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The charity making life better by water

All craft great and small

From miniscule to massive you’ll be surprised at the size of boat you can use on our canals and rivers. We support all boaters and holiday makers to make the most of our beautiful waterways, however long their stay.

Narrowboat moored in the sun at Milton Keynes on the Grand Union Canal

We believe life is better by water and we're working harder than ever to care for our ageing canal network so that as many people benefit from our waterways as possible.

Canoe or kayak?

The only difference between a canoe and a kayak is that a canoe is paddled with a single ended paddle and a kayak a double paddle. Either way this is an affordable way of owning a boat and getting fit and having fun at the same time. We've got loads of helpful canoeing and kayaking information on our website to help you get started including how to buy a licence.

Canoeing on the canal

Stand-up paddleboard

Stand-up paddleboarding is very much the newcomer to the paddle sports family but like canoeing or kayaking it's very accessible, easy to learn and becoming very popular. All the information on our canoeing and kayaking pages applies to paddleboarding too. There are paddleboarding groups around the country including some that combine the sport with volunteering at the same time by tackling the scourge of plastic pollution in our waterways.

Lizzie Carr, Plastic Patrol

Rowing boat

From messing around on the river à la “Wind in the Willows” to serious competitive sport, you have options aplenty with rowing from the River Tees to the River Lee and from the Weaver to the Severn, and all points in between. Same as a canoe or kayak, if you only put your rowing boat on the water when you are using it, you will only need to buy a short-term visitor boat licence. This makes rowing an affordable way of getting afloat. If you want to find a rowing club, check out British Rowing if you live in England, or Welsh Rowing if you live in Wales.


Sail boat

Not necessarily the first type of craft that springs to mind when you think of the inland waterways, but did you know that some of our reservoirs are ideal places to learn how to sail and are home to sailing clubs? Just search for “sailing” on our website and see what's near you.

Sailing on Brent Reservoir

Open powered boat

If you don't want to do the hard work of propelling the boat and only want to take short trips out on the water, a portable powered boat such as a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) with a small low power outboard engine is a fun way of exploring, especially those bits of waterway that are less accessible to larger craft. If you keep the engine size under 4 bhp on canal or 10 bhp on rivers, and it's no longer than 5m and is portable, you get a 50% discount on your boat licence fee. You can even get a discount for having an electric motor too (see page 18 of our boat licence terms and conditions). If you fancy trying an open boat with a difference why not hire a “Hot Tug” for a totally unique boating experience.

Inflatable boat Herbi being carried by two members of the Boating Team

Cabin cruiser

From a small day boat through to a luxurious coastal and estuary cruiser, GRP (glass reinforced plastic) or wooden cruisers come in all shapes and sizes. The smaller craft with outboard engines make ideal starter boats if you're on a budget. Read more about buying a boat.

Cabin Cruiser on the New Junction Canal


When you think of the inland waterways the narrowboat is the classic craft that comes to mind; long, thin and gaily painted with roses and castles. There are still many historic unconverted narrowboats to be found plying their trades as trip boats, museum boats and fuel boats supplying boaters with gas, diesel and coal, while others belong to dedicated enthusiasts. Most narrowboats however are relatively modern and vary between a dinky 4.5m to over 21m long and yet only up to a maximum of 2.2m wide. Whether you hire a boat for day, a week or longer, or take the plunge and buy your own boat there's choice aplenty across the network.

Narrowboats at Trent Lock


A variety of styles and widths up to double the width of a narrowboat or even wider on larger rivers, a widebeam craft offers plenty of interior space. These craft are increasingly popular as floating homes even though their cruising and mooring options are much more limited.

Widebeam boat leaves a lock while a cyclist passes on the towpath and onlookers watch from a bridge

Thames, Dutch, or other styles of barge

While Thames sailing barges are English, the most commonly seen type of barge on larger waterways is the Dutch Barge. These craft come in a variety of shapes and sizes from compact river cruisers to massive former freight vessels capable of going to sea.

Two Thames barges leaving West India Dock

Freight boats

Commercial carrying of cargo is still alive on our waterways and we have ambitions to increase this greener form of freight transport. The Exol Pride is an inland tanker carrying a cargo of oil and lubricants from Hull to Rotherham and back. At nearly 61 metres long and 6 metres wide she's one of the largest vessels on our waterways.

Exol Pride Tanker boat passing through a bridge

Passenger boats

There are many passenger boats plying our waters, from the Leeds Water Taxis affectionately known as WAXIS to the magnificent Daniel Adamson steamship on the River Weaver (or Danny to his friends). Big or small, a boat trip is an easy way of getting out on the water and seeing the world from a different perspective.

Boat moored next to the Anderton Boat Lift

And so we go from the huge to the absolutely tiny …

Model boat

The cheapest and most accessible boating of all is model boating! Just please be mindful of the bigger boats, wildlife and not disturbing others enjoying the water such as anglers.

It doesn't matter how you get out on the water, just get out there and enjoy it! Life's better when you are boating.

Model boating at Droitwich

We'd love to tell you more

Our newsletter is packed full of exciting updates and stories of how our charity keeps canals alive.


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Last Edited: 22 March 2023

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