Apply for this licence

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You must have a boat hire licence from your local council if you let a boat for hire or charge for transporting up to 12 passengers .

This licence applies to boats used for pleasure, recreational, educational or sporting purposes.

You’ll also need to hold the appropriate pilot’s qualification and certificate if you’re transporting passengers .


You must have public liability insurance for each boat.

You may also need a certificate stating the boat is:

  • properly designed
  • solidly constructed
  • well maintained
  • well equipped
  • safe for how and where you want to use it

You may also need a licence from the council covering that area if you pick up passengers from somewhere other than the area you’re licensed for.

Your licence can cover more than one boat, so long as all are of exactly the same type and none of them transport more than 12 passengers.

Other conditions may be attached to your licence, eg how many passengers a hired boat can carry or where you can navigate the boat.

Check with the council for the exact conditions.


You won’t need a boat hire licence for boats:

  • covered by a passenger certificate, load line certificate or load line exemption certificate under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 (or subsequent legislation)
  • that are in continuous use for more than 24 hours and have sleeping accommodation
  • used for instruction or training in seamanship
  • used only for fishing in non-tidal waters
  • owned or managed by the British Waterways Board (on any inland waterway or any harbour)
  • owned or managed by a harbour authority while in their own harbour

How to apply

You must apply to the council for the area where your business will operate. You’ll need to pay a fee, which varies from council to council.

A licence usually lasts for 3 years and must be renewed.

Fines and penalties

You can be fined up to £2,500 if you:

  • don’t have a boat hire licence
  • make a false statement on your licence application
  • don’t have insurance for your vessel

You can be fined up to £1,000 if you don’t:

  • follow a licence condition
  • tell the council about any changes in circumstances that affect you or boat hiring activities
  • get their permission to make changes to your vessel

You could be fined up to £500 if your licence is cancelled and you don’t return it when asked by the council.