As someone that has been in and around the canal boat community for some time, red diesel has often been sighted as one of the great bonuses of canal boat life. But access to this cheaper fuel for boats has recently been changed, so I wanted to write a short article to update you all. If you are still wondering if you can use red diesel for your canal boat in 2023 please read on for all the details.
Can Canal Boats use Red Diesel?
Due to a recent change in April 2022, canal boats can no longer use red diesel as a means of fuelling propulsion of their craft. So engines that propel your canal boat are clearly a big no no! However, you can still use red diesel for heating on your boat. However, this is only applicable if it is fed from a separate tank and not the same tank that feeds your diesel engine. This was a grey area that a lot of people had thought might allow them to still use red diesel, but the government has firmly shut this down in their recent announcement.
However, there is a proposal ongoing at the time of writing that would act as a relief for people with only one tank. When paying for diesel for a canal boat, the charge would be split into a percentage for propulsion and another for heating. The current idea is that this would be split 60% propulsion and 40% heating. Therefore, you would pay 60% white diesel prices and 40% red. This would certainly help a lot of canal boaters if it did indeed go through.
Why has the Government Changed the Rules for Red Diesel on Canal Boats?
The UK government is under a lot of pressure to meet tight emission targets. The big picture is they want the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050 (or as they put it net zero) and have a lot of work to get there, in my opinion at least.
So by restricting the use of red diesel, they are hoping that, after being forced to use more expensive fuels, people may start investing in more efficient engines and eventually hybrid and electric canal boat propulsion. To be fair, you do see a lot of quite smoky diesel engines on the canals that people aren’t exactly in a rush to fix in most cases. So the government sees this as a slight ‘push’ in the direction of better carbon emissions.
What’s the Difference Between White and Red Diesel Anyway?
Red Diesel and white diesel are the same, it is just that the red diesel has a dye in it to make it easily identifiable. Traditionally used in agriculture, red diesel has less tax on it. In fact, the fuel duty rate for red diesel is set at 11.14p a litre. Compare that to 57.95p per litre for white diesel, and you can see why many canal boaters enjoyed using red diesel for so many years. White diesel is what diesel road cars use, so this extra tax was seen as almost like an extra road tax and a way to discourage over use of cars.
I Already have a Stack of Red Diesel, what Should I Do?
There are a lot of people that bought stocks of red diesel before this latest announcement in April 2022 and are wondering if it is still legal to use this in their canal boats. Technically, you should contact Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs department and declare that you have this red diesel, are planning to use it for propulsion and pay the extra duty on it. However, in practice I suspect a lot of people won’t do this as there currently aren’t a lot (if any) checks being made on canal goers regarding the status of their fuel. I am sure HMRC has much bigger fish to fry frankly (just my opinion, of course!).