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Europe > Cruises > UK waterways cruises > Narrowboats

British Coastal, Canal, and River Cruises

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Canal Voyagers narrowboats

ABOVE: The hotel narrowboats Snipe and Taurus enter a lock in tandem. INSET: Snipe and Taurus are moored side by side in a 14-foot lock chamber.

Narrowboat cruises

Narrowboats in lockNarrowboats are just what their name implies: They're boats that were designed to fit locks of seven feet in width (though some formerly narrow locks have been widened to 14 feet, making it possible for two boats to fit into the locks side by side).

During the years after the Industrial Revolution, narrowboats carried cargo through the inland waterways of Britain, but nowadays they're used as hotel boats (which often cruise in pairs, like the narrowboats shown above) or as self-skippered rental and private vessels.

 Some narrowboats are restored cargo boats, while others are new boats that echo the dimensions, profile, and livery of their 19th Century predecessors.

Cruise itineraries vary from boat to boat and even from week to week, since Britain has some 2,000 miles of restored canals that are ready to be explored by narrowboat captains and their guests.

Most hotel narrowboats are run by owner-operators--often married couples, who run their boats as waterborne B&Bs. One example is Takara, a solo narrowboat with three cabins (all offering ensuite facilities). It's just the right size for a large family or small group of friends.

For more narrowboat cruise possibilities, see the listings at, which is a directory of owner-operated hotel boats (mostly narrowboats, but with a handful of wide-beam vessels).


  • Most narrowboats are available for private charters, which can be appealing for small groups of friends or well-heeled families. If you're interested in a charter, it's best to inquire a year or more in advance.

  • To get an idea of what life on Britain's canals was like in the waning years of narrowboat commerce, read Thursday's Child by the late English children's book author Noel Streatfeild, which was first published in 1970 and is still available as a Collins paperback.

Next page: Barge cruises

Photos copyright © Neil Thomsett.