Canal boat mooring costs

Unfortunately, mooring is a bit of a minefield with all sorts of distinctions and caveats. Are you ready? Take a deep breath, and here we go:-

The first thing to clarify is the distinction between having a permanent dedicated location as your “home” mooring where the boat spends most of its time and returns to after each cruising trip; and mooring temporarily at different locations as you travel, such as overnight stops.

The right to do the latter is included as part of your licence fee (but only for canals, not rivers! See below) whereas the former will come with a monthly or annual bill from whoever owns the mooring site. This could be the Canal & River Trust or a private landowner or a marina or wharf.

You are not required to have to have a home mooring at all but there are conditions applied if you don’t and this is referred to as ‘continuous cruising’. Since most canal boats are a leisure vehicle rather than a residence, a home mooring near will often be essential and thus a cost to factor in.

Permanent moorings officially come in two flavours but there are actually three in the more shady world of reality. The official categories are “residential” and “leisure”. The additional grey area is euphemistically called “high use” and is how boaters without a residential mooring nonetheless live on their boats on what are technically leisure moorings.

If strict black and white legalities are your thing, then this is going to make you wince. Sorry.

The trouble is that true residential moorings are very, very rare indeed. To be categorised as such, they need to have had appropriate planning permission from the local council, and the moorer will pay council tax (generally Band ‘A’ rated) just as if they were living in a house.

The benefit of a residential mooring is that you also gain a valid postal address for mail and other deliveries, and can have services such as broadband directly connected to the mooring.

Residential moorings tend to cost more to rent because they will have cost the landowner more in gaining that planning permission.

Leisure moorings, on the other hand, are exactly that; licenced to you for using your boat on a non-liveaboard basis such as where you’ll either just pop down at weekends or come to the boat for a holiday a couple of times a year, in which case you’d typically take the boat out and away for a trip anyway.

However … let us enter that grey area … there are many liveaboards who for various reasons want to have the certainty of a fixed location to base their boat at, yet who don’t want to pay for, or can’t find, a true residential berth. Being liveaboards, a leisure mooring isn’t appropriate (and the terms and conditions of contract would typically prohibit it anyway).

Enter the “high use” leisure mooring where (often for an additional fee) the land owner will turn a blind eye to how much time you spend aboard, provided – and this is critical – you can furnish them with a bricks-and-mortar land-based address that you can claim is your actual home.

Thus the typical liveaboard boater who needs a mooring will ask a family member to permit use of their home as their official address (purely for administrative purposes) while actually living on the boat.

The mooring owner, typically a marina, can thus happily and guiltlessly reply to any enquiring busybody authority that, no, you don’t live aboard because you have a land-based address that is your home. You just seem to spend a lot of your time on the boat…

The additional fee charged for “high use” is, in my opinion, usually a bit steep but always justified by the marina as being for the “additional resources used” which is clearly nonsense.

Notwithstanding all that shenanigans, it is wise to be subtle in any enquiry to a marina about living aboard. Never say “living aboard” for a start, unless you really are enquiring about true residential moorings. And bear in mind that some marinas don’t permit any kind of “high use” at all, whether with a nod and a wink or more explicitly. You just have to feel your way and detect the vibe from wherever you enquire.

In my own case I never claimed to be living at the marinas. I was living aboard the boat, which just happened to stop at certain marinas sometimes for periods of time…

This is not quite as sly as it sounds because I did indeed travel on the boat over the summer and typically came to a halt just for winter, and winter mooring is generally accepted as a legitimate pause in cruising from November through to March, without any questions of you being permanently resident at that location.

(Indeed, the CRT and most marinas will offer a ‘winter mooring’ for 4-5 months without any issues of living aboard being relevant as this is clearly a temporary albeit long duration stop in your travels)

The next year, I’d cruise the boat a bit further over the summer, and pick another marina for the next winter, and so on.

The main exception to this was during the Covid pandemic when I paused at a marina in November 2019 ready for my usual winter break but didn’t leave (other than for a couple of months of cruising) until March 2022. Those were exceptional times of course.

OK, that’s permanent moorings dealt with. Now what about mooring temporarily on the canal as you travel? The rule is that you can stop for up to 14 days (unless otherwise clearly marked which is usually the case in particularly popular areas) and you must do so on the towpath side only. This applies to canals only, I’ll discuss rivers below.

The opposite (non-towpath side) bank is almost always privately owned and you should never tie up there without the landowner’s blessing. That said, they cannot offer permanent moorings without agreement from the CRT. Very occasionally you’ll find mooring is permitted on the non-towpath side but this will be clearly marked in that case.

If you so wish, most marinas will also welcome passing boats to stop overnight or for several nights albeit upon payment of a fee and subject to them having space available. This can be handy if you need to leave your boat temporarily for any reason but don’t feel safe leaving it unoccupied at some random location on the canal bank.

Other general canal stipulations are that you must not moor anywhere so as to cause an obstruction such as on tight bends, or on waterpoints, lock landings and so on, which other boats need to access. Leaving your boat tied up at these locations is going to antagonise every other boater who needs to use that facility and can occasionally result in “canal rage” incidents.

Let’s turn to rivers which have entirely different rules. Almost without exception, the land up to the water’s edge (and technically speaking, the river bed itself out to half way across) will be privately owned on both sides of the river. Therefore you have no right to moor there, regardless of having paid for a licence to boat along the river.

Luckily, the river authorities do own some of the land such as at locks and they do make some overnight moorings available for passing boats but these can be extremely limited in number and often not designed with long narrowboats in mind (much shorter, fibreglass cruisers tend to be the prevelant type of boat on rivers). Going up the River Trent for example, I paused at these lock moorings without exception.

To be absolutely clear, there is a difference between overnight moorings provided at locks, and lock landings which are there solely for the purpose of pausing on while you operate and pass through a lock. Do not moor overnight on the latter unless a lock-keeper has specifically granted you permission!

It is therefore entirely likely that as you cruise along a river, you will need to pay a fee each night to whoever owns the land and it’s not at all uncommon for said landowner to stroll along their plot each evening requiring payment from any boat that’s tied up there.