Canal Boats

Canal narrowboats and canal barges.

The most common combination of working boats on the canals came to be a pair, a powered motorboat pulling an unpowered buttyboat (butty being slang for mate or buddy).

We have a full section on traditional waterways craft, canal narrowboats and barges. Click to see.

coal boat
A pair of narrowboats could be worked by just two people, often husband and wife but often there were children to help out as well. Between them the boats could carry up to seventy tons of cargo, either bulk cargo such as coal or dry goods such as flour. Both boats were about seventy feet long and just under seven feet wide. They would draw up to three feet six inches when fully loaded. The hulls were originally made of wood but later from iron then steel. Each boat had a small cabin at the rear which had living accommodation and a solid fuel stove for heating and cooking. See the Boatman's cabin page for more information. You can still see many restored working narrowboats on the canals. (Photo left Tony Lewery) Motorboat
Buttyboat
Horse Before the introduction of engines, boats were pulled by horses, or sometimes mules or pairs of donkeys. Almost all breeds of horse were used, although larger horses were not suitable for the lower bridges on some narrow canals. Horse drawn boats continued to be used until almost the end of commercial carrying in the 1960's and some are still used for pulling trip boats. Early steam engines were unpopular because of the space and supervision they required. Diesel engines like this single vertical cylinder Swedish Bolinder on the right came into use early last century. Slow revving water cooled diesels such as the National and the Lister JP2 became standard propulsion from the thirties onwards. Bolinder
Time share Boat The majority of boats on Britain's canals are now pleasure craft of one sort or another. Most are privately owned, although many are hire (or rental) boats which can be hired from bases around the country for a few days or weeks. Shared ownership boats are becoming increasingly popular (left). Most boats now have steel hulls and superstructure and are between forty and seventy feet long, accommodating from four to eight people in varying degrees of comfort and sophistication. There are also trip boats on interesting stretches such as the one on the right, and boats which run evening dining cruises. trip boat
Hotel boats have been developed since the fifties as a way of offering a comfortable ringside seat to the canals. You have a skipper and crew who know the canals well and who do all the hard work. All meals are provided to high standard and in your single or double cabins you now frequently have your own facilities (washbasin, toilet and sometimes shower). The boats often work as traditional pairs, motorboat and butty, and are probably the last real examples of working canal narrowboats. All passengers have to do is sit back and enjoy the view, or stroll along the towpath, or visit the local pubs! See our hotelboat section for more details. Hotel boats


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