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Wide beam boats, wider considerations

Have you noticed that wide beam boats are becoming more common? It’s easy to understand why - if the boat is a permanent home then all that extra space comes in very handy. But have you thought through all the pros and cons?

London Brentford

With house prices, particularly in the London area, pricing many people out of bricks and mortar and onto the water, houseboats and wide beams might seem like they offer an affordable answer.

Big on the inside - big on the outside

Unfortunately, wide beam boats don't have the same qualities as the Tardis – big on the inside still means big on the outside. Increasingly, we've been hearing concerns that, as with any boat on a canal or river it wasn't designed for, some wide beams have inadvertently caused issues.

If all canals and rivers had broad canal dimensions there wouldn't be any issues but, as you know, they don't. Some were originally built for short and wide boats and others quite the opposite! While width is probably the main limiting factor (especially at bridge holes and locks), longer narrowboats can come unstuck in places like Yorkshire where some locks can only accommodate up to 57ft.

So, if you've got a big ‘un (anything wider than 7ft) or are thinking of upgrading or buying one, what sort of things should you consider?

  • Budget – as with buying pretty much anything, if it's bigger it's going to cost more. There are changes to our boat licencing fees that should also be considered.
  • Cruising – a couple of the considerations are mentioned above (locks and bridge holes) but it's worth pointing out that even if none of the visible structures will impede you, the navigable channel might – narrow canals are not dredged for passing wide beams - you could find yourself running aground on a narrow canal every time an oncoming boat needs to pass you, potentially damaging your boat and the canal. Check out our waterways dimensions if you're unsure
  • Mooring – ok, so this is stating the obvious but, wide beam boats take up more of the channel even when moored up. This just means you need to be extra vigilant that you're not causing a navigation hazard by obscuring views or mooring opposite a boat on the other bank, so think about the space you take up
  • Location – because of the way canals were built it's likely that you'll be confined to roughly the area you buy your boat in (unless you're prepared to pay for a contractor to move your boat by road). If you don't have a home mooring in that area then you need to be able to meet the rules around continuous cruising
Boat moored in Skipton

Regardless of how wide your boat is, we know that the overwhelming majority of boaters are considerate and conscientious. Most have a blissfully fulfilling time because they know life is better by water. That said, we do appreciate that the bigger the boat, the bigger the list of considerations so we'll be here to help over the coming months and years with more advice and information.

Share your wide beam wisdom

If you have a wide beam boat and would like to share helpful tips or advice for others in the same, erm, boat then follow us on our Facebook boating page or join the conversation on our Twitter @CRTboating.

Last Edited: 31 July 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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