The UK Canal and River Trust’s national boat count shows an increase in boaters using the canals across England and Wales over the last three years. The last full annual boat count took place in 2019, with the pandemic affecting the counts scheduled for 2020 and 2021. The count reveals that the number of boaters rose by 3.3 per cent across England and Wales and there was also a licence compliance rate of 94.1 per cent.
Over the course of the last three years the survey shows a slight drop in the percentage of licensed boats, down from 96.5 per cent in 2019 to 94.1 per cent 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, says: “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.”
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 per cent increase on 2019, followed by the North West (5.8 per cent) and London (4.8 per cent).
Symonds adds: “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.”
The trust says that on occasion, it 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.