The most important and singularly most expensive part of the narrow boat is the engine, which can be damaged by winter frosts and poor maintenance.

Engine maintenance needs to be carried out regularly on a narrowboat
Most narrowboats will have a diesel powered engine
Narrow boat engines are very expensive to replace; regular maintenance is vital

Engine Maintenance… What Do You Need To Know?

The engine on your narrow boat is essentially the most important piece of equipment as it enables you to cruise, charges your batteries and supplies hot water.  Unfortunately many narrowboat engines are neglected until it’s too late and involves a costly repair bill. Routine maintenance is essential to keep the engine ticking over efficiently. Regular checks of the oil and water levels and ensuring there are no leaks will benefit you in the long term and will hopefully ensure you have trouble free cruising on your narrow boat.

Engine Oil Changes

Most engine manuals will recommend changing the oil after a specified number of running hours, or for those who do very limited cruising, once per year.

If you have a newer engine which is under warranty, ensure you compile with the manufactures guidelines to validate your warranty.  If however, you have an older engine, outside of any warranty, you may not need to be as vigilant, particularly if your engine running hours are low.

A good visual check is to use a dip stick and look at the colour of the oil; if it is clean and clear then it is likely to be fine. However, if it is black this means it has collected carbon and dirt from the engine and should be replaced (not forgetting to also change the oil filter at the same time).

If you haven’t started your engine on your narrowboat for a while, it is advisable to run the engine for an hour to bring the oil up to temperature and also remove any condensation that has collected inside. If after an hour the oil looks opaque, this is a sign there is too much water in the sump and the oil and filter should be changed.

Many automotive oils on the market today are not suitable for engines fitted on older narrow boats due to the high level of additives. Always refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for the most suitable oil for your engine.


Changing anti-freeze is a very similar process as a car. Rather than a radiator to cool the car engine, you have a skin tank which utilises the flow of the river/canal to cool down the tank. As the skin tank is unlikely to be the highest point on the system, there is a risk of airlocks which will require bleeding; this is worth checking if your engine overheats.

Antifreeze is very damaging to the environment and water, so the up most care needs to be taken when draining the antifreeze to ensure none of it ends up on the canal or river.

Gearbox Maintenance

Always refer to the manufacturer’s engine manual to understand the maintenance requirements of the gearbox. The manual will specify the type of lubricating oil to be used, the capacity and the frequency of changing the oil.

Engine Maintenance

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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.