Mudlarks, Ships, Kayaks and Boats – Understanding Marine and Waterways Licensing and Permits


eBook: Learn how permits are used in the maritime sector by private operators and Local Authorities.

Permits are used for parking, but did you know they are also used by the maritime sector?


We’ve all seen parking permits issued at car parks and on residential streets but parking isn’t the only industry that uses permits, they’re also widely used for managing waterways, harbours and commercial vessels.

Licences and permits are used in commercial shipping and fishing, marine construction, waterside leisure activities, sailing and boating, and other watersports. In this article, we highlight some of the different uses of permits on the coast and inland waterways and rivers.

Marina - aerial photo - online marina car park control system

Inland Waterway Permit Management

In the UK, there are over 200 inland waterways, canals and rivers, stretching over 5,000 miles. Believe it or not, you need a permit to use nearly all of them. 

Canal and River Boat Permit Management

Every owner of a watercraft must have a permit to use it on British waterways. Any type or size of boat, with or without a motor, must have a permit to use the waterways managed by Local Authorities, Trusts, or the Environment Agency.

There are more than 330 sites around England and Wales that have over 3,600 mooring spaces (berths). Many waterway sites provide permanent and temporary boat moorings such as towpath moorings on canals typically managed via boat mooring permit system.

Unpowered Boat Permit Management

You may be surprised to learn that even leisure activities like canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding require a permit on canals and rivers.

You need a permit to paddle on most British waterways. All portable craft, such as canoes, kayaks, rowing boats, paddleboards and even inflatable boats, must have a permit. These types of permit are available via waterways authorities or local authorities online boat permit systems.

Marina Permit Management

Marinas for leisure boats and yachts manage their berths (spaces) in a very similar way to car park operators. Marina berth charges vary by the time of year, summer or winter, and by time period, e.g. short stay or long stay. 

Marinas tend to issue berth permits for summer and winter seasons, and charges are typically based on the length of the vessel. Additional charges can be set for other services such as parking, EV vehicle charging, fresh water, electricity charging, and shoreside waste facilities. Marinas can also offer mooring permits, launch only permits, and small boat storage permits using their boat licensing system.

    Leisure Fishing Permits

    Leisure fishing is one of the most popular sports in the UK, and on most waterways, you must have a fishing permit called a rod licence. 

    In England and Wales, there are two different types of fishing permits.

    • Trout, Coarse Fish and Eel Permit 
    • Salmon and Sea Trout Permit 

    In England and Wales, you can get a fine of up to £2,500 if you are discovered to be fishing without a valid permit. Typically, fishing fines are issued by the Local Authority riverbank enforcement team who will use a mobile ticket printing system that is integrated with a fishing licence management system.

    Commercial Shipping Port Permits & Fees

    Shipping traffic arriving and departing from commercial UK ports is managed by port authorities who use a harbour management system. For example, the Thames Estuary and River Thames are managed by the Port of London Authority.

    Cargo Loading and Unloading Permit Fees

    Merchant ships must obtain a loading and unloading permit from the port authority to be able to load or unload cargo. Charges vary based on the size of the ship and the type of cargo it’s carrying. Ship size is measured in gross tonnage (GT). Permits are often charged per tonne of cargo, varying on cargo type. 

    Shipping Pilotage Permits 

    Pilotage means obtaining the services of a Pilot to bring a vessel to the harbour. Pilots know the harbour waters well and so are used by ships to safely navigate through unfamiliar waters.

    Ships that want to use Pilot services to enter and exit a port must submit a pilot order (request for a pilot). Pilot orders are needed for inbound vessels, outbound vessels leaving a berth, and also for moving from a buoy or anchorage.

    Ports can also issue a wide range of additional charges, for example 

    • for boarding and landing personnel
    • for moving a ship
    • commercial dockside parking. 

    Marine Management Construction Licences

    Construction companies need marine works permits to undertake new works on rivers and estuaries, for example 

    • Building a new landing pier.
    • Dredging.
    • Temporary construction works. 

    Commercial Fishing Vessel Licences

    All commercial fishing vessels must have fishing permits. There is a wide range of permits for different types of fishing. Some examples are

    • Mobile sea fishing permit.
    • Commercial crab and lobster pot permit.
    • Commercial netting permit.

    Commercial fishing permits around UK coastal waters and estuaries are governed by the UK’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO) requirements and local by-laws. 

    MMO Marine Enforcement Officers and Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Officers can issue contravention penalties called Sea Fishing Penalty Notices (SFPN) under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

    Dredging Permits and Licences

    Dredging means moving or clearing material from one area of the seabed, riverbed or estuary floor to another. It also includes removing material from the seabed or riverbed entirely, for example when clearing blocked inland rivers of mud.

    A marine dredging permit is required to carry out a dredging activity in offshore waters and inland rivers and waterways. 

    Mudlarking, Beachcombing and Metal Detecting Permits

    Beachcombing has become a very popular pastime around the UK. However, in some places, you must have a permit to do it. 

    Beachcombing is performed on what is termed ‘the foreshore’, which is the tidal zone of estuaries and beaches. 

    The shore of the River Thames in London has long been a popular place for people to hunt for treasures from London’s past, often referred to as ‘mudlarking’. However, searching the Thames shoreline requires a foreshore permit issued by the Port of London Authority. 

    Metal-detecting on some major river shorelines requires a permit. Metal-detecting on beaches typically doesn’t require a permit because the foreshore is owned by the Crown Estate which provides public access.

    Shipping, Cruise Ship, and Marina Parking Management

    Shipping ports see huge volumes of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) arriving and departing from docksides, loading and unloading shipping cargo. These freight deliveries and collections are controlled by permit systems.

    Ports use vehicle access control systems to manage freight vehicle traffic. Freight vehicle operators must obtain access permits before their vehicles arrive at the dockside.

    With security and efficiency in mind, some ports are beginning to integrate Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras with their access control systems. 

    Cruise ship ports, marinas, and sailing clubs all require parking facilities. These car parks require management in the same way as public and private car parks. Car parks at these sites are most efficiently operated by using a harbour parking permit system or an online marina parking management system.

    Cruise ship parking facilities offer parking permits to passengers. Most cruise ship parking providers will offer 24-hour secure parking for short-term and long-term stays.

    Similarly, marinas and sailing clubs have car parks for visitors and members. Vehicle access control and parking permits are important for securely managing these marine locations. This is primarily because boats are not registered in the same way as road vehicles making them easier to steal and more difficult to identify when stolen. The high value of boats and yachts stored at these sites means security is a high priority for site managers. This is especially true for marina operators that may have millions of pounds of high-value yachts berthed onsite. 

    Marine Permit Management for Local Authority Digital Transformation

    We have just touched the surface of the different uses of permits in the marine sector. As you can see, permits are used for authorising all sorts of marine leisure and business activities. 

    Regardless of whether you’re a paddleboarder or a shipping company, you are likely to need a permit for something related to your activity. 

    As we’ve highlighted, permits are used for everything from leisure fishing to security access at shipping ports. As we see more automation being implemented by the private and public sectors in all different areas of society, we’ll see traditional physical or paper permits replaced by digital permits. Self-service online permit management systems will become the standard for both consumers and businesses. 

    Permit management technology solutions like Zatpermit enable the simple management of parking permits. The combined features of Zatpermit and Zatkiosk are a perfect solution for managing parking spaces at marine locations, and Zatpark ANPR integrations are a great fit for dockside HGV parking. Technology systems like Zatpark that have the flexibility to manage any permit, licence, or ticket for any industry will lead the way in SMART system digital transformation. 

    Download our eBook for even more detail about maritime and waterways permits: Mudlarks, Ships, Kayaks, and Boat – Understanding Maritime and Waterways Permits

    Zatpermit - eBook preview marine permits

    How Zatpark & Zatpermit help

    Zatpark is a cloud-based parking and permit management service. It provides end-to-end management of parking and permit management processes. Zatpark’s advanced back office suite integrates seamlessly with a host of third-party ANPR, appeals, and debt resolution suppliers.

    Zatpark enforcement platform and Zatpermit enables permit management:

    • Simplification
    • Efficiency
    • Control
    • Integration

    Contact us for a no-obligation chat and discover how Zatpark and Zatpermit can help you.

    Britannia Parking

    With over 25 years experience establishing and managing car parks, Britannia Parking is one of the most respected operators in the UK with a client base that includes Waitrose, The John Lewis Partnership, Liverpool Victoria, Savills and Greene King.

    HX Car Park Management

    HX Car Park Management Limited is the UK’s one-stop parking management company who operate nationwide and are based in West Yorkshire.

    Napier Parking

    Napier Parking have used technology provided by ZatPark to streamline its customer service with convenient payment and appeals options available via online web portals


    NCPS core strength is to provide bespoke solutions incorporating best in breed IT systems.

    North East Lincolnshire

    North East Lincolnshire Council is a local authority serving 160,000 people. The Parking Service at NELC is delivered through a regeneration partnership with EQUANS Services Limited.