First Time Canal Boat Holiday? Top Tips For First Timers

by - Saturday, February 02, 2013

Canal boat holidays offer a unique travelling experience and are a great way to see some of Britain's most fantastic countryside while learning a whole new skill too. For first-timers there are a few different skills to master and following the tips below will help you get the most out of your trip.

Where to Go

The purpose of canals was to originally link major urban centres and cruising through post-industrial Birmingham isn't everyone's idea of fun. So make sure to choose a canal boat route that traverses a more rural environment, such as in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire or Norfolk.

A Good Guide

Once you've chosen your destination, a good guide to the waterways that you'll be using is essential and will help you to navigate as well as plan stops for pubs, shops and attractions.

A Reasonable Pace

Planning out your route is crucial so that you can manage your time effectively and maximise your relaxation and enjoyment. Rushing at a lock is not pleasant and neither is cruising from dusk till dawn; instead, aim for about six hours of travel time a day.

Mooring Up

Linked to decisions about pace and distance is making the choice about a mooring spot. Particularly scenic areas are going to be popular and outside a nice pub might seem ideal until time is called. If you see a good spot, it might be best to grab it, as turning round is rarely easy.

In Control

Both of the above points link to making sure you have control of your boat at all times; there are no brakes and putting the engine in reverse isn't a very adequate substitute. There can only ever be one skipper and his or her word has to be law throughout.


These are perhaps the biggest challenges facing first-timers on the canal. The most important tips here are to focus, exercise caution, keep an eye on any children and don't be afraid to ask for help. Also, don't tie your boat up, as that won't be good when the water all disappears.

Stay Safe

Locks may be the biggest hazard you'll encounter, but safety is crucial throughout your trip. Lifejackets are a must and should be checked regularly. If sunbathing on the roof, watch out for low bridges and if walking along the sides, keep one hand on the boat at all times.

Stocking Up

Space is at a premium on most narrow-boats so it is not always possible to keep a large stock of provisions on board. Prioritise essentials such as bread and milk, plan stops where you can stock up and be prepared to eat out as well as cook meals.

Whatever the Weather

As with any British holiday, canal boat holidays throughout the UK are subject to the weather. Be prepared to travel in chilly rain or boiling sun and be aware that someone [usually two people] are going to have to be responsible for controlling the boat, whatever the weather.


Keeping the whole family entertained on holiday is a real knack and while adults may be happy enough just watching the world go by, cabin fever might set in for youngsters on the boat. Getting everyone involved in the boating itself is a great option, whether that involves steering, navigation or cooking.

Overall, a canal boat holiday can be a completely unique and brilliant experience and sticking to the tips listed above makes sure it is full of happy memories and not full of mishaps and accidents. The most important thing is to always stay safe.

The Author: Betty Roland - the fanatic explorer from the UK.

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