Top 4 questions about taking a canal boat holiday

Jenai Laignel / 17 November 2015

There's no doubt that the rolling countryside and picturesque towns of England are amongst the loveliest sights in the world. After all, even the most adventurous explorer might concede that there's no place quite like home.

But instead of choosing the usual driving or walking holiday, why not consider seeing the sights from aboard a canal boat? Over 2000 miles of waterways spiderweb the English countryside, begging to be explored. Chugging sedately along these rippling paths offers the freedom of life on the road, with all the comforts of a home-away-from-home.

However, there are a few essential considerations to be aware of when taking a canal boat holiday. We've compiled this helpful guide to ensure you feel confident when taking charge of your floating abode...

Do you need a license to drive a canal boat? 

First time boaters need not fear, anyone over the age of 21 can hire a canal boat – no licence or official training required. Your hire firm will provide basic training and written instructions before letting you loose on the waterways, but the principles of steering and controlling are usually quite easy to pick up.

It's important to be aware that the boat will respond slowly compared to a car – plan your moves ahead, exercise caution and stick to the canal speed limit of 4mph and you should be fine.

Where are the narrowboat moorings? 

We predict you will spot plenty of idyllic spots to stop and explore. Fortunately, many narrowboat moorings are situated beside popular pubs, eateries, villages and towns, so you will be spoiled for choice.

Some sites may charge a small fee but any Environment Agency mooring or canal towpath is free – your boat hire company will provide you with the essential details.

Related: Top 5 scenic canal routes in the UK 

How do canal locks work? 

Dealing with locks might seem intimidating if you have never had to tackle them before. However, we believe it is all part of the experience!

Although some of the larger locks might have an attending lock-keeper to help you, most of the time you will be responsible for letting yourself through.

When you approach a lock: 

1. Carefully steer your canal boat into the lock, shutting the gates behind you with the wooden beams.
2. Next, use the winding handle that comes with your boat to open the paddle doors in the opposite gates in order to adjust the water level as required.
3. Finally, open the gates to allow your boat to pass through and lock everything back up behind you.

How much water, electricity and fuel will my canal boat have? 

A typical hire boat comes with a full tank of water and a full tank of fuel. Modern canal boats have hot and cold water on tap in both the kitchen and the shower; however, should you run low for any reason, you can top up at a public mooring.

With some companies you can top up at any boatyard belonging to them as well as take advantage of free mooring.

Not all boats can handle the voltage of your own personal electrical appliances but come with their own devices on board. There are usually sockets for shavers and any item that can be charged with a car adaptor – don't forget to bring any plugs and leads you might need.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.