What to Expect on Your Canal Boat Holiday


Canal boats, also known as narrowboats (and sometimes incorrectly referred to as barges or longboats) are easy to drive and suitable for the whole family. Each canal boat has heating, a well equipped galley, a toilet, shower and comfy beds to sleep in overnight. Some hire boats have a 'dinette double' - this means that like a sofa bed, the dining area converts to a double bed each night.

What's a Boating Holiday like?

A canal boat holiday is an outdoor adventure, you're likely to encounter locks, swing bridges, tunnels and aqueducts. Provided you have a rod licence, you can fish on most canals at any time of year. The close season on the rivers runs between 15 March to 15 June inclusive. Click to view an interactive map of the UK canals and rivers.

Canal boat holiday on the South Oxford Canal

Instruction on Arrival

You'll receive full tuition on arrival at your chosen marina. Don't worry, even if you've never been on a boating holiday before, you'll feel confident by the end of your first day. The tuition usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour and you'll have plenty of time to ask questions. There will be a boater's manual on board the boat for you and a contact number for the marina should you need it. You do not need to have a licence to skipper a boat, nor do you need to know how to drive a car.


Most of the UK inland waterways have locks, some more than others. You'll receive instruction at the beginning of your boating holiday and will be taught to understand how locks work. Essentially, locks are like lifts that transport your hire boat up or down a canal or river so that you can continue on your journey. Once your narrowboat is safely inside the lock and the gates are closed, you open paddles in the lock gate to let water pass either into or out of the lock to raise or lower the boat.

Locks on the canal


The UK has lots of canals and rivers, in England and Wales there are 1,569 locks and half of the UK population lives within five miles of a navigable waterway. Most canals were originally built to transport goods between towns and cities. Read more about city breaks by boat. A canal boat holiday is often described as 'the fastest way to slow down' and UK boating holidays offer a wide choice of rural routes. Click for more: boating holidays in England, canal boat holidays on the Welsh canals and canal boat hire in Scotland. You can also purchase waterways maps and guides online.


Pubs are one of the best things about a canal boat holiday. All boats have everything you need to self cater but you'll also find lots of waterside pubs and eateries. We recommend purchasing a guide to the waterway for more information about the pubs along your route. Most pubs are pet friendly and will allow dogs in the bar area.

Pub along the canal


When hiring your narrowboat, you can moor almost anywhere along the towpath side of the canal, as long as you're not causing an obstruction. Most moorings are free of charge and not booked in advance.

The Stern

The stern refers to the back or your hire boat, the bow is the front. There are three types of stern; 'cruiser', 'semi-traditional' and 'traditional'. You'll find that you have the most room on a cruiser stern, the whole family can usually stand at the back by the helmsman together. Cruiser sterns are also ideal if you are taking your dog on your canal boating holiday. Semi-trad sterns are perfect for families with young children as they provide somewhere to sit near the helmsman. Trad sterns are the most traditional, there is only room for the helmsman to stand at the back of the boat.


Call us on 01252 796400 for friendly advice or check our frequently asked questions about boating holidays.

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