Types of holiday canal boat

Is it a barge? Is it a longboat? Is it a cabin cruiser? Find out more about the most common types of holiday hire boat you'll see on our canals and rivers.

Boats moored at Braunston on the Grand Union Canal Boats moored at Braunston on the Grand Union Canal

If you don't have your own boat, there are plenty of different types of hire boat available. Canal boats can be surprisingly spacious, and are able to host even large groups.

Whether you're boating with friends for an afternoon or taking a longer family holiday, there’s something for every occasion and budget.

As much as canal boat trips and holidays are about exploring new territory and feeling happier and healthier spending time in nature, it's important to choose the right boat for you and to be comfortable.   

One minute you could be admiring the picture-perfect views from the tiller of your boat. The next minute you could be putting your feet up in front of the tv or relaxing in a nice hot shower.

The two most common types of canal boat to hire are narrowboats and cruisers, which you can read about below. You can also read more about the other boats and crafts that you'll see on our waterways.

Two standard 7-foot narrowboats on the Montgomery Canal Two standard 7-foot narrowboats on the Montgomery Canal


Your holiday canal boat is most likely to be a narrowboat. Remember to call it a narrowboat and not a 'longboat', unless you're a Viking!

Narrowboats are usually 7 feet wide, but can be quite spacious inside, with plenty of headroom. They range from smaller craft, sleeping just two people, to longer boats that can sleep up to 12. 

The space will be divided into living and sleeping areas. Have a look around a typical narrowboat in our information on getting to know your holiday canal boat.

A typical cabin cruiser at Consall Forge, Caldon Canal A typical cabin cruiser at Consall Forge, Caldon Canal


Cruisers can also host large groups, but they are more flexible in their design. Usually made out of Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP), they are more often found on rivers and at coastal locations.

Small cruisers ('cabin cruisers') might have only one or two cabins and are suitable for couples and small families. If they are narrowbeam (7 foot or under), they can be used to explore the narrow canals.

Large cruisers are usually restricted to the wider rivers. You could even choose a style that has steering both above and below deck, ideal for any kind of weather.

Widebeam boats

Some of our major canals and rivers are wider and can accommodate boats of up to 14 feet across. These are called widebeam boats.

Such spacious vessels are the 4x4s of the waterways. They might have a similar number of 'berths' (beds) to other boats, but there will be more space to move around and relax in.

However, having a bigger boat means you have a smaller choice of routes, as these boats are obviously limited in where they can travel.

A classic widebeam boat A classic widebeam boat

Sit back and relax

If you don’t fancy taking charge of a boat yourself, no problem. A boat trip is a wonderful way to see our canals and rivers, leaving you to relax while someone else does the hard work.

Alternatively you could book yourself into a hotel boat, or enjoy a meal on a restaurant boat. 

Last date edited: 17 September 2020