional action against you, so please don’t worry. We will be back in touch following the lockdown. If you’ve any concerns, please contact your licence support officer.

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 the 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 unable to offer a discount. The Gold Licence is a joint agreement between the Environment Agency and the Canal & River Trust.

Read the latest guidance for users of all Environment Agency waterways from the government.

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 the national lockdown started, 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 paddle sports. 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: 23 February 2021