Residential Boating Policy

1. Background

The inland waterways have been home to people living on boats for as long as there have been boats navigating those waterways.  In the early days of river navigations barges had living cabins to enable the captain and crew to stay on board for longer journeys, and the long distance freight carrying narrow boats of the canals had whole families living and working on board as their only home.  The modern practice of using a boat primarily as a dwelling rather than for transporting cargoes is well established, and several founder and early members of IWA lived afloat, notably Tom Rolt who wrote about his experiences in his book, Narrow Boat.  

While it was leisure boating that provided a new purpose for the inland waterways following the demise of regular commercial carrying traffic in the middle of the 20th century, in the early 21st century residential boating is also now a primary use of many boats on the navigable inland waterways of England, Scotland and Wales.

The high cost of housing, particularly in some parts of the country, has contributed to the increase in the numbers of boats being bought and built specifically with residential use in mind. 

2. Licensing issues

2.1  Licensing and permission requirements for the residential use of boats varies widely across different navigation authorities, and these are usually covered in the licence conditions and associated guidance notes set out by each navigation authority.
2.2  For boats licensed on Canal & River Trust’s waterways a specific designation was introduced by the British Waterways Act 1995, which allows boaters to declare that they do not have a home mooring. This requires them to move at least every 14 days and the boat must be used “bona fide for navigation”. Many boaters choose to do this, travelling widely across the network in a progressive journey, while others would prefer to stay in the same location but find it difficult to obtain a residential mooring. IWA supports:

  • The right of boaters to cruise CRT’s waterways without being required to have a home mooring.
  • A single licence fee for boats with or without a home mooring.  Moorings enforcement is a separate issue which should be tackled separately.

3. Visitor Moorings

3.1  Conflict can occur when large numbers of boaters wish, for whatever reason, to stay within a small area, reducing the availability of visitor moorings for boats which are passing through.  In the London area this is known to be deterring boaters from elsewhere in the country from visiting the capital’s canals.
3.2  IWA will help to facilitate, in appropriate locations agreed with the relevant navigation authority, the installation of additional mooring rings to increase visitor mooring capacity.  A number of IWA branches have worked with navigation authorities to install new mooring rings, and case studies and technical advice is available.   
3.3  In areas where demand for visitor moorings is an issue IWA will ask navigation authorities to designate more 24 and 48 hour moorings.  72 hours or 7 days may be appropriate in some locations, and stretches of unrestricted (ie 14 day moorings) should also continue to be available.  
3.4  In areas where overstaying on 24 hour and 48 hour visitor moorings has become an issue, navigation authorities should designate some moorings as overnight only, eg mooring only allowed between 4pm and 11am, and ensure that these timings are enforced.
3.5  IWA considers that stronger enforcement action is needed by navigation authorities. Difficulties in some areas have been exacerbated by a lack of enforcement by the authorities and those who have enjoyed this way of life without interference need to be treated sensibly and considerately in any tightening and enforcement of the rules.

4. Licencing and Moorings Issues

4.1  IWA supports the principle of people living afloat and will promote and campaign for the provision of more affordable moorings for residential use on all waterways. 

4.2  IWA will encourage a proactive approach by navigation authorities, planning authorities and mooring providers to encourage the provision of a range of affordable moorings, including residential moorings, from large marinas with lots of facilities to smaller community-run sites accommodating a few boats with basic facilities. 

4.3  Where new marinas or mooring sites are being developed, IWA will encourage the inclusion of residential berths. 

4.4  IWA will encourage and support waterway restoration groups to incorporate residential moorings into their plans.  Income from such moorings will be beneficial in ensuring the future viability of restoration schemes. 

4.5  IWA will identify opportunities for utilising redundant arms and wharves for residential moorings, across the waterways system. Where investment in infrastructure is needed, IWA will encourage private companies to get involved, or social enterprise groups to be set up. 

5. Planning

5.1  IWA will press for local authorities to take a more consistent approach to residential moorings.  Planning permission is required but there is no specific national planning policy or procedural guidance related to residential moorings and local planning authorities take differing approaches.

5.2  IWA will remind local authorities that the Housing and Planning Act 2016 includes a duty for local housing authorities in England to “consider the needs of people residing in or resorting to their district with respect to the provision of … places on inland waterways where houseboats can be moored.”

5.3  Despite significant differences between residential moorings and built development, in terms of permanence, sustainability and environmental impact, residential moorings are treated as residential development and subject to the relevant national and local planning policies.  IWA will encourage local authorities to approve applications for residential moorings where such proposals meet the sustainability and environmental criteria in the Local Development Plan.  

5.4  IWA branches and regions should respond positively to consultations on planning applications where there is the potential for residential moorings.  Specifically:  

Where IWA branches are responding to consultations on Local Plans and it is appropriate to include the provision of new moorings, it would be beneficial to include a statement on the desirability of a percentage of residential moorings as detailed above.

If planning applications are submitted for new marinas or other moorings in their area and provided this is considered desirable, branches should refer to the benefits of including residential moorings in their submissions.

Developers of residential housing sites alongside waterways will be encouraged to incorporate moorings – both residential and leisure, and ideally offline, into their designs. 


IWA’s aspiration is for a vibrant inland waterway system where every boater who wishes to have a permanent mooring can find and afford one, and where all boaters can find suitable overnight moorings while travelling around the waterways.

Further information

For more details about visitor moorings see IWA Mooring Policy

Further guidance on planning matters is available from IWA’s Planning Advisory Panel
and on the Planning Guidance page online.