HomeUK Rules and Regulations › Boats, River Boating, Inland Waterways, and Ships at Sea
Boats, River Boating, and Waterway Laws

The UK boat and waterway laws regulate all licencing and registration rules. This includes boat safety regulations and equipment requirements for watercraft sailed around Britain. You must follow all the safety rules of the sea around the United Kingdom. Make sure you have the legal right to go sailing at sea and around the coastal systems of Great Britain.

Boating Laws UK :Check what you need to know about boating rules and regulations in this help guide for beginners.

This informative section is plain sailing for boaters. But, be sure to follow the rules of the waterways while you go boating around British rivers and seaways.

Use this guide to check what river rules you must follow in England and Wales. Check what boating insurance certification you need to sail.

If you own a small boat or a large vessel, you can find out how to register your sailing craft for use on rivers and canals.

Whether you are boating on a river or using a boat at sea, the information in this section covers everything you need to know about boating laws and cruising boats on rivers in the United Kingdom.

Note: The GOV.UK website has an online facility that you can use to check what defences and other measures are planned to manage coastal erosion in your local area.

Boat Rules and Regulations

Rules of the Waterways

Boat Insurance Laws

As a rule, owning a boat in United Kingdom means you need to insure it. The standard of boat insurance you may need will depend on where you use your it and for what purpose.

Boat Ownership

Check a list of rules for buying and owning a boat for use on inland waterways. Sailing at sea means your vessel may need licencing and registering with the proper authorities.

Boatmasters’ Licence

A section explaining the process of MCA boatmaster licence application and renewal. Check how to apply for a boatmasters’ licence, replace it, renew it, or upgrade one.

Register a Boat

Boats need to be registered with the relevant authority. The UK boat registration and licencing rules also apply if you keep a sailing craft or water vessel on rivers and canals in Britain.

Water Structures

This guide highlights the dangers when boating or swimming near water structures (e.g. locks, pumping stations, sluices, weirs) in the United Kingdom.

Note: Try browsing through the alphabetical list of rules and laws in the United Kingdom. It might help you find the exact category you’re looking for if you don’t see it in this section that focuses on river boating rules.

Maritime Laws: Working at Sea

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency implements the maritime safety policy in United Kingdom. Anyone with maritime vessels, or seafarers working at sea, must follow MCA rules and regulations.

Rules of the River

River Conditions

Review and monitor the current river conditions and closure alerts for all the major rivers in England and Wales. It is the role of the Environment Agency to forecast any risk of flooding.

River Works Licence

Use the guide to check if you need Environment Agency flood defence consent. You may need permission to do work on a river, next to a watercourse, a flood barrier, or sea defence.

River Thames Licence

You need to obtain a licence if you buy or live in a property with a structure. The same rule applies if you plan to build one, change one, or retain any structures which float on or in the London River Thames. Use this information to apply for a River Thames accommodation licence.

Examples include a pontoon, boom, jetty, piling, or any other structure that cuts into the river bank, such as a slipway or a dock. When you licence a structure on, over, or in the River Thames, permits are only valid until or unless you move or change the construction.

You must display the licence plate permanently on the actual structure for which it is relevant. The annual licence fees run from September 29th and they are non-transferable. You should contact the Environment Agency for further information.

Rules of the Sea

The UK Ship Register

Review the process of using the Small Ships Register (SSR) for registering a small vessel or boat for use at sea. The help guide explains the MCA Small Ship Register online service.

Safety at Sea

A ship at sea, big or small, runs in a self-contained environment. The importance of that situation means the ship owners and operators are responsible for health and safety on ships.

Check out boat safety at sea in the United Kingdom and its related shipping laws. They are further clarified in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency ‘Life saving signals’ leaflet.

Note: You could face prosecution if you do not follow boating rules and regulations. Circumstances can get worse if your ignorance causes a boating accident.

River Boating Rules: British Waterways Laws in United Kingdom