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Livetts vessel near bridge in central London

Vessel licensing and surveys

The Port of London Authority is responsible for the licensing of inland waterways vessels operating commercially on the tidal Thames

Vessels operating on the tidal Thames are required to be licensed by the PLA, through powers granted to it by the Port of London Act 1968 (as amended), unless they are certificated by another recognised authority, such as the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, another navigation authority or local authority. 

The PLA’s Vessel Surveying and Licensing teams inspect and licence nearly 800 commercially operated vessels a year, fulfilling the PLA’s statutory licensing duty.

The links below provide additional information about which vessels are subject to licensing and information relating to the standards utilised by the PLA in inspecting and licensing vessels on the Thames.

Guidance for Coaching Launches

Coaching Launches - Wash Testing

Wash, and the effects of wash, can be a major danger on the tidal Thames, especially in the main rowing and leisure section above Wandsworth Bridge. This area is subject to a strict eight-knot speed limit, which applies to all powered craft. 

However, under the Port of London Thames Byelaws, rowing coaching launches are permitted to exceed this speed limit when escorting a rowing vessel for training purposes or during a boat race or regatta.

Anyone wishing to operate a coaching launch for these purposes, and where the craft will carry more than two people, must first undertake a PLA Wash Test. This ensures that any such vessel does not produce excessive and potentially dangerous wash when exceeding the eight-knot speed limit.

The PLA Wash Tests are subject to a moderate administration charge of £20 per vessel and will check the vessel's wash at varying speeds. We would encourage you to contact the Port of London Authority (PLA) Marine River Inspector to arrange a mutually convenient time. Requests for assessment are to be made by telephone to 07711 640 095 (08:00 hours to 17:00 hours) or by email: [email protected].

Once approved the wash assessments will remain valid for the life of the vessel or until the vessel is subject to a major modification, such as the installation of a different outboard engine. In the event of a proven case of excessive wash against a coaching launch, the wash approval may be withdrawn at the discretion of the Harbour Master.

Filming from Coaching Launches

Any and all professional filming or photography on the water with a professional or commercial film/tv/camera crew/photographer requires a PLA filming licence (whether or not a financial transaction occurs).

Boats owned by clubs (including coaching boats, safety boats and tinfish etc) should NEVER be used for professional/commercial filming UNLESS the vessel is licensed by the PLA as a passenger vessel.

A very cautious approach needs to be taken with any filming on the tidal River Thames. This includes any filming by a club for training/analysis purposes etc. However, ‘training filming’ by an appropriate person directly attached to a rowing club – eg using an action camera, such as a GoPro or similar device,  to be used for technique/training purposes would not normally need a film licence.

It must be emphasised that:

  • filming should never impede the ability of the person at the helm to navigate or to keep a good lookout at all times (in other words it would be considered similar to using a phone whilst driving!)
  • therefore filming should be done, either:
    • i. by a second appropriate person, who is a member of the rowing club, or
    • ii. from a GoPro rig or similar attached to the boat/appropriate clothing, or
    • iii. safely from the shore and/or safely from bridges over the river, etc.

More information on filming and photography can be found at this link.

Human-powered vessels

Human-powered vessels in commercial use on the tidal Thames must be licensed by the PLA.

Human-powered vessels are those intended for carrying persons but not propelled by mechanical means, such as rowing boats, kayaks, canoes and stand up paddle boards. These types of vessels are often hired to the public or used for guided excursions, and must be licensed.

A self-declaration scheme is now in place for human-powered vessels. Owners and Operators should fill in a HPV Form, listing all vessels in their fleet and submit this along with the required supporting documentation to [email protected]. Once the HPV form has been assessed by the Harbour Master, it can be used to apply for a fleet licence from the PLA's vessel licensing team.

If you are in any doubt as to whether your vessels require a licence from the PLA, or you have any queries regarding licensing of human-powered vessels, please contact [email protected].

HPV Construction Standards

Rowing Boats

Rowing Boats should be able to demonstrate a 5 year safe working history or be constructed in accordance with the requirements of the Recreational Craft Directive (2013/53/EU, 2003/44/EC or 94/25/EC) for the equivalent pleasure vessel.

Kayaks & Canoes

Kayaks and Canoes should be constructed to BS 7852:1997 Code of Practice for Design of Canoes and Kayaks or an equivalent standard acceptable to the PLA. Inflatable kayaks and canoes should not be used for commercial operations below Putney.

Stand-up Paddleboards

Stand-up Paddleboards should be constructed by a reputable manufacturer to an appropriate standard acceptable to the PLA.

Vessel licensing

The Vessel Licensing team work to ensure that vessels operating commercially are appropriately licenced in accordance with the PLA’s statutory licensing duty.

Under this process:

  • reminders will go out two months before a licence is due to expire;
  • bookings for vessel surveys will be made directly with the marine surveyors; and
  • applications for licences will be made through the PLA’s Planning and Development Department.

Applications for a vessel licence will only be accepted with an appropriate up-to-date survey certificate. The application form should be completed and submitted with the Certificate of Survey to [email protected].

For modular pontoons, the modular pontoon application form should be completed and submitted with written approval from the surveyor to [email protected].

The application fee must be paid using the PayPal button before any application will be considered. Please include the name of your vessel in the box provided.

GPS Iberia Licensed boat

Vessel Name:

Vessel licensing FAQs

Do I need a PLA licence?

All commercially operating vessels navigating, working or mooring within the Port of London limits are required to hold a licence issued by either the Port of London Authority (PLA) or an alternative licensing authority.  If the vessel currently does not have a valid licence, then the vessel will be required to be licensed by the PLA. Should the proposed vessel hold a licence, other than a PLA licence, then please contact the Vessel Licensing team to ensure that it is an appropriate licence for this category of water.

Will my vessel be commercially operating?

A vessel is deemed to be commercially operating if a gain or other reward is received for services rendered.  Examples of commercial activities include private vessels used for chartering purposes, vessels hired out to events organisers, vessels engaged in filming works and vessels engaged in hydrographic or survey work.

What type of licence will I require?

The PLA licences vessels to different categories depending upon their type of operation. Click here for details of the licence categories and periods of inspection.

What Survey Standards apply?

The PLA utilises nationally recognised standards for Inland Waterways vessels, which have been developed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and industry representatives. 

For Passenger Boats (carrying 12 or less passengers) the PLA uses the Inland Waterway Small Passenger Boat Code

For non passenger carrying vessels, the applicable standard is the Thames Freight Standard, which can be viewed here.

How much will it cost to licence my vessel?

Each vessel is subject to a charge for completion of an initial inspection. Should the vessel require a remedial inspection due to deficiencies noted during the initial inspection, then an additional remedial charge will be levied. Vessels are required to be inspected out of the water at set periods depending on the type of vessel, and this inspection is subject to charge. A charge is payable on application for a licence once the appropriate survey certificate has been granted.

What do I need to do to licence my vessel?

First you will need a PLA survey to be completed. The vessel survey application form may be downloaded here. Complete and return to the Vessel Surveying team. They will contact you to discuss further the intended operation of your vessel and arrange for an inspection to the relevant standards. Once a successful inspection has been carried out, the appropriate certificate will be issued.

Once the vessel has received the appropriate survey certificate, a licence application form should be completed and submitted to the Vessel Licensing team along with payment of the application fee. The team will assess the application and grant a PLA licence for the vessel to operate when they are satisfied with the information provided.

How long will it take to get my vessel licence?

The PLA aims to issue a vessel licence within 10 working days of receipt of a valid application containing all the relevant information listed above.

Vessel surveying

2 PLA Marine Surveyors with a vessel


To contact vessel surveying via; Telephone: +44(0)1474 562200 or Email: [email protected]

Inspections are undertaken by two qualified Marine Surveyors, who work closely with owners and operators to ensure that the required safety, technical and competency standards are met.

Vessels are assessed against the Thames Freight Standard, a nationally recognised technical standard for Inland Waterways non-passenger vessels; and the Inland Waterways Small Passenger Boat Code, as appropriate.

To request a survey, please complete the survey application form and return to [email protected].  The Vessel Survey team will then contact you to discuss further the intended operation of the vessel and arrange for an inspection to the relevant standards.

Our Marine Surveyors are also able to provide services for third parties on commercial vessels which include:

  • New build consultancy services
  • Inland Waterways Certification
  • Insurance surveys

Surveys can be completed anywhere in the UK and Europe, usually within two weeks of receiving instruction.

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