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There are no legal requirements for skippers of private pleasure craft to hold any formal qualification, but if you are new to boating, it’s always a good idea to learn from the professionals.

The RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman Certificate is the most widely recognised boat-handling qualification for Britain’s inland waterways. 

IWA’s Certificate of Boat Management is for operators of small passenger boats (maximum 12 passengers).  The scheme is governed by Maritime & Coastguard Agency regulations, which also defines the (Category A) waterways that the Certificate is valid for.

Boat-handling qualifications

RYA Helmsman Course

There is no prior knowledge needed for the course, which is great for beginners who want to prepare for a boating holiday or to assist a helmsman. 

Experienced boaters may wish to do the course to improve their skills in certain areas, or may need the certificate for a job or for insurance purposes.

Courses usually last one or two days with prices varying from £100 per person to £400.

IWA Certificate of Boat Management (COBM)

Many small passenger boats (defined as having a maximum of 12 passengers) are operated by volunteers as fundraising enterprises for waterway charities and restoration groups, or to promote their waterways.  IWA’s Certificate of Boat Management provides accreditation and certification for people managing and steering small passenger boats through a structured training and assessment scheme.

  • Approved and endorsed by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency
  • Designed to ensure passenger and crew safety within an identified area of operation
  • Training & assessment process is appropriate for operating small passenger boats carrying a maximum of 12 passengers
  • IWA trainers are available to train or provide guidance

Download the guide to the IWA Certificate of Boat Management (pdf)

Trip boat operations will need to produce a bespoke Trip Boat Operations Guide.   This guide should include operational best practice, an emergency procedures plan and passenger information commentary.

Download an exemplar Trip Boat Operations Guide (pdf)


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.

Sustainable Boating

We want boating on canals and rivers to be more sustainable and – even though the current overall contribution to UK carbon emissions is very small – we want to help reduce emissions on the waterways.

Waterways Heritage at Risk

Britain’s canals and rivers are a unique, living heritage. But that heritage is at risk – from urban development, lack of protection, loss of skills and knowledge and climate change.

You can help Save Waterways Heritage.

Waterway restoration

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