The Canal & River Trust’s national boat count, completed this spring and used to support the day-to-day work carried out by the Trust, has shown a further 3.3% rise in boat numbers on its network across England and Wales. It also shows a licence compliance rate of 94.1%.

The last full annual boat count took place in 2019, with the pandemic affecting the counts scheduled for 2020 and 2021.

Over the course of the last three years the survey shows a slight drop in the percentage of licensed boats, down from 96.5% in 2019 to 94.1% this year, together with an increase in boats taking a licence without a home mooring with indications that boats appear to have left marinas to continuously cruise.

Matthew Symonds, national boating manager at Canal & River Trust, said: “The last few years have been difficult for most of us, including many boaters. The rise in the number of boats sighted, and the slight fall in licence compliance, could suggest that pressures stemming from the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis are affecting use of the waterways. The cost of maintaining the canal network is also rapidly increasing and the damaging effects of climate change are growing more frequent, which means that the income from boat licences, around 10% of our total, is even more important for managing and maintaining the network for navigation.

“We supported many boaters throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so where this is needed. Our Boat Licence Customer Support team is out every day helping boaters who might be struggling with their licence requirements and we always urge boaters to talk to us, and in most cases we’re able to find a way to keep people on the water.”

Whilst compliance decreased in all Trust regions, the relative decrease was greatest in Yorkshire & North-East and the East Midlands. The East Midlands also saw the greatest growth in boat numbers, with a 13.3% increase on 2019, followed by the North West (5.8%) and London (4.8%). [See notes to editors below.]

The pandemic also proved challenging for the Trust with operational constraints, delays in the court system, and an increase in requests for support with licences resulting in the Trust being unable to resolve as many cases as usual.

Sadly, on occasion the Trust does have to take robust action to remove boats when all other avenues have failed. In 2021-22, 100 boats were removed from its navigations as they were unlicensed, despite the Boat Licence Customer Support team’s best efforts to resolve matters; many were abandoned boats.

Whilst the vast majority of the Boat Licence Customer Support team’s interaction with boaters in overwhelmingly positive, in response to concerns from colleagues about the potential for confrontation, abuse or harm whilst conducting their work, a trial of wearing body worn cameras took place during 2021 in London & the South East. Following the success of that trial, the cameras will now be rolled out to other Trust employees whose role includes day-to-day interaction with those on the waterways which, alongside other procedures, will be a tool to support them while they go about their daily jobs.