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Inland Regulations 

Whether your boat is in private use or commercial use, it is important to be aware which Authority presides over the waterway you are on, to ensure that you are complying with the correct regulations.

With over 3,000 miles of canals and navigable rivers available for you to enjoy, boating on the UK inland waterways has many delights to offer. Since the end of the Second World War, when many of the canals lay derelict, this transport system of the 18th and 19th centuries has been revived for leisure and relaxation. There are however regulations for private pleasure craft as well as for boat that are in use commercially.

Boats that are not “going to sea” i.e. remaining within Categorised Waters (as defined in MSN 1837), may come under the jurisdiction of a Harbour Authority, a Local Authority or a Navigation Authority.

The Authority

A Navigation or Harbour Authority’s jurisdiction will have clearly defined boundaries, which will often be marked on charts, and within these boundaries they will normally be the authorities responsible for making byelaws and issuing local notices to mariners in relation to navigation, although the Local Authority may also have a limited power to regulate navigation within its jurisdiction.

Whether your boat is in private use or commercial use, it is important to be aware which Authority presides to ensure that you are complying with the correct regulations.

The Regulations

It is likely that commercially operated boats that do not go to sea will need to comply with boat build and equipment requirements and there are now mandatory manning regulations for most commercial craft.

Various historic Public Health Acts give Local Authorities the power to licence pleasure craft let for hire within their jurisdiction and to regulate the use of other pleasure craft. Although their authority only extends to 1000m offshore, it does give them control over vessels operating from their “patch”.

Overlaps with coastal requirements

The operator of a small commercial vessel carrying up to 12 passengers which does not go to sea could choose to comply with either the relevant MCA code for sea going vessels, which as a national scheme will normally exempt them from the local regulations, or the Local Authority’s licensing regulations.

The Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code was produced jointly by the MCA and the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) to provide a national framework, which local authorities could apply in full or in part as they see fit. The Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code covers equipment, build and manning and which elements of it are applied (if any) is up to the Local Authority; they can of course set totally different regulations if they feel that way inclined. However, the manning aspects of the Code have now been superseded by the relevant Boatmaster’s Licence (BML) regulations (see MSN 1853).

Navigation Authority Jurisdiction

Under the jurisdiction of a Navigation Authority the situation differs, as a Navigation Authority may have power to licence all navigation i.e. private pleasure craft as well as commercial vessels. Several Navigation Authorities require that vessels under their jurisdiction are registered and have a navigation licence.

The main navigations authorities include the Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency and the Broads Authority but there are many more; some navigation authorities are members of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA).

The Boat Safety Scheme

Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency jointly own the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) which specifies the requirements boats must usually meet before they can be issued with the C&RT or EA navigation licence required for many of the UK’s rivers and canals.  The Boat Safety Scheme is intended to ensure that boat systems such as electrical systems, engines and fuel systems, electrical propulsion systems, LPG systems and fire extinguishers, are properly installed and maintained. As well as applying to the C&RT and EA waterways, the Boat Safety Scheme has been adopted by other navigation authorities represented by the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities; this includes the Broads Authority.  Additionally the BSS has been adopted by some harbour authorities and private marinas, so it is important to check if the BSS applies where you are boating.   

The BSS applies to some extent to most boats including small commercial vessels and private pleasure craft, but not all. If the vessel carries fuel, has domestic cooking, heating, refrigerating or lighting appliances, a BSS examination will be required unless the craft is covered by an exemption, such as having been CE marked under the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) within the last 4 years.

Sewage and rubbish

The discharge of sewage, when boating inland is generally prohibited. Boats will usually require a holding tank with the facility to pump out sewage at pump out stations ashore.

Further guidance on sewage and rubbish is provided in the Planning and Environment section of the website and best practice guidance is available from www.thegreenblue.org.uk

Just visiting

Although boating inland on a temporary basis does not negate the need to comply with the BSS, visiting boats may find that the applicable navigation authority will issue a short term licence without the need for a BSS examination; a declaration by the owner that the vessel is compliant is likely to be required and the owner must be willing to allow spot checks if requested.

For further information consult the BSS Essential Guide available from the BSS website.

Commercial use inland

In addition to the Boat Safety Scheme, boats in commercial use for sport or pleasure, which carry no more than 12 passengers, do not carry cargo and do not go to sea (i.e. they do not leave categorised waters as defined in MSN 1837) should be aware of that the Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code may still apply. For example for such boats, that wish to obtain a C&RT navigation licence, a declaration of compliance with the code is required.

Class XII Vessels

Pleasure vessels of 13.7m in length and over are classified in the Merchant Shipping Regulations as Class XII vessels.  Within these regulations there are compulsory carriage requirements for safety and firefighting equipment, even for vessels which do not go to sea.  Owners have a choice whether to:

1. comply with the Merchant Shipping (Fire Protection: Small Craft) Regulations 1998 and the Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances For Ships Other Than Ships Of Class III To VI (A)) Regulations 1999; or

2. comply with the exemptions to those regulations as published in MGN 538.

In summary: 



Private Pleasure Craft of any length  

Boats in commercial use for sport or pleasure, which carry no more than 12 passengers, do not carry cargo and do not go to sea of less than 24m   

Boats in commercial use for sport or pleasure, which carry no more than 12 passengers, do not carry cargo and do not go to sea of more than 24m 

Build and Equipment: 

May need to comply with the Boat Safety Scheme if required by  a Navigation Authority or Harbour Authority other authority for privately owned waters such as privately owned marinas.

Class XII vessels (pleasure vessels of 13.7m in length and over) must also comply with the Merchant Shipping (Fire Protection: Small Craft) Regulations 1998 and the Merchant Shipping (Life-Saving Appliances For Ships Other Than Ships Of Classes III To VI(A)) Regulations 1999 or the exemptions to those regulations as published in MGN 538

Must comply with the regulations of the local  Harbour Authority and or  the Local Authority or a Navigation Authority, which will usually be based on the Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code Must comply with the regulations of the local  Harbour Authority and or  the Local Authority or a Navigation Authority, which will usually be based on the Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code
Manning No requirement for the skipper to hold a certificate of competence  Boatmaster’s licence or other appropriate qualification as detailed in MSN 1808 Annex 1 and the general exemption to the regulations.  Boatmaster’s Licence required (see MSN 1853)

Please Note

  • Passenger vessels (which carry more than 12 passengers) are outside the scope of the RYA’s advice
  • Vessels which go to sea must comply with the relevant merchant shipping regulations.

More information here on starting Inland Cruising 

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