Boat licences—paid or not

Published: Wednesday, 22 September 2021

VICTOR'S recent comments about licences and their display got us wondering whether our feelings on this subject (we pay the fee—why can’t everyone?) were really true, or just assumption, writes *Dave.

So we thought we’d have a small survey, to see what we’d find. On midland canals, over six days and about 45 miles (not very far, but we were on holiday), as we passed along the canal we counted boats where we could see the licence was either expired or we couldn’t see one at all.

Supposed to pay and display

We note that we are supposed to both pay for our licence and to display it. But we can’t assume that a boat where we didn’t see a valid licence hasn’t paid the fee—perhaps they haven’t visited their boat since paying for the latest one (we didn’t count boats where the licence was only a couple of months out of date), or perhaps they just haven’t had time to display it, or perhaps it’s fallen off, or perhaps we simply missed itwe’re sure there were some of these, as we were on holiday and certainly not fully concentrating. So this isn’t scientific at all, and gives no good indication of how many validly licenced boats we saw on the same journey: perhaps just treat it as an interesting thing to do?

We agree with Victor that the latest CaRT printout with the expiry date in small text makes it difficult to read at a distance (but because they’re new, we know if we saw one, it must be valid). We also saw some licences that had faded to almost illegibility, even when closer inspection showed them to be new enough to still be valid. We saw some displayed so the date was covered up; we saw some where the date had been altered with felt-tip pen; we saw some saying the new licence had been applied for.


CaRT provide a printout with two licences on one sheet of paper: perhaps this is confusing folks, as we saw a number of boats with two identical valid licences in one window. Perhaps those same folks don’t have a licence showing on the other sidewe’ll never know, but perhaps some of the boats we counted without displayed licences actually had two on the other side?

The plastic licence holder seems to tell three stories: one, where it shows a valid licence (as it should do); a second where it’s empty (the old licence has been removed, but the new one hasn’t yet replaced itstrange if a valid licence is available); and a third where it still holds an expired licence (presumably not touched since the expired one was put in). Of course, on some boats we didn’t see a plastic licence holder at all.

Licence would spoil the look

We saw some very nice, very new boats, including some with the latest black windows. Maybe the licence would spoil the look of these, as we noted some didn’t have a licence showing: the assumption that it’s only ‘tatty old boats’ that don’t show a valid licence definitely isn’t true. And perhaps some folks simply don’t want their windows obscured, as we saw some licences mounted on the outside of the boat; it’s not difficult to imagine these disappearing over time. We could perhaps balance these with one large group of boats we saw where we were concentrating so much on looking for boats with valid licences (we failed), we completely forgot to count those without.

Anyway—the numbers: over our six days and 45 miles we saw:

67 boats showing an out-of-date licence; the oldest one we saw was 07/14.

130 boats where we didn’t see a licence at all.

As mentioned above, we’re sure we must have missed some valid licences, and we certainly aren’t saying all these boats haven’t paid for their licencewe guess only CaRT would know that. But the numbers do seem high.

To a logical conclusion

Probably not valid, but taking this to a logical conclusion, we calculate that if there really are 2,700 miles of canal in England (not all CaRT, of course), and if our 45 mile sample is representative (which we assume it isn’t), that implies about 12,000 boats across the system where we wouldn’t have noticed a valid licence.

Goshthat’s a lot! Taking a leap into pure speculationif all these boats really hadn’t paid a licence fee, and they should all be charged at about £1,000 each (to make the maths easy), that’s £12 millions missing revenue. We’ve no idea if this is valid, but if it’s true, it would cover a lot of maintenance.

Just a thought.

(*As this could be considered a contentious subject and knowing Dave as a genuine person, we agreed not to publish his surname, as he tells he would hate anyone to trace this back to his boat, or to find himself at the nasty end of an online or [worse] real-world argument.)