The charity making life better by water

It's all in the planning - festive fun in a floating home

Festive celebrations on a cosy narrowboat sound idyllic, but what is it really like to be responsible for seasonal cheer in such a restrictive space?

Christmas on the canal

Debbi from our charity’s boating team shares her tried and tested tips for hosting festive fun in a floating home.

The festive season can be quite stressful if you're entertaining and this usually involves quite a bit of planning. If you're entertaining on a boat, then it's doubly important to remember the planning stage, otherwise things will go wrong, and believe me they can go very wrong!

Here are a few things I've learnt from hard experience and fellow boaters. If this is your first festive season onboard, you may find this blog useful as a means to prevent expensive repairs and ruined friendships.

Be prepared!

'Be prepared' is not just a motto for scouts and guides but most definitely for boaters too. Let's start with the essentials and as a boater, trust me, you need to think about this lot before you even start thinking about food.

You need to prepare for guests onboard in very much the same way that you need to be prepared for bad weather or a long cruise.

  • Water tank full?
  • Fuel tank full?
  • Gas bottles full?
  • Batteries fully charged?
  • Toilet tank/cassettes empty?
  • Plenty of fuel for the solid fuel stove or heating system?
  • Medicine chest/First Aid cabinet stocked up?
  • Mobile phones charged?
  • Carbon monoxide/smoke detector working?
  • Emergency lighting? (solar lights, wind-up torches and candles/tea lights in glass jars, and don't forget the matches!)
  • Tool kit & spares

Running out of any of the above can lead to frosty relations and frayed tempers even before an excessive amount of festive spirits have been broached. We once ran out of gas halfway through cooking Christmas dinner. It would have been a very miserable Christmas Day if we hadn't have been moored within trolley walking distance of a petrol station selling gas.

Christmas Tree

Stocking up for the big day

In the run-up to the big day, try and do your advance shopping while your boat is moored within an easy trolley or bike trailer run of the shops, or a suitable drop-off point for an online shopping service. Tinned food and drinks, bottled water (for your fussy guests who won't drink from the water tank), root vegetables, and anything alcoholic is always much heavier than you think, especially after a mile or so down a muddy towpath on a freezing cold day. If you haven't got a shopping trolley, a small roll-along suitcase is surprisingly adaptable, although you do tend to get some strange looks in the shops.

Buy the perishable goods as late as you can, it saves on fridge space which can be used to pre-chill drinks. When you need the fridge space, stash these chilled drinks in the coolest part of your boat. With any luck they will stay cold, especially if insulated in newspaper or similar. If the weather is cold you don't need to worry so much as you can use the free 'outdoor' fridge but be mindful of security. There are some Grinches out there who will spoil your Christmas given half a chance.

Share the load

If you really want a stress-free and fun Christmas dinner afloat, share the load with at least two other boats. As long as one boat has a large enough oven for the turkey it's much easier to share the task of creating a festive feast. One of my best ever Christmas Days in recent years was a shared lunch with boating friends after a sparkling frosty cruise along the Grand Union Canal.

Ask one boat crew to sort out starters, one to cook to the turkey and the other to cook the vegetables. Share dessert and cheese board duty between you all. With three boats, there should be sufficient fridge, cupboard and cooker space for everything you want for your perfect Christmas Day.

Train your guests

It's likely that your guests will be landlubbers who think it's perfectly normal to shower twice a day as well as putting wet wipes and other unmentionable items into your toilet tank. Before the water runs dry and the loo gets blocked up, they will need to be instructed in the ways of the boater.

You may even wish to initiate your guests into the joys of the sanitary station to help them appreciate the rules for using your boat toilet. This course of action is only really recommended for very good friends (with strong stomachs), or guests you'd really rather not have to stay.

Your guests will also need to be given instruction in how to safely embark and disembark, especially after that fifth cheeky little sherry.

Go boating

Stocked up, with tanks full and/or empty as required, it's time to take advantage of the festive window between navigation closures and go boating. Whatever you're roasting, whether it's the traditional turkey or something else, it will do well as a very slow roast. Put the bird in the oven on a low heat and don't forget the foil and plenty of seasoning. Grab some hot drinks and mince pies and cruise somewhere lovely for Christmas Day.

The waterways are a perfect place to relax and over the holiday season you'll find passing boaters and walkers are even friendlier than usual. Life and Christmas dinner are both always better by water.

Bon appetit!

Two women eat lunch next to the canal

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Last Edited: 04 December 2023

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