Maritime and Coastguard Agency – Skippering of Workboats

Issue date: 15th March 2013

There are regulations covering the use of nearly all non-privately owned and operated boats in the UK.  There are separate regulations for large (more than 12 passengers) and small (up to 12 passengers) trip boats, for those carrying cargo and for work boats and other non-private vessels.  These regulations therefore cover most vessels operated by waterway groups, navigation authorities and other operators.  The Marine and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has set out a summary of regulations on its website: MCA website.

The main qualification for operation of commercial vessels is the Boat Masters Licence, but there are a number of alternatives to this, including an RYA Helmsman's Certificate and IWA's Certificate of Boat Management.  There are a number of exemptions to the regulations: eg: boats used for welfare rather than as a workboat, floating platforms, etc.  A number of exemptions are set out under Marine Information Notice 434

The waterways covered by the regulations are set out in Merchant Shipping Notice 1827(M).  This notice categorises inland waterways into Categories A, B, C and D - each to which different regulations apply.  Private boats operated for 'social domestic and pleasure' purposes are not covered by the regulations.

There are currently three types of Boat Masters Licences divided into National and Restricted Area (local) Licences:

National Licence

  • Tier 1 Level 1 (T1L1) – for all Category A, B and non-linked C waters [non-tidal]
  • Tier 1 Level 2 (T1L2) – for all UK inland waterways (Categories A-D) and limited coastal area [tidal]

Restricted Area Licence

  • Tier 2 (T2) – for a specified area which may be Category A, B or non-linked C waters [non-tidal]

The MCA is currently in the process of amending the BML Regulations.  Once these amendments come into force there will be an additional licence: Tier 2 Level 2 (T2L2) for a specified area which may be Category C and/or D waters, and/or limited coastal area and where applicable adjacent Categories A and/or B waters [tidal]. 

There is a special agreement in place between the MCA and Canal & River Trust whereby operatives on the latter’s waterways whereby, rather than having to get all its boat-operating employees qualified with a Boat Masters Licence, CRT can use its own agreed systems, called 'CAATS assessment' and two, recently introduced training courses: 'Foundation Health & Safety' and 'Fire, Water, Save a Life'.  CRT has also introduced a requirement for a medical check.