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Home » Product & Planning Guide » Design Process » Designing the Layout of Canal Boats & Narrowboats


This subject is really fun but for those of us without a design background the concept can be overwhelming.

Read on for tricks of the trade that will ensure both you and your builder get the most out of your project.

There’s no denying it creating a refined design for a canal boat requires time, patience and commitment. Based on our own design experience in this chapter we aim to bring some structure to the design process and detail some valueable principles to follow.

We start the ‘Design Process’ with the ‘Identifying Your Needs’ section and reinforce again, this is where to begin, needs create considerations which in turn influence the design. For those that haven’t please download, print and fill in our questionnaire styled Canal Boat Requirements Checklist.
This is where the design process begins and the main challenge arises. With your Canal Boat Requirements Checklist in front of you, your initial consideration should be directed towards understanding whether you can house everything inside your boat. (If you are flexible on your boat length be prepared to see your boat grow and grow!).

So what’s the best way to work out whether your boat will accommodate your requirements? By drawing to scale, The Fit Out Pontoon have worked hard to make this process easy for you.

Within the next chapter ‘Scaled Drawing Downloads’ you can order exactly what you need. We'll produce, print & post fully customisable technical drawings sets matching your exact requirements. With over 1850 variations to choose from including different lengths, widths, sterns and bows.
How far do you need to take your design concept? This is a very good question and totally depends on your situation.

If you are designing a boat as a DIY project for you to build then the simple answer is the further you go into the design process the better. A well thought out design will without a doubt save you time, money and plenty of headaches in the long run.

If you are looking illustrate some initial design thoughts to present to your chosen canal boat builder then you only need to take the design to a point where your ideas can be logically presented. The boat builder can then developa concept for you based on your initial sketches.

There is no doubt about it the design stage is to many people, even professional boat builders, a daunting task. Don't panic about it let it develop over time try not to rush it as this will only hinder your creativity.

We have included here some pdf downloads of some design drawings we've created for boat builders to work and manufacture from. Don't be intimidated by these drawings they are here to help, guide and inspire you. This level of detail may well be more than you would actually receive from a boat builder prior a build! Take note of the different design methods used at different times to convey the individual design elements.   

69x11ft Plan View Layout Drawing 65x11ft Plan View Layout Drawing
69x11ft Electrical Details Switch Operations 65x11ft Detailed Views
69x11ft Window Hatch & Vent Dimensions 65x11ft Window Hatch & Vent Dimensions
69ft x 11ft Concept Drawing 65x11ft Pumpout - Pipework Configutation
Initially start by creating a list of your bulky items, then look to get their dimensional details...

Again, we’ve tried to simplify this process for you by creating a pdf download detailing the most common equipment dimensions. Click the following hyperlink to download our canal boat equipment dimensional data sheet.

Armed with these dimensions begin a jigsaw like task of arranging and rearranging the items until you begin to get some interesting layouts, pay special attention to those that make good use of the available space.

Keep this process basic just use outlines of the equipment as no doubt you'll run through many different configurations. Either use pencil so you can erase and rework the design or prefferably trace over previous designs, this way you can look over old designs and compare concepts side by side.

What we’ve found is one piece of the jigsaw often leads to another. For example the location of a bed can determine the position of a bulkhead wall which then creates a corridor or a doorway which then starts to create the foundation for the adjacent room.
As your concept starts developing you start to consider the flow through the boat. One path through the boat will generally be the dominant one. Try to make the journey through the boat interesting, in theory you could have a walkway all down one side of the boat but where’s the fun in that? By providing room breaks you creatively hint at more to come rather than having it all on show in a open plan layout.

The passage through the boat can also help determine a room’s layout. With this in mind start to think about what the most interesting elements are to each room and explore positioning them as the main focus. For example for the approach to a bathroom you’ve generally got a choice of three elements the bath/shower, the sink unit or the toilet. Two of these are clearly more appealing; the bath/shower or the sink unit, so one of these should become the focal point.
It’s about creating interest and using what you have to your advantage.

The photo above demonstrates key positioning of three items all complimenting the flow. The solid fuel stove invites a stay in the saloon, the cooker and hobs bring modernity to the galley and in the distance the shower is the focal point for the bathroom approach.
At the beginning your designs will almost certainly begin square and sharp edged, as they should be while the initial concentration is focused on positioning.

As you start to warm to particular design solutions consider adding curves to the layout. Curves helps create a softer more fluid feeling to the design.

Try applying radiused edges to your work surfaces and work tops, this can often 'round off' the design concept... Excuse the pun!
This may sound simple but symmetry play a key part in the design process. For example if your looking to create a run of storage consisting of a set of drawers and two cupboards try visualising the two cupboards either side of the drawers in the middle creating a symmetric solution that works well on the eye.

Take look at the three photos below, look for the symmetry within each, then try to impliment this theory within your design concepts.

Balance is another aspect that generally comes into play when refining the design concept.

A perfect example of this can be taken from our latest boat design where we had a pumpout toilet to work with and this required a space of 250mm behind the toilet. The initial thought was to extend the sink work top to run behind the toilet integrating the two elements together. This then left a bare space above the work top, into which the customer suggested installing two shelves.

This could have worked but did not take full advantage of the space. We looked at cupboards but the balance of the cupboard sizes to the rest of the furniture was too dominant, so the designed evolved further. The cupboard width was halved and shelving unit created on the opposite side which balanced the design and created even proportions with the rest of the room.

We've include an illustration our design drawings so you can picture the process. In essence at this stage you are playing with shapes, seeing how they relate and balance with each other.

With some thought and planning you can make clever use of spaces by giving them dual purposes.

A perfect example of this can be found in the above animation of our Widebeam Boat featured in our Build Diary section.
This animation demonstrates how a spare room can simply become an office or visa versa. The secret to this design was ensuring the desk area was created around the desired mattress size and the conversion method utilised the use of Desmo Legs readily available through marine outlets.

Try watching the video several times as there a lot to digest in a short time. Hopefully this animation will get your mind thinking and help create some inspiration.
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