A Guide to the UK Waterways

Which River Boats Can I Take on UK Waterways?

Dependent upon where you will find yourself travelling around the UK’s waterways, there are a few restrictions as to the type and size of boat you can use. Make sure you research which waterways you will mostly be in and understand the locks along the waterways that you may be manoeuvring around. You can check out the Inland Waterways Association for details on the waterways around the UK and the maximum size of canal boats that can access the waterways and navigations.

Cruisers on UK Waterways

Cruisers are usually fibreglass boats – most often seen on the waterways as something that is hired for a couple of weeks. Many of the cruising companies will provide these as holiday accommodation for two weeks. These boats come with many options to make maneuverability around the canals easy and generally these can be taken in most waterways due to their size.


Narrowboats were traditionally built in the narrowboats uk waterways18th and 19th century as working boats that were used to transport heavy goods around the UK before the advent of motorways and large lorries as we know them today. Narrowboats come in a few different shapes and sizes most notably differing across their stern.

A narrowboat must be less than 7 feet wide in order to be able to navigate most of the British canals. These days most are built to around 6ft 10 inches to account for the narrow locks in some areas of the country. Although the locks were intentionally built no smaller than 7 feet across, there are one or two areas where subsistence has had an effect on the width of the lock making it smaller and a very tight squeeze for some boats.

Wide Beam Narrowboats

A wide beam narrowboat is usually between 10ft and 12ft in width and although it provides much more comfort in terms of the amount of space you have onboard and of particular appeal to those experienced narrowboaters additional luxurious storage space, it does come with disadvantages.

The disadvantages are not huge, however it really comes down to a personal decision in the end as to how much you want to compromise on space and travel in the long run. There are some canals that you won’t be able to frequent, however, there are four main areas that you can stick to – London and the South, East Anglia, the Severn Waterways and the Trent and the North. Similar to the narrowboats, the wide beam comes in different models including a cruiser, semi trad and traditional sterns.

Costs will be higher than that of a narrowboat in terms of maintenance and mooring and these need to be taken into account when making your decision about which boat to invest in.

Static Houseboats

A static houseboat can be either purpose built or a converted commercial boat. These will usually have had the engine removed rendering them un-moveable and can be found up and down the UK waterways. They make an ideal character house and can be built upon to create multi-levels which some owners take advantage of to create master suites with terraced outside areas. One of the big advantages of a static houseboat is that they are plumbed and wired as with a normal house – particularly useful as they won’t be making trips up and down the river for electricity or water.

If you do think you may fancy a few weekend trips along the canals of the UK then you should probably avoid buying one of these boats because although they are allowed to settle on a permanent mooring, it isn’t possible to move them.

But we would recommend checking out what it is like to live on a canal boat.