Narrowbeam, widebeam, dutch barge and cruisers are all types of canal boats you are likely to encounter on the UK waterways. Deciding which type of canal boat is most suitable for you will depend on many factors including cruising location, how you will use the boat and budget.

A narrowbeam boat is most suitable to the UK canal system
A dutch barge is one of the largest canal boats and most suitable for river or coastal cruising
Cruisers are often seen on the UK rivers and Norfolk Broads

Boat Types… Firstly Some Consideration

Boaters in Britain have the choice of cruising some 3000 miles of open waterways but as with most things boating, it’s not quite a simple as that.

The waterways range from rivers to man-made canals which were originally commercial transportation routes run by competitive entrepreneurs. As a consequence, depth of water, lock sizes and even bridge openings are not all the same size. Your choice of canal boat must take into account where you want to go.

Maybe a permanently moored live-aboard houseboat is a downsizing option you are considering, giving good access to your current employment and family. Perhaps you have the flexibility to travel whilst living aboard or maybe you simply want a get-away-from-it-all weekend retreat which gives you the flexibility to holiday with family & friends. Singles, couples and families all have specific needs and requirements.

With careful consideration and planning, almost anything is possible.

There are four main groups of canal-boat you will encounter on the waterways. Within these main groups are a myriad of shapes, sizes and interior layouts. We’ll try and give you an overview to help in the decision making.

Boat Types… The Narrowboat

A narrowboat is the most common choice for the explorer as their beam (width) is restricted to 6’10” or 2.1m. The right narrowboat can fulfill a boaters dream to cruise the UK network whilst offering home comforts and comfortable living space.

This means narrowboats can navigate both the wide and narrow locked canals found in the UK.

Their maximum length is 70’ although should you wish to travel the beautiful waterways of Yorkshire the smaller locks in this region mean passage is restricted to boats of approximately 57’ length or less. Narrowboats as small as 20ft are also available, particularly useful as a day boat or weekend retreat which are easy to handle and moorings are generally not an issue as they can be squeezed in almost anywhere!. See our Canal & River Guide for a comprehensive guide to pinch points on the system.

Commonly made of steel, but also of aluminum, wood and even concrete, narrowboats are the ideal choice for distance exploring. With their natural environment being the tranquil, meandering canal system be aware they do have limitations on tidal rivers.

Former working boats are a popular conversion to leisure use, with vintage engines on display in the engine room and an elaborately painted boatman’s cabin is an enthusiasts favourite.

Boat Types… Widebeams

A wide narrowboat style craft that by definition has a width greater than 6’10”.

Commonly 10’ to 12’ in width the extra living space is the obvious advantage. Widebeam craft are increasingly popular as a permanent live-aboard solution for those wanting something a little different to the local housing estate.

As individual as their owners, they provide a lifestyle choice which needs careful consideration should travelling be your priority. See our Canal & River Guide which details pinch points on the UK system.

You will find that internal systems are the same for both narrowboats and widebeam craft, the major benefit being the extra space on the widebeam.

Boat Types… Dutch Barges

If you are looking for residential use or longer term cruising in the UK and potentially Europe, then a Dutch Barge may be an option if you have the budget available.

The term ‘Dutch Barge’ is readily used and there are over 40 geniune Dutch Barge designs. A Luxemotor is the most common style and one of the earliest motorised designs. Passenger accommodation is in the stern of the boat, hence the name ‘Luxe’ and ‘motor’.

You may find former cargo boats which have been converted or brand new, built to order vessels ranging from 40ft long to in excess of 100ft, with widths from 10-14ft. The size of these vessels naturally mean you are limited with your cruising options so this should be considered carefully before any purchase. Our UK River and Canal Guide has maps to illustrate possible cruising limitations.

A Dutch Barge is arguably an elegant looking canal boat with a curved hull and a central or rear wheelhouse, which generally can be collapsed for travel under bridges. Many have a vee-section hull can be suitable for cruising estuary’s or even crossing the North Sea to France in calm weathers, but they are designed for the inland waterways and are not sea-going vessels.

Boat Types… The Cruiser

Commonly of fibreglass or timber construction, cruisers come in a variety of widths and lengths. Ranging from a tiny two seater with out-board engine to a luxury craft capable of both coastal and river use.

Their design & construction makes them Ideal for rivers. You will find cruisers common on the Norfolk Broads, Thames and wide canals.

Often less expensive to buy than the steel boats, they utilise the same marine systems as narrowboats and widebeams. Cruisers can be a good first option in to boating as they can be purchased relatively cheaply second-hand and mooring fees are low as they are generally based on length of vessel.

Cruisers can offer overnight accommodation but tend to offer less general habitation space than a narrowboat. Some very successful conversions of wider craft are available that do provide a live-aboard lifestyle.

Boat Types… The Trailer Boat

Commonly of aluminium or fibreglass construction and can be towed to any navigable waterway on a trailer.

In recent years manufacturers have produced scaled down narrowboat styles which offer a unique blend of traditional lines with the advantages of relatively easy transport on land.

Despite their diminutive size, trailer boats offer all of the conveniences of modern boating in a highly portable package. Modern engines & habitation systems mean that often the only compromise is the lack of a permanently made-up bed.

For many owners the ability to explore previously inaccessible part-restored canal systems is what it’s all about.

Boat Types

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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.