Wide beam boats have grown in popularity in recent years as an alternative to narrowboats. These spacious vessels are wider than narrowboats and offer a more generous living area that includes many of the features of a modern home. In spite of their size, barges are easy to handle as they are steered using a steering wheel but their size means they can only be used on the major canals and waterways. However there are substantial stretches of broad waterway in this country which suit them and they can also be taken and used overseas if designed to the right specification. There are a couple of types of barge:
Dutch Barge – you may have seen a Dutch Barge whilst in London or passing the River Thames. These distinctive barges have a completely different design to other canal boats. Unlike narrowboats, Dutch barges have a much wider beam, a wheelhouse in the middle or rear of the deck and rounded or vee bottom hulls that usually makes them seaworthy, which canal boats are not. The boat front and rear are higher than the middle of the boat. Typically these are ex-commercial cargo vessels, often from the Netherlands or UK, although there is now an increasing number of new-build replicas.
Dutch Barge style Narrowboats – a narrowboat whose hull below the waterline will be similar to other narrowboats but the hull and superstructure above the waterline is styled to look like the shape of the Dutch barge, including a wheelhouse, the distinctive rounded counter and the characteristic bow shape. These boats cannot be taken to sea.
River cruisers are modern sleek boats and easy to steer as they have a steering wheel like a car. They are also come in a variety of sizes and they have the advantage of being able to navigate most of the UK’s rivers and canals. Smaller day hire boats have less facilities than the larger cruisers used for holidays. If it is your first time on a river cruiser, it is a good idea to choose a smaller narrow boat as it is easier to steer, but don’t worry, you will soon get the hang of it. The real joy of cruising inland waterways on a river cruiser is stopping off and enjoying the sights, scenery and the bountiful activities along the way…
Despite the name, narrowboats are surprisingly spacious with plenty of headroom and come in different lengths depending on the number of berths you need. If it is your first time on a narrowboat, it is a good idea to choose a smaller narrowboat as it is easier to steer. The narrowboat can travel along most rivers and canals but its ability to navigate some waterways may be restricted by the engine’s power. The steering of a narrowboat is different to other boats and requires a bit of practice but don’t worry, you will soon get the hang of it.
Day hire is a great way to relax with friends and family and see what a longer canal holiday would be like. Day hire boats can be rented for self drive trips for a day or evening and you don’t need any experience or qualifications. They usually have toilet and simple cooking facilities but no sleeping accommodation. Day hire canal boats usually take between six and 12 passengers. This is the way many people get hooked! Narrowboats are generally made from steel, aluminium, GRP (glass reinforced plastic) or wooden boats and whilst they come in a variety of lengths, they usually have maximum width (beam) of 6 feet 10 inches wide. There are three main styles of narrowboat:
Traditional Narrowboat (‘Trad’) – based on the traditional working boats and the main section of the boat (accomodation) is at the front of the boat leaving as much deck as possible at the rear (stern) of the boat for the navigator (helmsman) to steer the boat. Trads have a rounded tail and the engine is positioned in front of the steering deck.
Semi-Traditional Narrowboat (‘Semi-Trad’) – similar to a Trad narrowboat but the deck is much bigger and can accommodate two-six seated people and offer some form of protection from the weather due to a housing around the deck area. The engine on semi-trads is usually mounted under the aft deck and they also have a rounded tail.
Cruiser Style Narrowboat – designed to give the helmsman at the stern as much open space as possible, the aft deck is usually completely open and offers little protection from the weather as it is just surrounded by safety rails. The tail of the boat can be rounded or squared – squared boats offer more room but can be more difficult to manoeuvre in reverse.