Boat Safety Scheme or BSS, is similar to an MOT for narrow boats; setting standards for narrowboats and installations, with the aim to minimise any risks of boat fires, explosions or pollution.

A semi-trad stern on a narrow boat creates an extended cock-pit
The choice of marine paint for your narrowboat is large
Bikes can easily be carried on a narrowboat

Boat Safety Scheme… An Overview

The Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) is an organisation with the intentions of doing exactly what is says on the tin. It’s purpose is to provide a safe environment for those visiting, working on or using the waterways of the UK. The scheme was originally introduced in 1986 and thankfully, despite an increasing number of narrow boats on the waterways, safety related incidents have remained low.

It is jointly owned by the two managing waterways authorities, The Canal and River Trust and the Environment Agency.

It is a condition of most navigation authorities licence that all narrowboats must meet minimum safety standards and therefore all craft are subject to regular examination. We refer constantly to the BSS during our text as this is the minimum acceptable standard that must be applied to all systems to ensure certification.

Examinations are mandatory for all craft over 4 years old and occur every 4 years.

Under a local law, canal boat builders who are members of the Canal Boat Builders Association (CBA) must provide a BSS certificate with all new builds despite it not being a legal requirement.

Examiners are individuals who have had to satisfy strict criteria to become certified by the Scheme. As such, and operating as private individuals, fees can vary. Expect to pay around £150 for an examination that will last 2 to 3 hours on average.

The BSS web site where you can find more information on the organisation and postings on changes to regulations.

Regulations are constantly changing to take account of new technology and to steadily improve boat safety. Do not assume that a system that was compliant 2 years ago still meets requirements. All text in this site is based on a place in time. Double check with your local examiner and the BSS web site if you are unsure of anything you hear or read in relation to the Examination.

If you are building or renovating a boat your BSS examiner is a very handy person to know. Be mindful though that it is his livelihood and has cost a considerable amount of money to become affiliated so don’t expect advise for nothing.

Buying a New Narrow Boat

In most cases the Declaration of Conformity (DoC), as part of the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD), is acceptable in lieu of a BSS certificate for the first 4 years for a fully fitted narrowboat. For sailway narrowboats (part-built) the DoC is only acceptable for the first licence year, after which a BSS or full RCD is required. The examiner can inspect a part-completed narrowboat and issue the certificate to enable licencing. If you are buying a hull only and self fitting out the boat and therefore no DoC has been issued, then a BSS is required before it can be licenced.

Most new narrowboats will be safe and as a result – other than the cost of the examination – there will be no additional expense, therefore obtaining a BSS could be considered for piece of mind and useful in case of selling your narrow boat within the first 4 years of being built. Also bear in mind the DoC is not independently examined and is simply a guarantee from the canal boat builder that the craft meets the requirements.

It is also worth considering that any construction faults found on the first required BSS after 4 years may not be covered by the narrow boat builders warranty.

Preparing for an Examination

A new BSS certificate can be issued up to two months before the old one expires and can be forward-dated to preserve the expiry date. Be aware that any insurance claims maybe rejected if the BSS has expired and a current BSS is often part of any mooring agreement.

Regular maintenance to keep your narrowboat safe and complying with the legal obligations when it is on the water should ensure a first-time pass. However, preparing your boat before its examination will pay off, the British Safety Scheme have the following advice:

Apart from checking to see that installations, components and fittings comply with the requirements before the examiner arrives, there are several things you can do to make the whole process run smoothly. All required items must be capable of being checked effectively and accurately. If not, the examination will be considered to be incomplete. An examiner cannot issue a certificate on an incomplete examination, so here are a few points to keep in mind.

  • Ensure that all the boat’s installations and appliances are fully functional so that a complete examination can take place.
  • This includes having a fully charged battery and sufficient gas and water, together with any other documentation that shows compliance with the BSS General Requirements.
  • If the good condition or suitability of any item cannot be verified where this is a requirement, a certificate cannot be issued.
  • Ensure full access to all gas joints and as much pipework as possible for a thorough examination.
  • Ensure full access to all gas joints and as much pipework as possible for a thorough examination.
  • Items such as gas lockers should be unlocked, and boards and panels removed to give access where verification is necessary.
  • Notify any relevant landowners who may have to give access to the examiner so that he can get to your boat’s mooring.
  • Have the existing certificate to hand. This will help the examiner with information about the boat that he or she must record, such as when it was constructed, and with the confirmation of the expiry date of your current certificate.

On the BSS web site you will find useful information designed to assist you and your examiner during the inspection.

There is also an 8 point systems check your examiner will be using as a framework for his examination for private boats.

What Happens if the Boat Fails?

If any items need attention or could not be checked during the examination, the examiner will generally do a return visit (often for an additional charge) and re-check just those items within 3 months of the original examination. After this time, a full re-examination would be required.

Exempt and Non-Private Boats

For a craft to be exempt from holding a valid BSS Certificate it must meet the following criteria:

  • No permanently installed engine or motor, therefore must be propelled by an outboard only
  • No appliances installed for cooking, lighting, heating or refridgeration
  • Open boats only, therefore no small sleeping cabins

There are different examinations for private and non private boats. Trip and hire boats, third party managed share boats, public vessels, rented residential boats, floating businesses and other commercial craft are examined to: 2002 BSS Standards. BSS website contains all the relevant information for non-private craft but generally the requirements are more rigorous and some items that are advisable for privately owned craft become mandatory.

New Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) – Hire Boats April 2017

Following the announcement in February 2016, the new BSS for hire boats comes in to force on 1st April 2017 with 16 checks which are a mixture of retained items from the 2002 BSS Standards plus completely new requirements. Some of the new requirements include:

  • All external crew areas to be protected with suitable slip-resistant surface
  • All means of escape clearly marked
  • If providing over-night accommodation, suitable smoke and CO2 alarms must be installed

Full details can be found on the BSS website.

Updated Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) – Carbon Monoxide Alarms April 2019

Following public consultation in Autumn 2018 it has been decided that new BSS requirements for carbon monoxide (CO) alarms will be introduced from 1st April 2019.

All boats with accommodation spaces subject to BSS will see mandatory checks introduced for suitable CO alarms in good condition and in appropriate locations. The changes are designed to keep people on and around the boat safe.

Full details of the changes can be found on the BSS website.


Airbnb popularity has risen significantly in the past few years, and it is becoming increasingly common to find narrowboats and canal boats being listed on the website. Be aware that as these are being offered in a business transaction, the boats are subject to the additional BSS requirements of a business boat and would need to hold the appropriate trading licence and insurance. Canal & River Trust introduced a new ‘Static Letting Licence‘ in June 2017 for anyone wishing to rent out their narrowboat.

Boat Safety Scheme

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crick boat show 2024

(Saturday 25 to Monday 27 May 2024)


Britain's biggest inland waterways show.

Advance tickets can be ordered by phone and online until 12midday on Friday 17 May 2024. If you are planning to purchase advance tickets, we recommend that you do so well before this deadline to allow time for postal delivery.
Children 16 and under – free entry Saturday, Sunday, Monday

Trade & Preview Day – Friday 24 May 2024
Get ahead and visit The Fit Out Pontoon before everyone else on Preview Day!
Preview Day tickets are strictly limited to a maximum of 1,000 pre-booked visitors and give entry to the Show from 10am – 6pm on Friday 24 May.