National Boat Count 2023

3 May 2023


 The Canal & River Trust’s annual National Boat Count has shown a 1.9% rise in boat numbers on its network across England and Wales, and that external economic factors may be affecting boaters, with licence compliance now standing at 93%, down from 94.1% last year.

The national licence compliance picture is impacted by boats in the Trust’s London & South East region which has seen the largest growth in boat numbers in recent years and where licence compliance has dropped to 86% (overall compliance excluding London & South East is 95.1%).

To help compliance, the Trust will be continuing efforts to ensure boats are identifiable (unidentified boats are recorded as unlicensed by default) and reviewing its licensing processes and resourcing.

The 1.9% increase in boat numbers nationwide includes a 3.1% increase in continuous cruisers. Rises in boat numbers across the network range from 1.1% in the West Midlands to 2.8% in London & South East.

Matthew Symonds, national boating manager at Canal & River Trust, said: “The National Boat Count gives us a clear picture of what’s happening with boats on our waterways and supports our day-to-day work. This year we have seen a small drop in licence compliance, driven by a more significant drop in London, which may suggest that the economic environment is having an impact.

“As a charity, we’re also faced with a real financial challenge. The cost of maintaining the 250-year-old canal network is rapidly increasing, the damaging effects of climate change are growing more frequent, and the future of our government grant, which currently provides a quarter of our income, is uncertain. The income we receive from boat licences, around 10% of our total, is more important than ever to enable us to maintain the network for navigation.

“We will do everything we can to support boaters to stay on the water, and our boat licence customer support team works with boaters to find solutions on a personal basis – no two cases are the same. 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.”

Sadly, on occasion, the Trust does have to take robust action to remove boats when all other avenues have failed and despite the boat licence customer support team’s best efforts to resolve matters. In 2022-23, 78 unlicensed, including many abandoned boats, were removed from the network.




For further media requests please contact:

Jonathan Ludford, Canal & River Trust

m 07747 897783 e


Notes to Editors              


Area Compliance 2023 2022 boat numbers where CRT licences are required 2023 boat numbers where CRT licences are required Year-on-year % change in boat numbers 2023 all boat numbers (inc private marinas etc)
East Midlands 95.7% 5102 5197 1.9% 6142
London & South East 86% 7044 7239 2.8% 7327
North West 93.9% 5870 5981 1.9% 6129
Wales & South West 95% 3589 3664 2.1% 4451
West Midlands 95.9% 7638 7724 1.1% 8468
Yorkshire & NE 93.1% 3227 3276 1.5% 3297
  93% 32470 33081 1.9% 35814