Narrowboat Basics
Narrowboat Basics

If you’re new to boating we’ve put together a list of boating basics.

Narrowboats, Widebeams and Barges

All narrowboats are 6 feet 10 inches wide.  Generally they are all made entirely of steel, although some older boats have wooden and sometimes even glass reinforced plastic (GRP) cabins.

Widebeams are wider than narrowboats and dutch barges are larger still.

Our canals are designed around narrowboats; with this type of vessel you can travel the whole waterways system, whereas you can’t do that with a widebeam because  many of the canals are too narrow.

Does Size Matter

This depends on your needs, the number of people who will be aboard and how much time you will be spending on the boat.  Generally speaking, a 30-40 foot boat is ample as a holiday boat, whilst a 50 plus foot boat is ideal for extended cruising or living aboard.  There is a myth that boats must be no longer than 57 feet long, because some locks have a maximum length of 60 feet. (for example the Calder and Hebble restricts boats to 60 feet and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal has a limit of 62 feet.)  But even if you buy a longer boat, you will be able take in most of the canal system.  If you’re not sure if a certain boat will suit you, just tell us where you want to take the boat and we can give you objective advice.

Choosing the right Stern

There are three main types of stern on narrowboats, traditional, cruiser and semi-traditional.

Traditional Stern

This is the smallest stern area offering the least external space, and stems from traditional working boats. Ideal for live aboard, typified by short back deck of 2-3 Feet in length, giving more room inside for living. Take a look at our YouTube video on this subject.


Cruiser Stern
These types of sterns offer a large expanse of external space, ideal for recreational cruising. An ideal holiday boat, a back deck of between 4-8 Feet in length, providing ample space on the back for several people to stand and socialise Take a look at our video.

Semi-Traditional Stern

A good compromise between traditional and cruiser; these have the looks of a traditional stern with the space of a cruiser. Take a look at our video. There are also two other types of narrowboat styles, these are ‘Tug’ and ‘Narrow beam Dutch Barge’. There aren’t as many of these types of boats on the market but we do get these come up for sale from time to time.

Tug Style Narrowboats

These feature a long front deck which is useful if you want more outside space. Some people believe that these are a bit of a waste of space, as most moorings are priced per length. Take a look at a picture of a Tug Style Narrowboat below.

Dutch Barge Style Narrowboats

Again we don’t often get many of these in for sale. The ‘normal sized’ Dutch Barges come from the Netherlands and were originally used to carry cargo. They are typically 15m to 40m in width, whereas this would be too wide to fit on most of the Inland Waterways. However a Dutch barge style narrowboat is the same width as a narrowboat (6ft 10”) but has the look of a Dutch barge. Take a look at a picture of a narrow beam Dutch Barge below.

Whats On Board

A quick guide to some of the services and utilities you will find on a narrowboat.  Hopefully this will help to guide your purchase based on what’s most important to you personally.  


All boats rely on a 12-volt supply from two battery banks.  One bank starts the engine (like a car battery); the other powers domestic items such as at TV, lighting and your water pump.

For 240-volt items, you need to connect from a shore or land line, plugging into an electricity supply where available.

Or you can use an inverter, which converts battery power to 240v.

The alternative is to buy 12-volt compatible fridges, TVs and so on; these are very efficient for boats but are also more expensive to buy.

Running Water

There is a water tank that you fill with a hosepipe, this feeds an internal system which gives you running water.  The pressure is obtained by a water pump.

On board tanks

You can heat domestic water from a holding tank or use for a pumpout toilet.  Tanks are either made from steel, stainless steel or plastic.

Hot water

You can heat domestic water by an instant gas water heater (such as a Paloma or diesel heater).

Or you can use a calorifier; this uses excess hot water from the engine cooling system or central heating boiler.

Diesel fired heating such as Webasto, Mikuni and Eberspacher also provides hot water.  

Toilets – two main types pumpout and cassette

Pumpout – These toilets flush, emptying into a holding tank and you have to pay pump-out costs, which differ from marina to marina. Take a look at our video.

Cassette – These toilets empty into a cartridge that you lift out and empty at any Canal and River Trust elsan point. Take a look at our video.

Engine – three main types

Air cooled- Like a car engine, these rely on a flow of air to keep them cool.

Keel cooled – The engine is cooled by the flow of water through a tank on the stern of the boat; most modern engines use this system.

Raw water cooled – Takes pumped water from the canal which is pushed around the engine and uses a heat exchange to cool it down.

Heating  - three main types (link to our blog about heating a narrowboat)

Heating type is down to personal choice. Many people like the dry heat of a solid fuel stove, but it takes time to prepare the fire; whereas gas and diesel provide almost instant heat.

Solid fuel stove – Such as a Morso Squirrel.

Gas central heating – Such as Alde.

Diesel fired heating – Such as Webasto, Mikuni and Eberspacher.

Appointing a surveyor

It is a good idea to get a survey done when you buy a boat, so that you can be confident that your boat is structurally sound.  You should pick a qualified surveyor.  We can give you a list of local surveyors if you need help in finding one. 

There are three types of survey;

Full pre purchase survey- which checks everything structurally and safety wise.
Hull survey- which checks everything related to the structural and insurance aspects of the boat.
Internal survey- this just checks the safety inside the boat.  

Running Costs of a Narrow Boat


There are two types of insurance

   1)   Fully comprehensive
   2)   Third Party

We recommend that you use a specialist marine insurance company as they will understand your specific needs.  For older boats that are over 20 years you may need  to get the boat surveyed  to get insurance.


Most waters are Canal and River Trust (CRT) controlled and you will need a current license to cruise them.  Take a look at the CRT’s website for the current license costs.


These are probably the most significant costs.  Mooring costs vary from location to location and facilities.  Each marina runs its own systems and set of rules.  Take a look at Canal Junctions website for a list of other marinas which have moorings.

The CRT also has linear moorings.  Take a look at their website for more information about linear moorings.


Heating costs vary depending on usage.  Webasto quotes a figure of 0.25 to 0.5 litres of fuel per hour, depending on the load.

The average gas system consumes in the region of 465g/H per hour, which means a 13Kg gas bottle will last for approx. 28 hours of continuous burn time.

Narrowboat fuel tanks are typically 200 litres.

Engine consumption is around 1 litre per hour of cruising.  


The costs of maintaining your boat can vary depending on usage.
At the very least we’d recommend you allow for an annual engine service; look after your engine and it will last forever (we’ve seen engines that are 40 years old and still going)..

It also makes sense to budget for a blacking of the hull every two years.  

Want to know more?

We’ve got a list of frequently asked questions for any further questions you may have.