Leisure cruising is becoming increasingly popular
There are now more boats on Britain's inland waterways than during the industrial revolution, according to a report by British Waterways.
More than 31,000 vessels cruised the network of 2,200 canals, rivers, docks and reservoirs last year.
The majority of boats are used for leisure purposes although some freight is still transported by waterways.
The Freight Transport Association says "canals are not an option" for deliveries that are time critical.
The report also indicates a 13% rise in the number of people using towpaths and walkways along rivers and canals for leisure reasons such as cycling, walking or simply visiting a waterside pub.
British Waterways has been responsible for water networks in England, Scotland and Wales since the late 1940s when the waterways were nationalised.
Many of Britain's waterways were created more than 200 years ago to move freight and goods around the country.
And rivers in east London are now being used to transport materials for the 2012 Olympic Park being built in the area.
Jo Tanner of the Freight Transport Association (FTA) said: "Moving freight to Britain's waterways obviously has its advantages, not least in terms of the environment, but there are restrictions too.
"While loads such as waste can be carried effectively and efficiently by water, for deliveries which are time critical, canals are not an option.
"FTA is supportive of moves to increase appropriate freight usage of our waterways, thus freeing up road-space for other users."
Later this year British Waterways will undertake a public consultation on its 10-year business strategy.
Robin Evans, British Waterways' chief executive, said: "The value of Britain's canals and rivers isn't in question.
"Their importance in today's society, including the numbers of people using them, their role in regeneration and their historical as well as environmental significance will make this an important public debate."