Narrow Boating For the Disabled

A Narrow Boating Article.

Narrow Boating Holidays can be enjoyed by those with special requirements or by those who are less mobile. However for safety reasons it is normally a requirement that two of the crew are able bodied and are active enough to operate the boat and locks.

Narrowboats do what they say on the tin – they are narrow – at the widest points they are only seven feet. This is because they are still built to the same design as the working canal boats of yesteryear. The canals were originally constructed to meet the transportation needs of a newly industrialized 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.

Wheelchairs can present problems because of getting on and off, changes in levels and negotiating within the restricted confines of the boat. Towpaths too can be uneven and in some places not particularly wheelchair friendly. It is not possible to use a mobility scooter along side the canal as you are prohibited to use any form of motorised vehicle on the towpaths.

Some points to consider about a typical layout of a canal boat, unless converted, are


The Corridors and doorways are normally around 20" wide and not suitable for wheel chairs.

The step up onto the boat will depend on the height of the bank at the point where you moor. A gang plank is provided, for use when the boat cannot be moored close to the bank. The gang plank is narrow and only designed for walking on.

From the back deck, stern, access down into the cabin is quite steep. Some front decks have seats on each side which double as steps when boarding from the front of the boat.

Seating is mainly on low level settees and the tables fits in only one position.

Bathrooms are normally of restricted size compatible with the canal boat. Most showers have a step 18" high side.

Please note that because all power is supplied from batteries continuous availability cannot be guaranteed, important to remember if you need a power supply to equipment on which life depends. If you are intending to bring any of your own equipment normally you must obtain the permission of the boat owner.

Some canal boat companies have boats specially adapted with wheelchair lifts and aids for people with a range of disabilities. These canal boats are usually wider to provide improved manoeuvrability for wheelchair users and often have specialist built in facilities such as low level bunks and wide access boarding ramps. Some companies and trusts are also able to offer transfer hoists and hydraulic lifts. There are a number of charitable trusts and organisations that specialise in the provision of self-drive canal boats with special adaptation to facilitate wheelchair access or to allow crew with mobility difficulties. Some hotel boats and hire boats can cope, be clear about your requirements and most companies will go out of their way to accommodate you, or recommend somebody who can.

There are a number of specially adapted boats offering holidays for the disabled in canals throughout the UK. Check out the listings below for details.

QEWF Jubilee - Disabled access canal boat

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