Buying a boat

There are two main types of boat used on the UK's inland waterways to consider: narrowboats and wide beam boats.

Crick Boat Show Crick Boat Show

Where do you want to cruise?

Our canals and rivers have evolved over the past 200 years and not all locks and bridges are the same size. You'll need to ensure your boat is the right size for the places you want to go.

A steel narrowboat can cruise almost any waterway, though they are not so well suited for tidal rivers. They are 6ft 10in (2.1m) wide and up to 70ft long. The canals and rivers of Yorkshire have shorter locks, so if you want to explore this area, your boat should be no longer than 56ft.

A fibreglass cruiser or a wide beam boat can cruise rivers and wider canals such as the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. The canals of the Midlands are generally off-limits, unless your cruiser is under 7ft wide. River locks and bridges often get smaller the further you cruise inland.

A trailable boat, built of fibreglass or aluminium, can be towed behind your car and launched in any navigation around Britain.

Buying a narrowboat or wide beam?

Most of these boats are built to order. Many builders are recognised for a particular type of boat: some build very traditionally, others may use unusual materials or craft techniques. There is a wide range of fit-outs, enough to suit every budget.

Almost all such boats are hand-crafted, and take many weeks to complete. You'll have a choice of layout, colour scheme, fixtures and fittings. By specifying every detail, you can get the boat of your dreams.

You should inspect several builders' work before making your decision, perhaps by visiting a boat show. Discuss your requirements in detail with your chosen builder, and agree a delivery date and price. Be prepared to visit the builder at regular intervals during the work.

Some boat-builders are now offering 'standard models' that you can buy from stock. These are often good-value craft, without all the refinements of the most expensive bespoke boats, but sure to stand you in good stead for many years' boating. You can always add more luxurious features later. Boat shows such as the London Boat Show and the Crick Boat Show are good places to see examples of these craft.

Modern narrowboats are generally made of steel, though some are aluminium, and many older craft are wooden. There are many design options to choose from, but the most important decision is the stern (the back of the boat).There are three main types:

  • 'Traditional' sterns, where the cabin extends all the way back to the steering position
  • 'Cruiser' sterns have an open space in front of the steering position
  • 'Semi-traditional' sterns have an enclosed space, which looks traditional but still gives your crew space to stand

Wide beam boats are wide steel craft. They provide more spacious accommodation than a narrowboat, but cannot navigate smaller canals. They often have enclosed wheelhouses, for maximum comfort while underway.

Buying a river cruiser

River cruisers are usually made from 'GRP' fibreglass moulds, and available in standard configurations - just like a car. You could be afloat within days of buying your new boat.

You will often have a choice of engine type and accessories. Many builders offer a 'family' of cruisers in different sizes, so you can choose one that fits your budget and your family.

Doing it yourself

Not everyone wants to buy a ready-to-use boat. If you are a DIY enthusiast, you might prefer to buy a partly-built narrowboat which you complete and fit out yourself.

You can buy a narrowboat shell, comprising the steelwork and nothing more. It will generally be painted in primer, with bearers (supports) fitted for the chosen engine. The stern tube, propeller and window openings will be in place. 'Sailaway' boats are similar, but with the engine already fitted.

Last date edited: 12 January 2017