Narrowboats moored for a while at Hopwas, Coventry Canal (John Carver)

If you don't have a home mooring, you're committed to cruising continuously through the waterways system.

There are two things to bear in mind.

  1. If you're moored somewhere on the towpath then you can stay there for 14 days without charge before having to move on, unless there's a sign telling you otherwise (some Visitor Moorings are limited to 7 days, 24 hours etc.).
  2. You also need to be on a progressive journey - you can't just flip between your two favourite spots all year round.

(The rules are different for the Thames and some other rivers.)

How far must I move?

When moving on, you can't just pop under the next bridge and stay there for another fortnight.  The law says you need to move to the next 'place', which is taken to mean 'neighbourhood'.   Most boaters (and the Canal and River Trust, who manage the waterways) interpret this to mean that you need to move about one or two miles as a minimum, although there's no fixed rule.  Apart from what the law says, it's also respectful of other boaters to keep moving on, especially in popular areas. 

When can I go back?

Once you've moved on, you can't go straight back to whatever mooring spot you were at last - you need to keep going on a progressive journey.  If you do just shuffle between the same few mooring places in the same area, the Canal and River Trust are likely to target you for not being on a 'bona fide journey'.

There's no fixed 'no return' period for a mooring spot on the towpath, we just reckon it's a good rule of thumb not to go back to the same place for about three months after you've left it.  That's ok, though - there are plenty of other places to moor.

How do they know where you've been?  They walk the towpath weekly - sometimes more often - and note down every boat number, which goes into a big computer somewhere.

What kind of journey is 'bona fide'?

There's no hard-and-fast rule.  In London, the Canal and River Trust is happy to allow boaters to turn around after about 15 miles and start heading back.  (So, a journey between Kensal Green and Springfield Park is generally considered 'bona fide' - all points on that journey are within easy reach of central London.)

Please share...

Moving on is half the enjoyment of living on a boat.  It's also part of the deal if you don't have a home mooring.  If you're thinking of keeping your boat in the same spot on the towpath close to the station, supermarket or a favourite pub, then please just don’t buy a boat.  It's not about whether you can get away with it - it's simply selfish to deny other boaters a turn there as well.

A spirit of sharing the canal is part of our culture - share the waterways by not staying more than a couple of weeks in one spot.

CRT announced in February 2015 that boaters without a home mooring who don't move often enough or far enough will be asked to change their ways and, if they don't, they'll be denied their licence renewal unless they find a home mooring.  That means the boat will be taken off the water.

Why is the law vague?

The law was made decades ago to accommodate a small number of boaters who lived aboard, didn't have their own home mooring, and moved through the waterways all year round.  At the time, the government didn't anticipate the growth in boating we've seen in the last five years.

The letter of the law is vague but its spirit is clear: we have a right to live aboard a boat and to stay in one place on the towpath for 14 days before moving on as part of a bona fide journey.  The spirit of the law is basically good!  The last thing we need is new legislation that effectively outlaws our way of life, so please be a good boater!