Holidays on Canal Boats

Why choose a canal boat holiday?

Flight delays, fluctuating exchange rates, holiday tummy, irritating holiday songs that are belted out by over enthusiastic holiday reps. Not everyone’s idea of the ideal way to slow down and de-stress that everyone needs, for at least one week of the year.

A narrowboat holiday is a recipe for relaxation; a sure fire way to get back to nature, spend quality time with your family and to discover (or re-discover) the delights of the countryside.

What’s more, concerns about carbon emissions and damage to the environment are at an all time high, making the choice of a narrowboat trip one of the best ways of reducing the carbon footprint of your holiday.

Is there anywhere I can try it out first?

Hotel Boats

Canal Voyagers describe a hotel boat holiday as ‘great for couples, singles, stressed executives & minions, seniors, groups; just about anyone who wants to relax and be pampered in pleasant surroundings. Your company on a hotel boat holiday may be pleasant like-minded fellow passengers, or you could have the hotel boat and crew to yourself, or shared with your friends and family.

Ideal if you don’t want to be physically active, are travelling alone, or just like to be looked after on holidays!’

Family groups can charter a whole hotel boat (or half of the pair) which can be ideal for a larger group.

They run two hotel boats, Snipe and Taurus. Every week offers a new adventure and guests can visit different waterways at different times of year. See London’s canals in Spring, explore the rural Kennet and Avon in Summer or combine a cruise with a theatre performance in Shakespeare’s Stratford in Autumn.

Fully Catered and Crewed Narrowboat Holidays

Wandering Duck was started by Mark Bratt and his wife in April 2010.  They offer short breaks (2/3 nights) on a 69ft Narrowboat, ‘Wandering Duck’ which is fully catered and crewed.

It’s similar to a hotel boat, but with bunk beds, and generally for the younger and more budget-concious.

It’s ideal for someone who doesn’t want to steer their own boat (though they often have a go).  Wandering Duck run scheduled trips for individuals, and also do charters for small groups (birthdays and things).

They are neither a hotel boat, nor a hire boat, but are creating a whole new concept in narrowboat holidays – skippered hire or hostel boat.

Hire the whole boat with your friends, or go on your own and meet like-minded people.

Have a go at steering, help out at the locks, or kick back with a beer. It’s about zero stress, just a good time.  Find out more at or on Mark’s blog at

What will I find on the waterside

Canals and rivers are beautiful in themselves, but the inland waterways’ unique appeal comes just as much from what you’ll find on the waterside. Rich in pubs and restaurants, quiet country villages, wildlife sites, museums, and countless more attractions. Discovering life on the other side of the towpath is one of the things that sets inland cruising apart from offshore boating, drawing increasing numbers of visitors to the waterways every year.

However it needn’t all be quiet countryside and unhurried cruising. Waterways flow through some of Britain’s liveliest cities: the Thames through London is lined with attractions, while Birmingham and Manchester have canalsides alive with night-time entertainment.

What do I get when I hire a boat on Britain’s waterways?


  • Comfortable boats, fully-fitted kitchens, double beds and electricity.
  • Thousands of miles to explore – gently flowing waters or canals that climb steep hills as in the Pennines. Not to mention the world’s first and only rotating boat lift, the Falkirk Wheel, in Scotland, .
  • Steering is easy and full tuition is provided
  • Safe and fun for children
  • Hundreds of attractions and pubs by the water
  • Pack your bags and cast off!

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FAQ About Canal Boat Holidays.

How many people can holiday on a Narrowboat?

Narrowboats are available in all sizes up to 70ft length, while fibreglass river cruisers – as found on the Norfolk Broads and River Thames – are usually shorter but wider. A large boat can accommodate up to 12 people.

You don’t need a big crew – a boating holiday can be enjoyable for a couple while a larger party might enjoy a canal with many locks to work. Planning your route in advance will allow you to choose a route where you operate any locks you encounter or where they are operated for you. Boaters Guides and maps can be downloaded from websites such as

Can I take pets on my canal boat?
For a small extra charge most canal boat hirers will allow pets – however it is worth checking whether this is allowed and whether there are any extra charges involved. There may be a limit of two pets per boat. Hotel boats often do not allow pets.

Do I need any experience?
No. Steering is easy on cruisers and narrowboats and you’ll quickly get the hang of the controls. Your hire-fleet operators will explain everything to you before you set off. There is no driving test to pass. Still anxious, or want to take things further? A number of companies offer training courses, often aimed at owners.

Do I have to steer myself?
Most holiday boats are self-drive, although you can take a holiday on a hotel boat. On these an expert crew do everything from steering the boat to cooking the meals, even down to stopping off at what they consider to be the best spots on your route.
Hotel boats cruise the length and breadth of the waterway system every year, making it easy to choose your favourite area for a truly relaxing holiday.

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How long is the holiday?
It’s up to you. Saturday to Saturday is the most common but most periods and start days are available such as a short midweek break, long weekend or an extended cruise lasting a fortnight or more! If the first operator you contact can’t accommodate your preference there are plenty more.

What should I take?
Like caravans, self-drive boats are self-catering. You’ll need to take or stock up on food and drink. The hire-fleet operators can tell you where the nearest supermarket is. Don’t buy too much, since part of the fun of a boat holiday is discovering the delights of local shops – and pubs!

Warm clothing is a must, even in summer as the nights can be cool. You should also bring footwear that is suitable for walking on deck without slipping and for walking on towpaths. Don’t bring anything you’d be upset at getting mud on!

Your boat will have the usual cooking facilities (microwave, hobs, oven, grill) and a fridge, possibly with a small freezer compartment so don’t buy too much frozen food.

While bed linen is usually supplied you will probably need your own towels. If not agreed when booking then the operators should send full details before your holiday.

You should check the power supply as while top-of-the-range boats have a 240V connection, other boats will have a 12v supply.

Many boats have a rating from one to five stars, reflecting the facilities offered and the quality of accommodation – just like hotels or B&Bs.

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How far can you go on a Canal Boat Holiday?
While the speed limit on canals is 4mph you can expect to average about 3mph. Allow a minimum of 15 minutes to negotiate each lock, though an experienced and energetic crew can often manage in much less.

You can expect to cruise for anywhere between three and seven hours a day, on up to six full cruising days in a standard one-week holiday. Generally operators do not permit people hiring their craft to cruise at night.

Operators often offer one-way trips along particular routes, allowing you to see an entire canal in a week.Or you can plan an out-and-back voyage, turning back halfway through the week – the scenery always looks different on the way back! There are also maps available detailing ‘cruising rings’, circuits comprising several canals.

To help you navigate easily and discover the surrounding countryside, the hire-base will offer a good range of maps and canal guides. or you can possibly download these from the Internet on sites such as

Where do I stop for the night?
Mooring is free on most canals, although where the banks are privately owned, as on the Thames, you may have to pay a small fee. Find the spot that appeals to you, and tie up for the night.

There are also specially designated ‘visitor moorings’ at popular places, although there may be time restrictions of up to 48 hours.

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Where can I refuel my canal boat?
As boats use very little fuel, and the hire-base will have sent you out with a full tank, you are unlikely to need to refuel.  Residential boats can have fuel delivered by the supplier.  It’s always better to check fuel consumption against the distance you are likely to cruise over with the hire company to make sure you won’t run out – and what do do if you have a problem.

Water is a different matter – you will need to fill up regularly at some of the many water taps provided along the canals for this purpose.

If you’re on a longer cruise, you may need to have your toilet tank pumped out. Most boatyards can do this for you at a charge.


Where do I leave my car?
Your hire-base is likely to have secure parking facilities where you can leave the car for the duration of your holiday.

If arriving by train it might be worthwhile asking the boat operator to organise a taxi.

What will I do all day?
If you stay on your boat, which is highly unlikely, there’s lots to see, including waterway wildlife, beautiful scenery astonishing architecture, canalside pubs and villages. You’ll never be bored.

Many canals and rivers flow through Britain’s biggest cities as well as countryside, taking you close to thousands of great tourist attractions. These will often be detailed on the maps and a bit of additional research will unearth even more of interest to you.

It is safe to swim in some waters, but check local currrents and make sure to stay away from the boat’s exhaust.  Carbon dioxide is clear, colourless and deadly.  On a still day it will not be blown clear of the exhaust pipe very quickly.

What should I do next?
Take the plunge and start looking for your ideal boating holiday.

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Taking a hotel boat holiday
What is a hotel boat?
A hotel boat is most probably a larger model canal narrowboat on which you have all the usual attractions of the canal boat holiday with none of the responsibility. They generally do not allow pets. Crew will look after everything on board for you – navigating, steering, locks, cooking and cleaning. They have been around for years but are one of the best kept secrets of the canals.

What happens on a hotel boat holiday?
Each hotel boat caters for groups of up to six or eight. Apart from the luxury of your boat being taken care of for you the added advantage is that your crew will be likely to have a wealth of local knowledge of the most interesting stopping points on your route. Companies often provide sample menus along with other information pre-booking.

Boats normally begin to cruise after breakfast. Since everything is being taken care of for you, you can choose whether to step ashore and stroll along the towpath or simply sit in comfort onboard, watching out for wildlife. If you feel energetic and wish to lend a hand with the working of the boat or locks, you will often be welcome to do so.

Can I get off the boat?
Most hotel boats make a point of stopping at local attractions and places of interest, mooring near a friendly waterside pub in the evening. During cruising times guests are free to hop off the boat and walk along the towpath – you may arrange to be picked up again at a certain point. Check arrangements before booking.

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