Do I Need a Licence to Own a Boat?

Do I need a boating licence in the UK?

Want to explore some of the UK’s beautiful coasts and waterways? This guide will help you figure out whether or not you need a boating licence and teach you how to apply for one.

You do need a licence before you’re allowed to boat on any inland waterways in the UK, such as the Thames or the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. However, there is no need to pass a competency exam before you’re allowed to boat, as one does while learning to drive a car.

To get a boat licence, all you need is boat insurance and a boat safety scheme certificate (BSSC).

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What is the Boat Safety Scheme?

The Boat Safety Scheme tests whether or not boats meet minimum safety requirements, to help minimise the risk of pollution, boat fires, and explosions caused by the condition and equipment of boats. Boats can undergo one of two different checking procedures:

  • The Boat Safety General Scheme Requirements apply to all privately-owned, privately-managed vessels.

  • Boats intended for commercial, industrial, or public use must comply with 2002 BSS Standards in addition to the Boat Safety General Scheme Requirements.

You can find more information about the Boat Safety Scheme—including how to apply for boat examination—at the Boat Safety Scheme website.

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Where do I buy a boating licence?

Three main navigation authorities govern most of Britain’s waterways. Where you want to boat will determine where you need to purchase your licence:

The Environment Agency

The Environment Agency governs the Thames and the Medway, along with the rivers of East Anglia. All boats kept, used, or let for hire must be registered and all must have at least third party insurance and a BSSC. You’ll also need to register separately for each waterway on their website.

Note that, as of 18 November 2016, the Environment Agency has rescinded the Boat Safety Scheme application for exemption; boats on the Thames and Medway must comply with the same waterway standards that apply to every other river.

British Waterways

British Waterways governs many of Britain’s rivers and canals, including the Yorkshire Ouse, the Severn, and the Trent. Canal & River Trust, which looks after these waterways, requires you to have a licence before boating and strongly recommends that even unpowered boats are insured.

Purchase your license online

Broads Authority

The Broads Authority governs the Britain’s largest protected wetland, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. To boat on the Broads you will need to have insurance and a safety certificate, and you need to pay either an annual or a short visit toll. You’ll also need to be registered with the Broads Authority if your boat is kept in the Broads for more than 28 days, but registration is free.


For information about boating in Scotland visit Scottish Canals website.

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How much do boat licences cost?

Licensing and registration costs are largely determined by where you plan to boat, how long you plan to boat, and the size and class of your vessel.

If you plan to travel for an extended period of time along Britain’s main waterways, you may want to purchase the “Gold Licence” which allows passage on all Environment Agency and British Waterways waters without the hassle of purchasing multiple registrations.

Gold Licence 2017 Information

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What boat insurance do I need?

All inland waterways require you to have third-party insurance. Third-party coverage gives you liability protection in the event that you’re at fault for injury or damage to another or their property. For example, it’s perfect if you’re accidentally responsible for a boat collision during mooring.

However, in many catastrophes liability insurance alone isn’t enough. What if your boat is stolen, catches fire, suffers weather damage, or capsizes badly? Third-party insurance won’t protect you in these instances. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing.

Towergate offers different levels of protection for every kind of watercraft, to perfectly fit your needs. We also insure everything from kayaks to yachts; no matter what kind of watercraft you cherish, you can be sure that it’s protected. You can learn more about our boat insurance policies

Additional boating resources

See for more information.

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Boat insurance from Towergate

Boat insurance from Towergate is available for different vessels and levels of cover depending on what you use your boat for, from third party cover to weather events and personal accident. For more information visit our narrowboat insurance page or call us on 0344 892 1987.

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About the author

Adam Summersby is a respected leader with 11 years’ varied experience in niche personal and commercial lines insurance, including boat, caravan, site operators and excess reimbursement, with proficiency in leadership, sales and account management.