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Government must intervene to save our waterways sector

Waterway businesses

The image of a narrowboat cruising along the canal is a quintessentially British scene, but sadly many trip boat companies, hire boat providers and other waterways businesses are under serious threat.

Early in the Covid-19 lockdown we ran a survey in partnership with Waterways World magazine to better understand the situation being faced. Almost 1500 waterway businesses were contacted and the responses paint a very bleak picture, with the majority of businesses reporting that they are at significant risk of collapse and some already closing.

It is seasonal businesses that are being hit hardest due to the timing of this lockdown. The inland waterways leisure industry is worth approximately £1.5bn to the UK economy, but almost 90% of these businesses rely heavily on the summer months (April to September) for the overwhelming majority, if not all, of their income. Without this income, they will have no means to repay any sort of loan and rather than get into further debt, will have no option but to cease trading. The timing has hit many businesses doubly hard off the back of the hard winter which caused widespread flooding and closures of some waterways.

We have written to Defra alongside British Marine, the Broads Authority and CRT asking for more financial assistance for waterway businesses and we have written to every MP with a waterway in their constituency.

What we’re campaigning for:

  • A financial package from the Government – similar to that given to the fishing industry – to enable navigation authorities to underwrite licence and mooring fees for waterway businesses for this year. This would relieve waterways businesses of a significant cost and allow navigation authorities to continue to maintain the waterways so that everyone can safely use the waterways.
  • Additional financial schemes for the businesses that are still falling between the gaps of those grants and loans already on offer
Read More

Write to your MP

Hundreds of letters have been written already to MPs by our members and supporters, which in turn has led to dozens of MPs raising the issue with Government and backing our call for dedicated funding for the waterways sector.

Add your voice by writing to your MP:

£20 million


A funding package should be distributed by navigation authorities to the waterway businesses who need it most.


At risk

Over 60% of waterway businesses anticipate struggling over the winter

£1.5 billion

Value per year

The inland waterways leisure industry’s contribution to the UK economy is significant – but under threat.

We will be approximately £100,000 down so I have no idea if we will make it through the winter period.

Holiday boat hire company
Paul Rodgers Oxford Canal Heyford Wharf Oxfordshire Narrowboats

The window of opportunity is closing if government is going to offer support… I urge the government to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity to save this vital sector of the British economy and what could be a core element of the British stay-at-home leisure and holiday sectors in the coming years.

Paul Rodgers, IWA National Chairman

If this situation continues we will have to consider permanently ceasing operations and selling the vessel.

Trip boat company

Campaign updates

Waterway underfunding

Hundreds of miles of waterways – along with their unique heritage and habitats – are currently starved of funding and rely on constant lobbying by us to safeguard their future.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.

Waterway businesses

The government needs to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity to save this vital sector of the British economy and what could be a core element of the British stay-at-home leisure and holiday sectors in the coming years.

Waterways affected by HS2

We’re campaigning to protect canals and rivers from the damaging effects of HS2, especially where the tranquillity of the waterways is under threat.