Do You Need a Licence to Drive a Boat in the UK?

Jul 23, 2019

If you are considering buying a boat to use in the UK then, amongst others, one of the areas you will need to consider is whether you need a licence to drive or to use a boat across the waterways of the UK.

Here we will look at information relevant to those who own a boat for private use. If you own a boat which is used for commercial purposes then other, more stringent rules apply.

Do you need a licence to drive a boat in the UK?

This will depend on a number of different factors as boat licences do exist in the UK

There is no requirement to pass a competency test to gain a ‘boat driving licence’ in the same way that there is for a car or other vehicle used on the roads. Although, if you are planning to purchase a boat, it is probably advisable to have some form of training to ensure your safety and the safety of others.

However, if you are planning to drive your boat in inland waters of the UK, such as rivers or canals then you will need to register and apply for a licence. You will need to apply for the licence with the navigation authority who are responsible for the waterway that you want to use.

These include:

• Canal and River Trust – responsible for many of the UK’s canals and rivers
• The Environment Agency – the Thames and the Medway as well as the rivers of East Anglia
• Broads Authority – the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads

In order to obtain a licence, you will usually need a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate and Boat Insurance

You can find out more about the responsibilities that apply to those who own a boat on the website.

What is the Boat Safety Scheme?

The Boat Safety Scheme is a safety initiative aimed at minimising risk to visitors to the UK waterways, those who work on the waterways and property adjacent to the waterways.

The scheme aims to ensure that boats meet a set of standard safety requirements to minimise boat fires, explosions, or harmful pollution.

The Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) relates to the condition, equipment and use of boats.

How do I obtain a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate?

Your boat will need to undergo the official examination of the scheme. If your boat meets the required standards, then you will be issued with a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate. The certificate will be valid for four years, at which point it will need to be renewed.

There are two sets of requirements and therefore examinations:

• The first set are for private owned boats
• The second set are for hire craft and came into force on 1 April 2017

You can find more information on the Boat Safety Scheme and the examination you will need to take on the Boat Safety Scheme website.

Do I need boat insurance?

The authorities who manage the UK inland waterways will expect you to have some form of insurance in place. Likewise, many of the harbour’s, marinas, sailing clubs and other mooring providers will expect you to have third party insurance in place before you can use your boat there

Third party insurance will usually cover your liability for claims from third parties, including damage or injury – for example if you crash into another boat, damage to the third parties’ boat would be covered by your policy.

However, third party insurance won’t cover your boat. If is stolen, sinks or suffers accidental damage you wouldn’t be insured. To cover these eventualities, it may be worth taking out a more comprehensive policy.

At Anthony Jones we offer a bespoke service to individuals needing to protect high value possessions. We work closely with our insurance partners to provide insurance solutions for many types of high value possessions, including yachts, sailing and speed boats. Talk to us about our High Net Worth Insurance offering today on 0208 8290 9086 or email us at

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