United Kingdom

Main Waterway Authorities

CRT (or CART, the Canal and River Trust), formerly British Waterways (BW), is the largest Navigation Authority and is responsible for 2200 miles of canals and rivers in England and Wales.  A Council, made up of government, local authority, boating & waterway representatives  monitor the  Trustees who in turn  manage the Executive Board. The four boating reps are elected from CRT licence holders. Friends also have  a Council member.  Currently, no qualifying DBA members have been nominated.  The Trustees have negotiated a 15 year (up from 10) government funding package, now with some protection for inflation and a £25M contribution to the pension fund deficit. The £460M non operational property portfolio of BW has been transferred to the Trust as an investment dowry. CRT will has the significant advantage that all of its efficiency savings will be retained rather than being shaved off future grants. It is not  a membership organisation but significant efforts will be made to attract public donations.  Its income from public donations has been disappointing and the government grant comes up for renewal in 2023. 

Although this is a charitable trust the Secretary of State holds a 'golden' share and could return the trust to direct government control under certain circumstances.

The recent re-branding as a Health and Well-being charity and a complete reorganisation of regions and central functions  (2018) has effectively disbanded all of the user groups.  It wll take some time for the dust to settle.   It would appear from the lack of interest that few of our members actually navigate on CRT waters and thus this should be a low priority but if the CRT takes over the EA navigation operations in the future and subsequently any other smaller navigation authorities, then we must retain a seat at the table.   We will need volunteer members to join any regional panel that is formed.

EA (the Environment Agency) is the second largest navigation authority and is responsible for the Thames, Medway, Ouse Nene and several other navigations . Many of these are barge waterways. Following public consultation and internal discussions between CRT and EA, DEFRA decided to leave EA navigations outside the new charity .  The EA operates a mix of flood, navigation and funding responsibilities. Unlike  CRT there s no comparable investment dowry ttached to the EA navigations which can be transfered to CRT. The principal consultative body is the National Waterways  Forum which Andy Soper or Mike Gibbons  attends.  A major issue for our members is the high level of charges for boats on the Thames. It is a length by beam calculation with no upper limit for annual charges and increases have all been presented on a compound interest basis thus hitting the big boats harder. Boaters provide 50% of the revenue income of the EA vs 10% of CRT's income. There is no evidence to suggest that fees would be harmonised between EA and CRT waters if the EA waters were combined into the Trust - indeed it is more likely that fees would remain the same to maintain income and service standards would drop. As CRT licences include VAT this is a potential 20% hike that has to be absorbed or charged.  Most of our lobbying has been to minimise increases while defending service standards and we achieved a discount charges above 80sqm to £10 per sqm.

EA Thames have an extensive range of consultative bodies. The Thames Navigation Users Group (TNUF), attended by Andy Soper, consists of about 20 representatives of river user organisations and meets six monthly chaired by the EA.  Nine River User Groups (RUGs) divide up the river into sections and their Chairs are members of TNUF. The RUGs have more local representation and local EA managers attend. Although the liaising may appear extensive the EA tend to use TNUF and RUgs as opportunities for transmissions rather than consultation, this is being challenged. A significant current issue on the Thames is the stealth policy by the EA to put the heritage and iconic lock house out to commercial lease and replace the resident lock-keepers with area reliefs on the grounds of cost effectiveness.  The EA also talks about sustainable financing for the waterways, they mean the users pay more. 

Flood Committees continue to lobby for weirs to be paid for out of navigation budgets and not Flood relief money and currently all weirs are 'unfunded'.  We must work with others to ensure that government grants continue to help maintain the EA navigations as they are for the benefit of all.

Both EA Anglian and EA Medway have local user groups but we are not currently represented.


DEFRA (Department for the Environment Farming and Rural Affairs)  is the government department responsible for the two principal waterway authorities Canal and River Trust and the Environment Agency.

MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency)  enforces the regulations for passenger, commercial and fishing craft and ships in tidal waters and also the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) regulations for all ships. This would have been the department responsible for EU certification of UK ships under TRIWV (see below) had UK not derogated all of it's waterways and craft from the regulations. We continue to lobby for changes to the UK manning and safety equipment regulations that are onerous for barges over 24m.

HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) is responsible all taxation matters including VAT and Fuel Duty. The zero-rating of residential craft is a peculiar UK concession within UK. There are comprehensive articles in the Knowledge Base on VAT and barges.  DBA assisted Colin and Ali Stone in their court action to preserve this tax advantage when HMRC attempted to change the rules.  

The EU  took the UK to court over fiscally marked (Red) diesel being supplied to recreational boats for propulsion and won.  Along with the RBOA DBA successfully influenced HMRC and the Tresaury to adopt the current self declaring approach - much to the annoyance of the boating trade.  

Other Navigation Authorities

PLA (Port of London Authority) - Patrick Schulenburg and Scott Pereira represent  DBA on the recreational committee (PHRANG) and the Upper Thames Users Group.

BA (Broads Authority) - Simon Sparrow represents DBA on the Navigation committee.

NINF (National Inland Navigation Forum) is an six-monthly meeting of national inland boating organisations to note, and agree if possible, individual positions on new proposals by Navigation Authorities. It is attended by Andy Soper on behalf of DBA.

There are nearly 40 other authorities of which 20 belong to the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA) along with EA and CRT. For example, the River Wey is run by the National Trust, the Basingstoke by two County Councils and the Chelmer and Blackwater by IWA.

Other Boating Associations

We have good links and work together with the

National Association of Boat Owners (NABO) - mainly inland and narrowboat focussed)

Residential Boat Owners Association (RBOA) - UK residential focussed

We are corporate members of the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) but their interest inland has been poor in the past. This is now improving and we have good contacts both nationally and regionally. 

Other Waterway Associations 

Other waterway associations are listed on the Linked Organisations page. We support all broad beam restoration societies. We are close to the Kennet & Avon Trust and share links with them with Les Amis du Canal du Nivernais.

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) is a mix of waterway restorers and boaters principally interested in BW waters and and is now seeking a new role in the wake of CRT which is driven by competition for funding.

The Inland Waterways Association of Ireland is the principal Irish club and similar to the IWA in interest. Brian Goggin keeps us up to date. We have supported their challenge to Waterways Ireland proposing swingeing increases i charges to use the waterways oaround Dublin.

The Parliamentary Waterways Group is attended by interested MPs and meets occasionally.  IWA provides the Secretariat

Andy Soper

March 2023

Minor edits and formatting - Jab '19 - Pete Milne

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