At Val Wyatt Marine, not only are we passionate about helping our customers find their perfect boat, but we also take great pride in having a knowledgeable team of experts on hand to provide helpful advice at every opportunity. We wanted to take time out to give you the low-down on boat licences, as well as safety certificates, insurance, useful qualifications, boat registrations, and more…

Table of Contents

Do I need a boat licence

Who issues licences in the UK

Navigation authorities in the UK: who manages which river

What do I need to get a boat licence in the UK

What is the Boat Safety Scheme

Do I require boat insurance

What qualifications do I need to drive a boat

Do I need a boat licence?

More than likely, but there are exceptions! Boat owners are required to obtain a boat/river licence for their boat in order to use it on specific waterways, regardless of whether they have a motor. On those particular waterways, a licence is needed for all types and sizes of boat (including a canal boat, a houseboat, or a large river cruiser, such as the Haines 36 Sedan), as well as smaller open boats, such as dinghies, canoes and rowing boats.

Whilst boat licences are required to helm boats on specific inland waterways in the UK, including the River Thames (where we are based in Wargrave, just one lock from Henley-on-Thames, home to the world-famous Royal Regatta), you are NOT required to pass a competency exam before taking control of your boat.

We understand the vast majority of our customers prefer to stick to the confines of the picturesque River Thames, however, there may be some owners of suitable vessels who want to sail on the coast. You do not need a licence to do so, but we’d recommend checking your insurance beforehand. 

Who issues licences in the UK?

There are several navigation authorities that manage different rivers and canals across the UK. Each navigation authority has its own licences and fees – and you are required to obtain a separate licence from that particular body if you intend to house your boat on, or sail upon, the waterways they manage.

You must renew each year for the waterway you want to use your boat on, however you can also buy a visitor registration or licence for shorter periods, which is perfect for holidays and exploring other areas of the country.

Navigation authorities in the UK: who manages which river?

We are long-standing members of British Marine, and their team has kindly pulled together the full list of navigation authorities, here. The major authorities include:

  • Environment Agency: This organisation oversees the River Thames, rivers across East Anglia and the River Medway. This is where our customers and visitors obtain their licences from.
  • Canal & River Trust: Responsible for 96 canals and navigable rivers across England and Wales. View its full network here.
  • The Broads Authority: This agency has responsibility for the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.
  • Scottish Canals: If you are looking to use your boat north of the border, you’ll have to visit Scottish Canals.

What do I need to get a boat licence in the UK?

Whilst you do not need to pass a test to obtain a boat licence (although we do recommend first time boat owners do undertake some training before taking to the waters – read on for some suggestions), most navigation authorities will require you to present a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate for vessels of a certain criteria, as well as boat insurance.

What is the Boat Safety Scheme?

The Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) is a public safety initiative owned by the Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency. It is designed to “help minimise the risk of boat fires, explosions, or pollution harming visitors to the inland waterways, the waterways’ workforce and any other users”.

The safety of people using the UK’s network of rivers and canals should be paramount and that is why certain boats (typically those with engines and/or electrics, or with outboards and fixed electrics) will need an up-to-date Boat Safety Certificate – simply put, it is the equivalent of an MOT certificate for a road vehicle.

New boats that fully comply with the latest regulatory measures should already come equipped with a Declaration of Conformity (to the Recreational Craft Directive (EU) or Recreational Craft Regulations (UK), which is valid for four years. Once that expires, every vessel will require a certificate, valid for a further four years. It is worth noting that where there’s two months or less left until a new certificate is needed, then the expiry date for the new certificate can be kept the same.

You can find an examiner on the BSS website – most examiners will typically charge circa £200, although this could be less for simple open boats and more for larger more complex vessels. If the boat doesn’t pass, and a return visit is required, there would likely be an additional charge.

To give you the best chance of passing the audit and securing your certificate, the BSS has put together some useful advice, including:

  • checking to see that installations, components and fittings comply with the requirements before the examiner arrives
  • documentary evidence about a component’s manufacturing standard
  • ensure the BSS Examiner can carry out careful checking of the LPG cylinder locker for condition, including the removal of all loose portable items, base protection mats, removable false floors and the temporary removal of connected LPG cylinders

In addition, if you have any questions about the safety status of the boats we have for sale, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Do I require boat insurance?

According to the UK government “you’ll usually need to have ‘third party’ insurance for at least £1 million if you have a powered boat or a houseboat. You may also need insurance for some types of unpowered boat, e.g., a houseboat – check with the navigation authority that manages the waterway you want to use.”

For example, if you want to secure a licence from the Environment Agency to use a powered boat on the River Thames, you must have a minimum of third party insurance cover.

Furthermore, you may also require insurance for the following circumstances:

  • Keeping your boat in a marina or harbour
  • Getting marine finance to buy your boat
  • Racing or chartering your boat
  • Sailing in other countries

Major boat insurers will offer comprehensive policies that should protect you against a number of risks, including accidental damage, loss or damage of personal belongings, third-party liability, plus personal accidents and injuries.

Despite not needing a formal licence to sail offshore in UK waters, different insurance companies may have stipulations that will have to be met, which could include training and qualifications. We urge anyone planning to sail offshore to research and plan meticulously – it is a very different experience to river/estuary cruising.

Whilst those boat owners sticking to inland waterways are not typically required to register their boats (unless they’re financed), you must register your boat with the UK Ship Register for use at sea.

What qualifications do I need to drive a boat?

As previously stated, you do not need to pass a competency exam to drive a boat, however, there are some valuable personal qualifications that can be achieved akin to a driving license. We recommend taking a look at the portfolio of courses offered by the RYA, including the Inland Waterways Helmsman.

Do you have any more questions? You’re more than welcome to contact our friendly and knowledgeable team, here.