How to Holiday on a Canal Boat

Canal Boat

There is nothing quite like the quiet, lush countryside on a warm summer afternoon, enjoyed from the comfort of a slow moving canal boat. Throw in a glass of Pimms and a comfy deck chair, and you've got the recipe for a holiday made in heaven. This month we're looking at the highs and lows of canal boat holidays, by giving you the Do's and Dont's of a successful trip.

  • Do

    1. Pack sunblock

      You are going to be outside in the summer heat for hours every day, so be good to that pale skin of yours. It is VERY IMPORTANT that you bring sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat. Skin cancer is a big killer worldwide, so take heed and protect yourself from over-exposure to harmful UV rays.

    2. Bring practical supplies

      A good book, board games, binoculars (for bird watching), an extra towel and a rain coat always go down well. Certain boat hire companies will also include fishing rods, tackle, TV, bikes and other equipment in the rental price, while you may be charged extra for those things with others. Find out beforehand whether they will be supplied to avoid being stuck on a cluttered boat or paying for things you don't need.

    3. Follow the rules of the river

      Be considerate of other boat users. This includes following protocol when going through locks, staying on the right side of the river while in motion and mooring at appropriate stops and times.

    4. Pack light

      Canal boats are not known for their spacious storage space. When packing, less is always definitely more. All the extra clothing and baggage you bring will get in the way, so pack as lightly as possible.

    5. Beware of the loo

      Canal boats have notoriously temperamental loos that get blocked easily. The old saying goes that every on-board loo has its thing - a special trick or method of using it effectively. Find out what your boat's thing is, and make sure you exercise caution when using it.

    6. Respect the river and the elements

      There will be life jackets on board the boat. Make sure that any children or weak swimmers are wearing one when sitting near the edge of the boat. If someone goes overboard, follow the standard procedure - which is to kill the engine straight away and get them out of the water as quickly as possible. If the river is in flood, the wash can be as dangerous as a sea current, so be aware of the elements.

      Do not sit on the roof of the boat when moving or going under a bridge - this is an important safety rule to follow. It can be a tight squeeze getting through some of the old bridges, and the last thing you want is to be caught between the boat and something solid.

    7. Use power sparingly

      The power supply on your boat is always limited. Unless your boat is hooked up to shoreline power, you will need the engine to run for around five hours per day to keep the generator running until you get to a power point.

    8. Be spontaneous

      Take it one day at a time. While most holidays allow you to plan activities for each day, a canal boat trip requires that you be spontaneous. Allow yourself to be moved by the ebb and flow of the water, and trust that it will lead you to something amazing. You may find on some days the sun comes out unexpectedly, or that the wind dies, or a blazing red sunset erupts out of a cloudy sky... rather than being locked into a schedule, you can just moor up on the nearest bank and enjoy your good fortune.

  • Don't

    1. Pack your finest clothing

      You are going to be on a canal boat for a few days. Almost everything you bring will get dirty, covered in mud, possibly rained on and definitely splashed with refreshing river water. Be sure to leave your suits, high heels and best fanciest dresses at home.

    2. Forget Travel Insurance.

      Take out comprehensive travel insurance that covers you for trip cancellation and curtailment (as well as medical benefits). It's not nice to consider terrible weather or an accident cutting your trip short, but it never hurts to prepare for everything.

Last Updated: March 2011