Do You Need a Licence to Drive a Boat? (When & Where)
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Do You Need a Licence to Drive a Boat? (When & Where)

Driving a boat is one of the biggest pleasures that you can have in life. Fellow boat owners can attest, there really is nothing like the freedom of being on the open waters.

However, in order to get to the open waters, one often needs a licence – and if your plan is to use the UK’s inland waterways like the River Thames, then you’ll most certainly need one as it is one of the legal requirements to have a licence.


  • what kind of licence do you need?
  • when do you need it?
  • and how do you get it? 

Keep reading – we answer the question “do you need a licence to drive a boat?” in full within this post.

In order to use a boat on the UK’s inland waterways, you will need a boating licence (and inland waterways insurance is always a good idea)

However, if you are using your boat on the sea, and have a sailing boat rather than a motorboat, then the rules may be more relaxed (or stricter, depending on where you’re boating).

Here, we’ll take a look at the boating licence requirements in the UK, and what you specifically will need to get you on the open waters!

What Licence Do I Need to Drive a Boat in the UK?

Sadly, getting the right boat licence isn’t quite as easy as just getting a driver’s licence for a car, a lorry licence for a lorry, and so on. 

The type of licence that you will need for your boat depends on where you are, what boat you have, and where you plan on taking it. 

In some cases, a boat licence isn’t even necessary at all.

On the other hand, there are also situations in which the lack of the right licence could leave you with a hefty fine or worse. 

So, let’s take a closer look at the situations in which a boat licence is absolutely necessary, how to get one, and how much it will cost you to get one.

Can You Drive a Boat Without a Licence in the UK?

Whether you can drive your boat in the UK without a licence depends on where you are, where you plan on taking the boat, and what kind of boat you have. 

For example, if you plan on driving a motorized vessel (i.e. one that is powered by a motor engine), then you will likely need a licence.

On the other hand, sailing boats are a lot easier to obtain without boating licences and do not necessarily require them. 

Now, let’s consider your location. In most of the UK’s inland waterways, a boating licence is required. However, that is not the case for all of them.

It is always best to determine who owns and/or manages the inland waterway that you plan on using before going on it.

Contact the agency in question before travelling and they will inform you about their most recent regulations regarding the area. 

Certain areas also have age restrictions regarding minors taking the helm of boats, with or without adult supervision.

Therefore, you will likely have to provide your date of birth as well as proof, to ensure that you are legally of the right age to sail your boat in that specific area. 

Sailing in the sea surrounding the UK tends to be a little easier licence-wise, as they are not always required.

How Much Does a Boating Licence Cost?

The prices for boating licences depend on the types you wish to buy. 

For example, an annual boating licence for rivers and canals in the UK costs nearly 700. 

On the other hand, something as simple as a short-range radio operator’s licence only costs about £70. 

A general BSSC (Boat Safety Scheme Certificate), which lasts for one year, can start at about £144.

How to Get a Boating Licence in The UK

In order to get your boating licence in the UK, you will need to contact one of these three agencies:

  • British Waterways – which runs the Yorkshire Ouse, the Severn, the Trent, and many other rivers and canals (Also known as The Canal and River Trust site here – also have great information on boat licences for various vessels)
  • The Environment Agency (which runs the Thames, the Medway and the various rivers of East Anglia) site here
  • The Broads Authority (which runs the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads)

Each agency has its own set requirements for boating licences, and you will need to go through their specific processes. 

In some cases, you can purchase your licence online.

You will most likely need to have a completed BSSC (Boat Safety Scheme Certificate) as well as have boat insurance in order to secure your licence. 

Once you have successfully completed your boating education requirements, and have obtained your boating education certificate, and whatever specific licence you need for the area that you plan on chartering, you will be ready to go!

In some cases, depending on where you wish to travel to, you may need to undertake a boating safety course, or at least prove to international bodies that you have undertaken the requisite boating safety education to set sail.

It’s always good to check boating laws for wherever you wish to travel, and even if you intend to rent a personal watercraft or similar, to check that your boat operators are clear on what’s expected of you.

Do Boat Owners Need a Licence Just to Own a Boat?

No, boat licences aren’t required for boat ownership.

You don’t need a licence to purchase your own boat but boat owners will need a boat licence to use the UK’s waterways and navigable rivers.

Do I Need Boat Insurance to Get a Boat Licence?

Yes, you will require boat insurance – a minimum of third party insurance – to get your boat licence.

As well as third party liability cover as a minimum, you’ll also need your boat safety certificate or BSSC (boat safety scheme certificate) in order to get your boat licence.


It is essential to know what approved courses, licences, and other requirements you need to operate a boat, before even investing in one. 

As was previously mentioned, everything depends on where you are, the type of vessel that you’re sailing, whether you will sail offshore, in a canal boat, rowing boats etc and the area and jurisdiction in which you plan on using it.

Boating law isn’t as straightforward as one might hope, so getting it right is essential! Contact the local navigation authorities for full details of what you need.

That being said, in all situations, having a boating safety course under your sleeve will never be a mistake.

Even if it isn’t necessary, it will help you in all kinds of ways.

Not only will you be able to take your boat out farther (into waters that require proof of you taking a boating education course), but you will also be more assured in your own abilities, and the safety of those around you. 

Moreover, having the correct formal boat licence will automatically help you to get better deals on your boat insurance, should the worst happen and you do some accidental damage or need to make a claim. 

So, wherever you are, consider taking up an approved boater education.

And, even if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, remember to look up the boating laws in your area to ensure that you can legally operate your vessel – with or without a licence – where you are, and wherever you may go.

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