If buying a narrow boat shell / hull only is too daunting for you and your DIY skills, you may consider purchasing a sailaway narrowboat. The level of completion will vary from builder to builder.

Narrowboat sailaway ready for fitting out and painting
Sailaway lined narrowboat interior
A sailaway narrow boat is a popular choice for DIY enthusiasts

Buying A Sailaway… Is It The Right Choice For You?

By definition, you are buying a partly completed narrow boat shell which you can sailaway so it will have an engine fitted.

A canal boat sailaway will come in all common lengths and widths and will be completed to varying stages depending upon what the narrowboat builder/fitter offers. As we have seen, boats come in all shapes and sizes but to get to this stage, you will be reasonably confident of what you want style wise.

Confirm with your narrow boat builder you are happy with the steel thickness specification and positioning/supply of anodes, doors, hatches etc. We strongly recommend you have a full narrowboat design completed before purchase to ensure windows/door/electrics etc are in the correct position.

It is common for narrowboat builders to offer a range of options, depending on what the customer feels comfortable installing themselves and of course, cost.

Basic Sailaway

Canal boat sailaway specification is very much dependent upon the canal boat builder, but is likely to include:

  • Engine will also be fitted with one battery for power
  • Ballast
  • Floorboards
  • Windows
  • Front doors
  • Mushroom vents
  • Spray foam insulation

Sailaway Lined

Again, will vary by boat builder, but generally a narrow boat sailaway lined would be as per Sailaway Basic, plus:

  • Fully lined
  • Insulated
  • 1st fix electrics – 12v and 240v tails
  • Bulkheads
  • You may want to also ask the boat builder to install the stove and chimney.
  • Also consider asking for all the skin fittings to be completed (sink and shower outlets) as drilling outside holes in the water tight steel work is not for the faint hearted!

Sailaway Plus/Additions

The most “fitted” sailaways will be plumbed (radiators, water runs), painted and in some cases many include heating and electrical upgrades such as inverters and sockets. Check the narrowboat builders specification carefully to fully understand what is included in this package.

At an additional cost you may also consider having the galley and bathroom installed so that the canal boat is inhabitable to complete the remainder of the fit out.

Whatever you buy, ensure the package is complaint with the RCD, the installations have been done to BSS standards and that you get a shell which is CE marked, an owners manual and a declaration of conformity.

Recreational Craft Directive

The RCD is still applicable to sailaway narrow boats. The regulations changed as of 18th January 2017 and a sailaway can no longer be sold as ‘part completed’ with Annex IIIa declaration which stated that the craft met the essential requirements of the RCD up to the current build point.  From the 18th January 2017, Sailaways canal boats need to have the paperwork that is required of a ‘completed craft’ up to the current point of completion.

In summary, all craft passing from narrow boatbuilder to customer (or user) will have to be CE marked at this time, no matter what stage of completion the boat is at. Even a hull with an engine will require it to be CE marked. The only exception is for those building a bare shell/hull.  As this affects all boat builders, be aware of this if you are purchasing a sailaway after the new directive becomes mandatory in January 2017.

A word of warning if you are planning on buying a sailaway canal boat. Once any major alterations have been completed on the craft i,e the fit out has been completed, the boat needs to be reassessed (Post Construction Assessment) as the boat has changed significantly and the builders CE marking is only applicable up to a particular point of completion. Although a self assessment is possible, it is not recommended as the fitter would resume all responsibility as the manufacturer and it is also a lengthy and involved process. In the worse case scenario, it could mean you are held criminally responsible if the boat sank and there was loss of life. It is recommended that you appoint a professional to complete the post construction assessment, this would be at of cost of around £2000.

The only exception is if the sailaway is classed as a ‘home build’. This is a private individual building a boat either from a basic hull or as a sailaway, but they must keep the boat for private use for at least 5 years. However, you may find it challenging to sell the boat after 5 years without the relevant RCD documentation, builders plate and CE marking.

Our section on Certification will provide you with full information regarding the RCD. Please remember guidance and requirements constantly evolve, always refer to the governing bodies websites for full information.

Buying A Sailaway

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crick boat show 2024

(Saturday 25 to Monday 27 May 2024)


Britain's biggest inland waterways show.

Advance tickets can be ordered by phone and online until 12midday on Friday 17 May 2024. If you are planning to purchase advance tickets, we recommend that you do so well before this deadline to allow time for postal delivery.
Children 16 and under – free entry Saturday, Sunday, Monday

Trade & Preview Day – Friday 24 May 2024
Get ahead and visit The Fit Out Pontoon before everyone else on Preview Day!
Preview Day tickets are strictly limited to a maximum of 1,000 pre-booked visitors and give entry to the Show from 10am – 6pm on Friday 24 May.