18 December 2023

A subsidised biofuel, which will help decarbonise the waterways, has been given the green light for more widespread use on leisure boats by the UK Government. DfT provided written clarification over the Renewable Transport Fuel Certificates (RTFC’s)subsidy after the HVO Joint Working Party – representing IWA, RYA and the Cruising Association – met with officials from the DfT in Westminster in November 2023.

Leisure boaters looking to reduce their carbon footprint while cruising will be able to take greater advantage of a government managed subsidy on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), after the Department for Transport (DfT) agreed that the benefit can apply to fuel used for onboard domestic purposes, as well as for the propulsion of vessels.

The move will narrow the price gap between HVO and mineral diesel. It will also mean that it will be easier for suppliers to market HVO to the leisure boating sector in the future as they will not have to establish what proportions of the fuel will be used for domestic and propulsion purposes on the vessel, a requirement complicated by the fact that most leisure vessels have only one fuel tank.

HVO is a biodiesel alternative to ‘FAME’- a first generation biodiesel currently being added to fuel supplied to the leisure boating industry and to road diesel.  The addition of 7% ‘FAME’ biodiesel to mineral diesel (B7) is resulting in fuel unsuited to a marine environment, causing regular boat engine failures due to blockages in vital fuel injection components.

Bowman Bradley, chair of the Joint Working Party and IWA’s Sustainable Boating Group, said: “We are delighted that the DfT appear to have recognised the problems that the leisure boating sector faces and taken this important first step towards resolving them.”

However, the group warned that even with the new measures, there will still be a significant price gap between HVO and mineral diesel. The Joint Working Party will continue to work with Government to seek to make HVO affordable to the leisure boater to allow the sector, and the existing fleet in particular, to transition away from fossil fuels.

This will also then resolve the safety issues associated with using B7 diesel in a marine environment, particularly in craft that cruise challenging waters.

Mr Bradley added: “We look forward to continuing the dialogue with the DfT, and other relevant government departments, to find a complete solution. In this way we can significantly transition the leisure boating sector away from fossil fuels and eliminate the engine failures associated with B7 diesel. If you are in the middle of the Trent and Mersey Canal it is just an expensive inconvenience but on the tidal Trent, in a fast-flowing estuary or two miles off the coast in a force 8 it becomes a problem.”