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National Boatmasters Licence

In January 2007, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), on behalf of the Government, introduced a new national licence for the skippers of commercial vessels on inland waterways.  The requirements of the regulations apply on the tidal Thames (Category C and D waters) where the new National Boatmasters Licence replaces a local, Thames-specific (watermen and lightermen) licensing scheme.

The tidal Thames is safe and getting safer following a range of improvements introduced since the Marchioness accident.  The new licence contributes to that trend, in that it applies to all inland waterways commercial vessels on the Thames – passenger and freight – previously only passenger vessels were covered.  This change fulfils a recommendation of the Thames Safety Inquiry.  Other safety improvements on the river include the introduction, from 1 June 2007, of the mandatory carriage of Thames AIS, a transponder-based system for larger commercial vessels working in central London.

The National Boatmasters Licence is completely different to the licence it replaces, both in the knowledge and skills it requires and the way it is examined.  To qualify, skippers will have to demonstrate a broader base of professional maritime skills and knowledge learnt from a much more extensive - but relevant -syllabus than was previously the case.  This is because the area to which the licence applies covers the whole of Category D waters (well out into the Thames estuary), which was not the case with the old local regime, when the licensing area was limited to Lower Hope Point, just below Gravesend.   In sum, the successful candidate will have around double the scope of skills and knowledge required under previous systems. 

The licence also:

  • introduces improved and mandatory safety training, particularly for passenger vessels;
  • includes a practical examination in boat handling; and
  • skippers will have to pass tests for each type of boat they want to drive e.g. tugs, motor barges,  dangerous goods barges and dry and liquid cargoes.

In replacing a local licence (like that which applied on the Thames) with a national one, the MCA introduced a requirement for ‘local knowledge’ where the nature of the waterways and trades on them (as identified through risk assessment) warranted it.   On the Thames the more testing reaches of the river in central London fulfilled the MCA’s criteria for a Local Knowledge endorsement.  Our subsequent application to the MCA for such an endorsement for those skippers working in this part of the Thames was successful.

Click here to view the MCA BML page

Click here for further information on the PLA LKE