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
have a full section on traditional waterways craft,
canal narrowboats and barges.
Click to see.
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 The hulls were originally made of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
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.
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.
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.
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.