[Talk-GB] Boat permissions (c.f. waterways map)

Richard Fairhurst richard at systemed.net
Fri Jan 21 14:15:58 GMT 2011

Tom Chance wrote:
> Can our resident waterways experts comment on the most appropriate 
> tagging for navigable rivers in the UK?
> For example, I see you’re allowed to use a boat on the Thames along
> navigable parts with a license… does that mean it should be “boat=yes” 
> or “boat=permissive”?

Short answer: I'd say boat=yes. You have to tax a car, get it through its
MoT etc. to use public roads but we still tag them as motor_vehicle=yes
rather than =permissive (well, it's implied by the highway tag, but you know
what I mean). It's pretty analogous to that.

Long answer: there is actually a public right of navigation on the Thames
and several other rivers. The right is subject to boats being "registered"
(that's what they call it on the Thames, as opposed to "licensed" on the
canals) with the successor body of the Thames Conservancy, which is
currently the Environment Agency. But as long as you fulfil the requirements
of registration (fee paid, current Boat Safety Certificate, etc.) then you
have a legal right to use the river. That's why the red and yellow boards at
Thames locks tell you that navigation is discouraged in times of flood
rather than prohibited.

There is no such right on the canals: it was abolished by the 1968 Transport
Act (IIRC). Your navigation is by permission of British Waterways. In
practice there's no difference to rivers like the Thames - you pay your
licence, you get your BSS, you're allowed on - but there is a theoretical
difference in law. So if there were a case for =permissive tags it would be
on the canals, but again, I'd say that since this permission is always
granted and is what's expected for such thoroughfares, =yes is more

Waterway law is fascinating, archaic, uneven and rarely understood. BW's
lawyers still have to refer to a 13th century Act to tell them what the
organisation is permitted to do on the River Lee, for example.


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