|Shells & Sailaways
Shells & Sailaways 2018-11-09T17:01:34+00:00


With our sailaway design service you can be sure to recieve all the help and support required to plan you canal boat right up to its fully fitted stage. We’re very proud to be UK’s leading canal boat design consultancy and as such will take great care in ensuring we’ve planned your canal boat project to the Nth degree, because we know your canal boat can only be as good as it’s design!

The Fit Out Pontoon know all too well the decisions associated with buying a canal boat shell or sailaway can only be made with a detailed plan of the fully fitted boat and it’s internal layout. For example window, vent and hatch positions should absolutely compliment the internal layout, the sockets and switches need to be planned and positioned accordingly. Pipework and wiring runs need to be accomodated and thought through… Hopefully you get the idea! Below we’ll take you through our process in a little more detail.

Narrowboat & Widebeam Shells & Sailaways

Shell & Sailaway Design & Support Service

  • Protect your canal boat investment by planning its success
  • Unique service supporting you through the entire design & planning processs
  • Benefit from our expertise and experience and avoid preventable mistakes
  • With fully fitted plans you can start your build with confidence & reassurance
  • Hull/Sailaway detailed drawings created for the boat builder to work from
  • Gain impartial expert knowledge on all the shell and sailaway options
  • Support & guidance surrounding residential VAT exempt rulings
  • We openly share our dedicated suppliers to help you along with the fitout
  • British Marine Inland Boatbuilding Members

Buying a shell or sailaway can be a daunting prospect


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In recent years there has been a huge growth in the shell only and sailaway market, partly down to people looking for a cost-effective way to get on the boating ladder and secondly due to a surge in demand from those looking to put their own take on a canal boat interiors. Many shell and sailaway buyers are first time boat buyers, with little or, no knowledge of boats/boating. If you fall into either of these brackets you’ll quickly see when looking around and talking with boat builders the buying process for narrowboat or widebeam shells and sailaways is quite daunting, Boat Builders rely on your direction, you’ll need to understand all the options, evaluate which ones you’ll need, and as required where they’re to be positioned/installed. The secret to buying a canal boat shell or sailaway is planning, it’s how to avoid costly mistakes and steep, painful learning curves. The only way to make the decisions involved with a shell or sailaway is to plan the boat to a fully fitted stage and work backwards.

Back in 2014 The Fit Out Pontoon set out to dramatically improve the buying experience of canal boat shells/sailaways. We developed and introduced a tailored sailaway service consisting of a 1-2-1 design consultation, planning advice, a three stage design and  development process and the production of two technical drawing sets one for the boat builder with just the detail they require and the other illustrating the fully fitted boat detail to help manage the entire fit out process.

As an independent canal boat design consultancy we’ve directed over 150 boat builds. We know all the options, which of these will best suit your needs, how they are installed and any associated considerations. Combine this with our industry leading design and illustration skills and we’re sure you’ll agree we’re positioned perfectly to plan, and manage the design of your canal boat shell or sailaway.

Our sailaway design service is recognised throughout the boat building industry. The Fit Out Pontoon have frequently worked with many of the UK’s leading boat builders, production builders and bespoke builders, helping communicate customer ideas and concepts through our industry leading technical drawing skills.

Below we’ve added an example of a custom hull design to illustrate that The Fit Out Pontoon as well as working on your standard narrowboat/widebeam sailaway projects can comfortably get involved with bespoke sailaways projects. The project below was designed for a lovely couple looking for a dream floating home based at Henley-On-Thames. From the very start the clients were equally focused on the hull exterior design and shape as well as the internal layout/styling. Being very outdoor people the brief was to include a hardwood double glazed wheelhouse and a permanent outdoor entertaining area.

The illustration below shows the same boat above this time focusing on the sailaway additions detail, the specification the boat was delivered to the customer. This included the wheelhouse and windows, spray foamed and battened. lined out sub flooring and main partitions, with 230v and 12v electrics fully installed and a diesel central heating system.

The illustration below shows the same boat above this time focusing on the internal layout and wheelhouse detail, all to be added post delivery of the hull.



Canal boat shells are more commonly purchased by boat fitters without in-house steel manufacturing capabilities. As inferred by the name it’s just a steel shell you’re buying. This gives the benefit of huge flexibility and control over the entire fitout and provides the most potential for the cost savings or margins if looking to resell post fitout. On the flip side buying a narrowboat or widebeam shell requires the most amount of planning, work and capability. You’ll require a combination of skills/contacts/sub-contractors to take on the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fitting out and painting stages. In terms of purchasing you’ll need to buy pretty much everything so a detailed knowledge of the systems, products and onboard equipment is essential. Meeting the requirements of the RCD and BSS will need to be planned from start to finish and evidence of your compliance throughout will be beneficial when it comes to obtaining a RCD certificate of conformity (essential if the vessel is to be sold within 5 years).


For customers taking on a DIY fitout canal boat sailaways are much more appealing than a basic shell. They’re sold as a water tight units including many features; windows, ballast, sub floor, engine / drive gear, anodes and fender eyes, all fully battened and spray foamed. Many customers feel these additional items are better suited to the experts to fit and install and the difference in price can more often than not be justified. The fact the engine and drive gear is professionally installed, propshaft aligned and supplied with a complete warranty alone is very appealing. The project size is dramatically reduced and therefore the time involved and its considerably easier to find contractors to help with the remaining aspects of the build.


Even though this type of sailaway has an enhanced stage of completion they’re probably the least popular choice of sailaway. Sailaway lined canal boats come fully lined out with 2 full bulkheads and 1 half bulkhead and the 12v and 230v wiring tails positioned as specified. Most customer looking for a sailaway which has been lined out internally prefer the boat supplied with the 12v and 230v systems fully installed along with the plumbing and heating system and so order a sailaway additions (also know as a sailaway plus). However if you are confident or have someone at hand that can install the electrics and plumbing the sailaway lined option may well be appeal.


Most certainly the preferred route for DIY boat fitters. All the major components and systems are fully installed, tested and supplied with a manufacturers warranty. The boat internally is fully lined out with bulkheads fitted to specified locations. The boat is supplied to a completed stage comparative to buying a house. The project becomes much more familiar to first time buyers/DIY fitters as it’s focused around fitting a bathroom and kitchen and manufacturing/building any furniture and storage required for the bedroom and saloon.