Do You Need A Boat Licence In The UK?

Posted on January 31, 2013 by Lee under Buying A Boat, RYA 11 Comments

I’ve come across a number of people recently who have been a little confused about the concept of boat licences in the UK, and who have found a good deal of contradictory information and advice online. So I thought it would be helpful today to clear up the confusion and explain what the rules and requirements are as far as boat licences in the UK are concerned.

Do You Need A Boat License In The UK?First of all, yes, there is such as thing as a boat licence. In fact there are several different types of boat licence, including the International Boat Licence, National Rivers Authority Licence and a Waterways Licence. Whether you actually need a licence will depend on how old you are, and where you will be taking your boat.

If you intend on taking your boat abroad then it is recommended that you apply as soon as possible for an International Boat Licence. This is also referred to as the ICC, or International Certificate of Competence, and the idea is for you to be able to prove that you have undergone formalised training, and that your boating skills are up to the standard required for the type of boat you have.

Exactly which type of boating courses you will need to undergo will depend on the type of boat you’re looking to use, such as small sailing boats, dinghies, kayaks, speed boats or large yachts.

Ironically you will almost never be required to show this certificate in the UK, but if you are heading abroad then you will need to be able to show it. The ICC or International Boat Licence is accepted throughout Europe and throughout all member states of the United Nations. The only exception is Belgium.

Within the UK there are over 2,200 of miles of beautiful canals, and you may be looking to take your boat through them. In this case you will need to obtain a waterways Licence from British Waterways. This is a fairly easy process, although you will need to pay a charge. Exactly how much will depend upon the length of your canal boat. Once you have the licence you’ll receive a sticker which you have to put in the window of your boat, a little like displaying a tax disc in your car.

Because rivers are privately owned you will need to apply to the National Rivers Authority if you intend to take your boat out on these. This is simply a registration licence, which will need to be displayed in your boat at all times.

If you only intend to take your boat on one or two rivers, such as the non-tidal portions of the River Thames, or the River Stour, then you need only pay for a registration licence for this particular area. However, you can opt instead for a gold registration licence which will allow you to take your boat out on any of the rivers managed by the National Rivers Authority. You can get more information on this from their website here:

There is however another side to this, and that includes insurance. Quite apart from the fact that you will want to insure your boat, wherever you wish to launch it you will need to make use of a slipway. This slipway will usually be privately owned, and whoever does own it will almost certainly require you to have some form of insurance. Getting that insurance will be a good deal cheaper if you have the appropriate licence or certification.

Finally, don’t forget about the licensing and insurance requirements for taking your boat on the road. Whilst there is no MOT or licence requirement for a boat trailer, it will need to be in a good roadworthy condition, and you will need to have the appropriate driving licence to tow a trailer of the length and weight you will need.


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