Narrow Boating Basics

A Narrow Boating Article.



Narrow boats were originally designed to carry cargo on the canals of Great Britain and where flat bottomed, long and narrow. The narrow boats of yesteryear where built to carry as much cargo as possible so all of the internal area was used for this purpose. The boat man and his family lived in a very small area on board and sometime they even lived on a separate small boat a 'butty' which was towed behind.

Although the narrow boats of today are built to principally the same design they are very different inside. Narrow boats of today have all the comforts of home they have and hot and cold running water and central heating. The kitchen, or galley, is usually fully equipped with a fridge, microwave cooker and all of the crockery, cutlery and utensils you will need. The saloon areas are very comfortable and the lounge area usually has a TV/DVD as well as a radio and CD player.


This is largely dependent on which boat you hire, so check out the details for each boat.

The Narrow Boat CrewTHE CREW

When choosing a narrow boat holiday think carefully about who will be travelling with you.

We have a wide selection of boats which can sleep 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 people

The 2 berth narrow boats are ideal for a romantic getaway whereas the 12 berth boats are ideal for a group of friends who want a short break.

Some of the narrow boats have 2 full bathrooms and some sleep 8 people which are ideal for two families sharing the costs.

Because of safety and licensing regulations you can not 'over man' the narrow boat so, people equal berths, for example you cannot travel with 5 persons on a four berth boat.

Narrow boating holidays are suitable for almost everyone but the boats do require two fit adults to be on board


Narrow Boating is a great holiday for dogs, the traffic free towpaths allow you to take some lovely walks and because the narrow boats only travel at about 3 or 4 miles per hour it is not difficult to keep up when you want to walk your dog along side. Many canal side pubs welcome dogs, with well behaved owners. Not all boats allow pets on board and there is usually an extra charge for taking pets. Please see boat details for more information.


The canals were originally constructed to meet the transportation needs of a newly industrialised country and the traditional form of transport on the canals was the narrowboat. Most of the canals were built with locks just 7 ft wide and 70 ft long and this meant that a particular style of craft was developed to navigate along them. These boats where, and still are, are known as narrow or canal boats. Today the canals are much the same as they were in their heyday but, due to an extensive restoration programme, they offer a whole new era in the leisure industry.

The canals meander their way through miles and miles of unspoilt countryside, as well as passing pretty villages and vibrant cities. The countryside looks so different from the water and there is something new to see around each bend. With over two thousand miles of fabulous navigable waterways to choose from, each one unique, there will be a holiday to suit you. You will be travelling at around 3mph so everything happens at a much more relaxed pace, don't expect to get anywhere quickly. Narrow boating will transport you back to a time when travelling from Birmingham to London took 12 days and what were once the 'motorways' of the 18th century are now tranquil corridors providing a leisurely way of travelling from place to place.


Cruising on a river is more or less the same as navigating the canal system and since they frequently interconnect you can reach some of our favourite rivers on a Narrow Boating Holiday. River navigations are considered easier than the canals mainly because they have less locks and there is more open space which makes steering easier. There may even be less work to do as some river locks tend to be either automated or operated by lock keepers. If you choose to River cruise your narrow boat should be equipped with an anchor and an adequate length of chain. Three of the most most popular rivers you are able to cruise on a Narrow Boating Holiday are The River Thames, The River Avon and The River Severn.

A model of a lockTHE LOCKS

Locks are marvellous feats of engineering that sometimes scares first time narrow boaters... but don't worry as after the your first one you will be an expert.

Basically a lock is a chamber that you take your boat into to either go up or down so you just need to empty or fill the chamber accordingly so that the canal boat is on the same level as the water in front.

Locks are all part of the fun of a narrow boating holiday and operating them is an activity that the whole crew can get involved in. However, if the thought of the locks do not appeal to you check our our 'lock free' canal routes.


Going up

Open the gate and take the boat into the lock and close the gate behind the boat. Using your *windlass open the sluice gate and allow the water to flow from the top pound into the lock. The boat will then rise as the lock fills with water. When the water level inside the lock is the same as the water level ahead in the canal open the top gates and take the boat out. Close both the sluice gate and the lock gate behind you to preserve water.

Going down

Open the lock gate and take the boat into the lock, remember to close the gate behind the boat. Open the sluice gate with your *windlass and allow the water to drain out of the lock. The boat will lower as the water level in the lock drops. When the water level inside the lock is the same as the water level ahead in the canal open the bottom gates and take the boat out. Close both the sluice gate and the lock gate behind you to preserve water.

Water will always flow downhill and when the lock gate is closed against the pressure of the water the gate will not open until the water level is equal on both sides. Travelling through a lock will take approximately 10 to 20 minutes depending how big the lock is.

Your boat should be equipped with a *windlass to enable you to operate the locks mechanisms.

Some lock terminology which will help you during your narrow boating holiday

Chamber - The main feature of a lock, it is a watertight enclosure which can be sealed off from the pounds at either end by gates.

Cill - A ledge inside the lock on which the gates sit. Gates are watertight doors which seal off the chamber from the pounds. Each end of the chamber is equipped with a gate made of oak, elm or steel.

Guillotine lock - A lock where the gate is wound upwards like the blade of a guillotine.

Lock flights - A series of locks in close enough proximity with a short pound in between.

Lock Keepers - Some locks are operated or supervised by professional Lock Keepers, in particularly where locks are large or have complicated features.

Pound - The level stretch of water between two locks.

Rise - The change in water level effected by the lock.

Sluice - Trapdoors which let water in or out and are situated in the lock gate or on the side wall of a lock, are also know as paddles.

Staircase Lock - Used when a very steep gradient has to be climbed and where the bottom gates of one is the top gates of the next.

Winding gear - The mechanism which allows the Sluice, paddles, to be lifted (opened) or lowered (closed).

*Windlass - Also know as the lock handle or iron it is a spanner like tool used for opening and closing locks


The Routes

Once you realise that there are over two thousand miles of canals and rivers to choose from, the choices may seem bewildering but don't worry pop to our cruising suggestions where we have shown routes for each starting location.

The route you choose will depend on your crew and there are hundreds of options open to you whatever your requirements


One of the great advantages of taking a narrow boating is that you can do as much or as little as you like.

Children love the canals as there is so much to keep them busy. There are locks to operate, bridges to open and they can, with adult supervision, even take a turn at steering the boat

A narrow boating holiday is perfect for fishermen as you do not need to lug your gear far, just step off your narrow boat. You are allowed to fish on the canals at any time of year but a Rod Licence is required which you can purchase from a post office, or online at the Environment website,

If you like sightseeing you can visit cosmopolitan cities, vibrant towns, historic canal side hamlets or quaint country villages. Visit a Tourist attractions, you will be spoilt for choice do you choose a state of the art science centre or an ancient ruin steeped in legend.

There are countless pubs on route some have moorings directly outside and some are just a pleasant stroll away. They offer a wide range of good food and real ales and all welcome narrow boat users and their families. Imagine the evenings spent in a local in good company, eating good food and drinking real ale all this with your floating home moored only a few feet away.

You will find everything on route from large supermarkets to small farm shops selling fresh local produce. Part of the fun of a Narrow Boating Holiday is stopping on the way to stock up with fresh provisions and local delicacies.

Suggestions to get the best from your Narrow Boating Holiday

We recommend that your luggage is of the soft bag type, a large suitcases are difficult to store on the boat. When this is not possible we suggest that you unpack and then leave the suitcases in the car.

Do not bring your best clothes it is not a holiday where you need to dress up. Be practical and remember to bring something warm and something waterproof. Comfy, flat, non slip shoes are essential.

You may like to pop in a pair of gloves to use when operating the locks, gardening ones are ideal

Purchase a canal map or guide book, such as those published by Nicholson or Pearson's that cover the area you will be cruising.


The kids will not be bored as there is always something for them to do on a Narrow Boating Holiday.

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