Inland waterways: types of vessels

Guidance about the types of vessels that can operate on UK inland waters. It also refers to EU requirements and regulations.


This guidance is for the owners and operators of:

  • passenger ships
  • non-passenger vessels
  • pleasure boats

These are the three main types of vessel that can operate on UK inland (categorised) waters.

The guidance gives some further details about each type of vessel, and the relevant requirements for them whether they are UK vessels in UK waters, UK vessels in EU waters, or EU vessels in UK waters.

UK inland waterways: passenger ships

Passenger ships are ships that carry more than 12 passengers.

On inland waters there are three different types of passenger ships:

Class IVs and Vs

Class IVs and Class Vs are existing passenger ships built before 2010. There are a lot of regulations and standards which apply to them, so you might need to engage a marine consultant to identify what requirements are applicable to your vessel. Where there is a doubt about the application of a specific regulation you can contact your local MCA Marine Office for clarification.

MSN 1823 applies to ships built after 6 April 2010, and also to:

  • ships built after that date, and which have never been certified as a UK passenger ship previously
  • passenger ships which were Class IV or Vs previously, but which have been laid up for more than 5 years.

UK inland waterways: non-passenger vessels

Non-passenger vessels are generally:

  • freight vessels
  • tug boats
  • workboats that work on inland waterways

These are classed as Class IX(A) ships.

Under the UK’s vessel classification system:

  • Class IX(A) covers non sea-going freight vessels and all non-passenger vessels
  • Class IX(A)(T) covers non sea-going tankers

MGN 469 gives further information on the regulations that apply to non-passenger vessels.

In addition, the Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code provides a national standard for small commercial vessels carrying up to 12 passengers. These vessels are not classified as passenger vessels in accordance with Merchant Shipping legislation using categorised waters.

EU states: passenger and non-passenger vessels

If passenger and non-passenger vessels from other EU states are operating on UK categorised waters, they need to comply with MSN 1824. It refers to EU Directive 2006/87/EC as amended, and gives the full technical requirements for inland waterways vessels:

MIN 467 provides information on amendments to directive 2006/87/EC laying down technical requirements for inland waterway vessels

UK inland waterways: pleasure vessels

A pleasure vessel is:

  • used by its owner only for fun or sport
  • not used for the owner’s financial gain

For a full legal definition of pleasure vessels, read Regulation 2 of the Merchant Shipping (Vessels in Commercial Use for Sport or Pleasure) Regulations 1998, SI 1998/2771

If a vessel doesn’t fall under this description it’s not considered a pleasure vessel - so the rules for commercial vessels will then apply.

Pleasure boats have very few national rules, as long as they carry no more than 12 passengers. They’d then be considered passenger ships and the relevant rules will apply.

MGN 489 (amended) details the regulations that apply to pleasure boats.

Pleasure boats: licensing requirements

If you are operating a pleasure craft on the inland waters network, such as a:

  • motor cruiser
  • sailing cruiser
  • narrow boat
  • houseboat

you may need to be registered with the relevant navigation authority, and hold an appropriate licence.

Contact the local navigation authority for information about the registration and licensing arrangements for your area.

Operating a UK vessel on EU inland waters

Some UK vessels may operate on European inland waterways. They must have:

You’ll receive the UINC when a survey on your vessel has been completed, in line with the directive requirements. Arrange a vessel survey through the relevant waterway authority.

You’ll need the ENI to enter on the UINC. Read MSN 1824 for more relevant information.

Published 1 May 2014
Last updated 13 August 2014 + show all updates
  1. Inland Waters Small Passenger Boat Code added (13/08/14)

  2. First published.