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Boats and boatmen

Licencing for boats and boatmen

Section 94 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907 (as amended) authorises Local Authorities to grant licences for pleasure boats and pleasure vessels to be let for hire or to be used for carrying passengers for hire and also for persons in charge of navigating such vessels. The text of Section 94 of the Act is given below.


  1. The local authority may grant upon such terms and conditions as they may think fit licences for pleasure boats and pleasure vessels to be let for hire or to be used for carrying passengers for hire, and (persons in charge of or navigating) such boats and vessels, and may charge (for each type of licence) such annual fee as appears to them to be appropriate.
  2. Any such licences may be granted for such period as the local authority may think fit, and may be suspended or revoked by the local authority whenever they shall deem such suspension or revocation to be necessary or desirable in the interests of the public; provided that the existence of the power to suspend or revoke the licence shall be plainly set forth in the licence itself.
  3. No person shall let for hire any pleasure boat or pleasure vessel not so licensed or at any time during the suspension of the licence for the boat or vessel, nor shall any person carry or permit to be carried passengers for hire in any pleasure boat or vessel unless,
    1. the boat or vessel is so licensed and the licence is not suspended; and
    2. the person in charge of the boat or vessel and any other person navigating it is so licensed and his licence is not suspended and the conditions of his licence are complied with.
  4. A licence under this section shall not be required for any boat or vessel duly licensed by or under any regulations of the Marine & Coastguard Agency (or for a person in charge of or navigating such a boat or vessel).
  5. No person shall carry or permit to be carried in any pleasure boat or pleasure vessel a greater number of passengers for hire than shall be specified in the licence applying to such boat or vessel, and every owner of any such boat or vessel shall, before permitting the same to be used for carrying passengers for hire, paint or cause to be painted, in letters and figures not less than one inch in height and three-quarters of an inch in breadth, on a conspicuous part of the said boat or vessel, his own name and also the number of persons which it is licensed to carry, in the form “Licensed to carry persons”.
  6. Every person who shall act in contravention of the provisions of this section shall for each offence be liable to a penalty not exceeding (level 3 on the standard scale) (but a person shall not be guilty of an offence under this sub-section by reason of a failure to comply with such conditions as are mentioned in sub-section (3) (b) of this section if it is shown that there is a reasonable excuse for the failure).
  7. Any person deeming himself aggrieved by the withholding, suspension, or revocation of any licence under the provisions of this section may appeal to a petty sessional court held after the expiration of two clear days after such withholding, suspension, or revocation: provided that the person so aggrieved shall give twenty-four hours’ written notice of such appeal, and the ground thereof, to the clerk, and the court shall have power to make such order as they see fit and to award costs, such costs to be recoverable summarily as a civil debt.
  8. No licence under this section shall be required in respect of pleasure boats and pleasure vessels on any canal owned or managed by the British Waterways Board.
  9. In sub-section (1) and (3) of this section “let for hire” means let for hire to the public.

Licence guidance

Section 94 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907 (as amended) authorises Local Authorities to grant licences for pleasure boats and for pleasure vessels let for hire or to be used for carrying passengers for hire, and also for persons in charge of navigating such vessels.

The Solent and Southern Harbour Master Association (SASHMA) have also issued guidelines.

Boat licences

Portsmouth City Council issues boat licences under this Act in accordance with the Solent Harbour Master’s Association guidelines. The guidelines concern the safety of craft and their passengers and incorporate the MCA Inland Waters and Small Passenger Vessel Code, and are limited to vessels under 24m in length, carrying no more than 12 passengers, on voyages that do not exceed MCA category D waters.

Portsmouth City Council will licence boats operating from Portsmouth Harbour up to MCA category D waters. For the Solent, it covers the area:

  • Inside the Isle of Wight within an area bounded by a line drawn between
  • the church spire, West Wittering, to Trinity church, Bembridge in the eastward,
  • and the Needles and Hurst Point in the westward.

Application for a boat licence should be made on the form on this web site or on the form contained in the information pack available from N. Hardesty, Pilot/AHM, at Harbour Offices, Cruise and Ferry Port, Whale Island Way, Portsmouth PO2 8EB. Telephone: 023 9285 5937. Once completed the form should be sent to the above address.

Licences are issued after inspection, the fee for which (currently £115) should be submitted with the application.

A checklist of requirements is included in the information pack but in order to minimize delay in the issue of a licence, applicants should note the following:

  • On first application, a copy of the owners manual including the declaration of conformity, stability/loading data safe operation of boat information and position of equipment information will need to be inspected.
  • For boats over 5 years old, documented evidence of out of water examination of the hull, shell fittings, steering and propulsion at intervals not exceeding 5 years must be provided.
  • For boats built before 1998, an independent survey must be provided to confirm that the boat has been constructed to the relevant standards. In addition, the boat must also be able to demonstrate a history of safe operation in areas similar to that intended for use.
  • A copy of third party liability insurance for a minimum of £5,000,000.

Except in the case of a bareboat charter, the skipper must be appropriately qualified. The following are considered acceptable:

  • MCA boatmaster 2
  • RYA Coastal Skipper + commercial endorsement
  • RYA power boat level 2 + commercial endorsement
  • A Waterman’s licence.
  • Local authority issued Boatman’s licence.

Skippers to have a medical certificate. The following are considered acceptable:

  • ENG1
  • ML5
  • CAA commercial pilots licence medical certificate.
  • DVLA group 2 drivers licence medical certificate
  • HSE diving medical certificate.

NB Evidence of satisfactory colour vision , if not a marine medical certificate

Skippers to be in possession of a valid First Aid certificate. The following are considered acceptable.

  • RYA Small Craft First Aid Certificate
  • Elementary First Aid Certificate.
  • Certificate issued by the Ambulance Service, or other First Aid course approved by the Heath and Safety Executive (HSE).

Vessels must be in possession of a valid VHF radio licence and there should be at least one person on board holding an appropriate operator’s licence for the equipment carried.

Lifejackets should comply with EN 396/150N or EN 399/275N as appropriate, not rely solely on oral inflation and be serviced according to the manufacturers instructions. Proof of service is required. For a boat licensed for night time use lifejackets must be fitted with approved lights. Children’s lifejackets should be provided as appropriate. NB the requirement is for lifejackets – buoyancy aids are not acceptable.

In addition to the required Safety Brief, emergency procedures and safety equipment instructions including lifejacket donning, liferaft launching, and use of VHF must be readily available to passengers. There is no fixed format for this but it may take the form of a display book containing the appropriate instructions and information, available in the passenger area. For RIBs this might take the form of laminated instruction cards secured to the passenger area.

During the inspection, skippers will be required to demonstrate the correct donning and operation of the lifejackets, and to explain the launching of the liferaft and VHF procedures. (This should take the form of an example Safety Brief to passengers).

Flares and Smoke floats must be in date.

Fire extinguishers should be checked for the expire date or serviced in accordance with the manufacturers instructions.

First Aid kits should contain no time expired items.

A RADAR reflector is required, mounted if possible at least 3m above the waterline.

Boatman’s licences

Application for a Boatman’s licence should be made on the form on this web site or on the form contained in the information pack referred to above.

The minimum age for the granting of a licence is 18.

A licence is granted following successful examination, which consists of a written examination and a practical assessment (see syllabus below). The licence is valid for 3 years. Thereafter, the licence may be renewed on payment of the appropriate fee ( currently £40.00 ) and evidence of a valid medical certificate.

Examinations are conducted by appointment. The fee ( currently £90.00 ) should be submitted with the application.

In the event of a candidate failing the examination, a re-sit is possible after a minimum period of 30 days. There is a fee for a re-examination ( currently £55.00 ).

Persons with a MCA boatman’s certificates, RYA Coastal Skipper certificate or above, or other higher qualification are exempted from all parts of the examination except for the section on local knowledge.

Licensed boatmen will be required to be in possession of an appropriate VHF operators licence, an approved medical certificate, a Basic Sea Survival certificate, and an approved First Aid certificate.

Boatman’s licence syllabus

Written examination

The candidate will be asked questions on the following subjects:

Buoyage and Lights

  • Port and Starboard hand buoys; their purpose, shape, lights, colour
  • Cardinal marks; their purpose, shape, lights, and colour
  • Isolated danger marks; their purpose, shape, lights, and colour.
  • Special marks; their purpose, shape, lights, and colour.
  • Safe water marks; their purpose, shape lights and colour.
  • Local lights within the area covered by the licence.

Tides, Depths and Tidal information

  • The heights of High and Low water at springs and neaps.
  • The spring and neap ranges of tide.
  • The strength and direction of harbour tidal streams.
  • The charted depth of main channels and dangers.
  • The location and use of tide gauges.

Compass, Corrections, Courses and Transits

  • The meaning of variation and Deviation.
  • The effect on a compass of interfering items such as electronics and iron.
  • Correcting a true course to a compass course.
  • Compass headings of local transits.
  • Compass courses entering and leaving harbour.
  • Working out from the chart a true course to steer between two points.
  • Taking a latitude and longitude of a point from the chart.

Rule of the Road

  • Action to be taken in head on situations.
  • Understanding of the terms short and prolonged blasts.
  • The use of sound signals.
  • Action on hearing sound signals in reduced visibility.
  • Distress signals and their use.

Local Notices to Mariners

  • Speed limits
  • Whereabouts and use of the small boat channel.
  • VHF channels used for traffic co-ordination and communication.
  • Crossing the Harbour entrance.
  • Harbour procedure in reduced visibility.
  • Other relevant notices.

International Code of Signals

  • Code flags, their colour and single letter meaning.
  • Common flag hoists displayed in the harbour by ships.

Practical examination

  • Coming alongside and leaving berths/pontoons.
  • Coming to a buoy and allowing for wind and tide.
  • Recovery of a man overboard.
  • Action in the event of rudder loss.
  • Knowledge of local creeks and berths.
  • Location and use of vessels safety equipment.
  • Demonstrate a basic knowledge of the engine, including pre-start checks, emergency stop, and maintenance procedures.
  • Radio procedures.
  • Availability of weather reports.
  • Action in the event of fire.
  • Action in the event of a casualty
  • Action in the event of grounding.
  • Distress procedures.
  • Relationship and responsibility to the public