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Tips for hiring an accessible canal boat

There's a lot to think about when hiring an adapted canal boat, especially for the first time. We've listed some things to bear in mind, both before you book and during your holiday.

Planning your route in advance will help you find accessible mooring spots

These tips have been kindly provided by Adrian Wedgwood, an experienced boater and Inland Waterways Association member, now hiring boats suitable for a wheelchair user.

Before you go

  • Remember that you must have one able-bodied captain and at least one more, preferably two, able-bodied crew members. The disabled person must not be required to control the boat or be alone in an emergency, in locks or when mooring.

  • Examine boat layout plans on websites closely and check the suitability of sleeping accommodation.

  • Arrange to go and see the boat between making a provisional booking and confirming the hire. This also allows you to check on access and parking at the boat location, and saves time when starting the holiday.

  • Look for an accessible wet room with a shower and toilet for the disabled person.

  • Check on steering positions and visibility of the front of the boat from the rear position. This is especially important for widebeam boats and steerers who are not tall enough to see over the roof. Some boats have additional hydraulic tillers that help to absorb the pressure from the water on the rudder and are therefore less sensitive than conventional tillers, which can make them easier to handle. On a semi-traditional stern boat, ask for a longer tiller handle so you can steer from a sheltered position when it's raining.

  • Check there are outside and inside places (lower windows) on the boat where the disabled person can have good views of the scenery and feel part of the boating activity.

  • Less mobile people often need additional warmth. Check the heating arrangements, both for when the boat is moving and when moored (some heating is only available when the engine is running).

  • Look at the loading ramps for wheelchair boarding and establish that you can handle and use them.

  • Check there is enough bedding, including pillows, and towels, and that they're suitable.

  • Is there enough storage space on the boat for additional clothing and equipment that the disabled person may need?

  • If the disabled person uses a wheelchair or small, fold-up electric scooter, check whether there is enough space inside the boat to store this when it's not in use. Also check where can you charge scooter batteries, if necessary.

Tell lock-keepers that you have a disabled person aboard the boat

Starting your holiday

  • Check that provided life jackets will fit the disabled person. Plan and trial an emergency evacuation so that the disabled person is safe.

  • If you are offered assistance when operating a lock, make sure those helping are aware that you have a disabled person on board and that they listen to your instructions.

  • Insist on a long mooring rope for the centre of the boat, to hold it in place at lock entrances and temporarily when mooring. This is in addition to the mooring ropes on the bow and stern. Also insist on 'piling hooks' for more secure mooring, as well as mooring stakes. Ask for side fenders to stop the boat banging against the bank or wall when it's moored. But remember to take these fenders up when you're going through a lock.

  • Plan your cruising route so you know the number and size of locks along the way, where you can 'wind' (turn the boat around) and that you can return in good time. Don't be too ambitious. Allow for delays at busy places.

  • Check the availability and accessibility of visitor moorings, water points, pubs, shops and laundrettes at locations along your cruising route.

Two women eat lunch next to the canal

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Last Edited: 17 September 2020

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