I want to cruise Inland Waterways of Europe – do I need a licence?

We are asked this question so often we thought it would be useful to include a page on here to help everyone.

The simple answer is YES; what type of licence and how you achieve it may vary depending on which country you wish to cruise.  As a UK registered RYA training centre operating in France we have focussed on these two countries.  Wherever possible all the information set out here will be referenced and linked to the source regulations.

  • UK cruising onlypleasure craft are exempt from needing a licence in UK waters, but on the grounds of safety and enjoyment we wouldn’t recommend that.
  • Cruising in Franceall boat owners are required by law to have a licence if the engine power is 4.5kwh and over (6bhp), only hire boats are exempt.

The most direct route to get your required licence for France is to take the Permis Plaisance (Eaux Intérieures) at a French boat school – as long as you are happy to do so in French.  This licence is valid for vessels up to 20m in length.

If languages are not your forte and you need an English speaking route then the International Certificate of Competence (ICC) endorsed for inland waterways is accepted in France (and all European countries).  Valid length is discussed later.

The International Certificate of Competence (ICC)

The Inland Waterways ICC requires two elements of competence:

  1. Practical skills at the helm of a boat with power

There are several qualifications and certificate routes eligible for this, the RYA website carries a full list.  The most popular route is through the RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman’s course (unless of course the ICC also needs to be valid for Coastal waters)

  1. The theory of the rules and signs of Code Européen des Voies de Navigation Intérieure (CEVNI)

RYA training centres are authorised to provide a multiple choice examination of CEVNI in English.  This can be done online or whilst attending a RYA Helmsman course.

Our webpage on ICC introduction summarises the key aspects through ‘frequently asked questions’ with the answers linked to the RYA information in relation to eligibility criteria, list of exclusion and general advice about what categories there are.

Please also be aware that the UK ICC must state it is valid for 'inland waterways'.  Some may also have an upper restriction limit stated of 'up to 10m', so do ensure that your ICC is applicable for the length of boat you intend to pilot.

Validity of the ICC

Unfortunately this is the most confusing aspect of cruising in Europe; it varies across Europe, but for our purpose we will focus on France.  Please note that all references to legislation in the UK is specific for 'pleasure vessels'.

French boating legislation for ‘foreign licences’ is rather ambiguous and open to interpretation; there is no definitive application of licencing for visiting pleasure vessels on French inland waters.  This has led to a difference of opinion within the boating community and a measure of confusion.  To summarise as best we can:

  • French authorities accept a foreign licence to the same characteristics as the issuing nation, stated in legislation as 'reciprocal agreement' (Ref: DDT Toulouse, November 2017 and French Legifrance Order of 6 July 2011, Article 3)

This suggests that no licence would be required as none is required in the UK irrespective of length.  However, French regulations state a licence is required and the ICC is accepted.

There is an 'Equivalence' process in France whereby you may apply to the French authorities for a Permis Plaisance validating this application with your ICC (along with VHF and medical declaration).  The French authorities will issue you with a Permis Plaisance valid for vessels up to 20m, suggesting that there is a limit for the ICC, i.e. you will not receive the French licence for an unlimited length vessel for your ICC.

In the absence of acceptance limits being declared for the ICC in France it is reasonable to refer to the qualification requirements for vessels in the UK for the 'reciprocal agreement' to be considered.

  • UK inland waters regulations apply to UK categorised waters only, i.e. unlimited length on UK inland waterways   
  • However, boats outside of UK categorised waters (e.g. France inland waters) which are 24m> and/or 80GT> require a qualification as stated in MCA regulations, MSN 1858

Confusingly, these seem to apply to ‘sea going’ ships and 'yachts'; however, these Regulations do not exempt inland waterways and it is clear that the ICC is not an acceptable qualification for vessels 24m>/80GT>.  The RYA state that they are not aware that the regulations have been enforced with respect to additional licence requirements for boats 24m> but confirm that MSN 1858 applies in Continental waters, despite it seeming to be inappropriate for inland waterways vessels. (RYA January 2018).

We are continuing to seek a definitive statement of the requirements with respect to larger vessels and will provide updates when they are available.


To clarify, the ICC is accepted in France for UK visiting vessels up to 24m, this is without question. 

The debate is 'what happens in France with vessels 24m>?There is evidence to suggest that there is no restriction to length/weight AND that there is a restriction of perhaps <24m/80GT.


We appreciate this is not helpful to you if your dream vessel is 24m+.  You may wish to consider taking legal advice or a simple safe approach by getting the EGP licence which has an additional benefit of being widely accepted across Europe for vessels of unlimited length.


UK Shipping Regulations 2015Shipping Regulations 2015, Part 4, Pleasure Vessel exemption 

French Permis Plaisance Regulationshttps://www.ecologique-solidaire.gouv.fr/permis-plaisance-permis-conduire-bateaux-plaisance-moteur, will automatically translate in Google Chrome.  French Pleasure Boat Licence Requirements in English

France, Legifrance legislation for 'foreign boat licence holders', Article 3 https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000024386198

RYA UK  Inland Waterways categorisation RYA Inland Navigations

Maritime Coastguard Agency shipping regulations outside UK categorised waters: MGN 538; Section 6 and MSN 1858; Section 1