The charity making life better by water

National Boat Count 2023

Our annual National Boat Count has shown a 1.9% rise in boat numbers on our network across England and Wales, and external economic factors may be affecting boaters, with licence compliance now standing at 93%, down from 94.1% last year.

Woman pulling a narrowboat into the bank by a rope outside a lock while another person steers the boat

License compliance

The national licence compliance picture is impacted by boats in our London & South East region which has seen the largest growth in boat numbers in recent years and where licence compliance has dropped to 86% (overall compliance excluding London & South East is 95.1%).

To help compliance, we will be continuing efforts to ensure boats are identifiable (unidentified boats are recorded as unlicensed by default) and reviewing its licensing processes and resourcing.

The 1.9% increase in boat numbers nationwide includes a 3.1% increase in continuous cruisers. Rises in boat numbers across the network range from 1.1% in the West Midlands to 2.8% in London & South East.

Financial challenges

Matthew Symonds, our national boating manager, said: “The National Boat Count gives us a clear picture of what's happening with boats on our waterways and supports our day-to-day work. This year we have seen a small drop in licence compliance, driven by a more significant drop in London, which may suggest that the economic environment is having an impact.

“As a charity, we're also faced with a real financial challenge. The cost of maintaining the 250-year-old canal network is rapidly increasing, the damaging effects of climate change are growing more frequent, and the future of our government grant, which currently provides a quarter of our income, is uncertain. The income we receive from boat licences, around 10% of our total, is more important than ever to enable us to maintain the network for navigation.

“We will do everything we can to support boaters to stay on the water, and our boat licence customer support team works with boaters to find solutions on a personal basis – no two cases are the same. We always urge boaters to talk to us, and in most cases we're able to find a way to keep people on the water.”

Sadly, on occasion, we do have to take robust action to remove boats when all other avenues have failed and despite our boat licence customer support team's best efforts to resolve matters. In 2022-23, 78 unlicensed, including many abandoned boats, were removed from the network.

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Last Edited: 04 May 2023

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