Narrowboating for beginners


If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly canal boat holiday then choosing Black Prince is a great place to start. Each year we welcome lots of new guests who haven’t had any prior boating experience and introduce them to an unforgettable canal holiday. You don’t need a specific licence to be able to drive a narrowboat on UK canals; our friendly teams will show you all the ropes (excuse the pun) and ensure you are confident enough to get on your way and happily cruise the canal network.

Good boating skills simply come with experience for canal boat holidaymakers. Don’t worry if you make a few mistakes when you first set off – we won’t judge if you are zig-zagging your way along the canal as you learn how to steer on your first narrow boat holidays!

We are a family-friendly holiday provider too, as children of all ages can enjoy canal boat trips, particularly the older ones as they can help with all elements of handling a boat and act as a holiday guide.

Read on for some narrowboat holidays tips and advice for absolute beginners to the canal waterways, and don’t forget you can call our friendly team for advice on 0044 (0) 1527 575115.

Beginner friendly canal routes

We’ve put together a list of beginner-friendly routes – you can check these out here.  These are easy boating holiday routes that have few or no locks on the easy-access canals and feature some great short break ideas. A three or four-night short break is an ideal length of time to give canal boating a try for the first time.


A bit of research and pre-preparation always helps build confidence when trying something new for the first time.

We have some great resources on our website, including the Boater’s Handbook on video.  This video, produced by the Canal and River Trust, includes information on basic boat handling, canal route passes and safety.  Fix yourself a cup of tea and take a bit of time out to watch it; it’s full of handy tips and advice.

Plus you’ll find lots of useful information in our new to narrowboating pages, including sections on how to get started, how to handle a canal boat, how to deal with locks, bridges and tunnels, plus lots of advice on mooring up and safety on the water.  There are lots of videos across the website and on our social media pages, including Facebook and YouTube, allowing you to get a real feel for what a holiday on a canal boat is all about.

Boat Hires Arrival Day

On your arrival day at the canal boat hire base of your choice (check out our nine bases across the UK here), you’ll be met by one of our team. After checking in you’ll be given time to load your belongings onto your narrowboat hire before going through our accredited handover procedure, designed to take the stress out of canal boat holidays for beginners.

Our handover includes walking you through the boat, from the tiller at the back of the boat (stern) through the inside of the boat to the bow at the front.  We’ll explain how everything works from turning the engine on, along with the rest of the controls to setting off and how to steer the canal boat.

We’ll also talk through the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of canal etiquette and health and safety issues that may arise.  Our aim is that you feel fully prepared when you set off from your canal boat hire base on your canal boat holiday.

Happy cruising

As soon as you feel happy and prepared you can get on your way and start exploring canals and rivers. Sometimes it can be daunting to leave a marina for the first time and you may worry that it will take hours to reach your destination, so our team are happy to help captain the boat for you to the main stretch of canal to get you underway.

On boat holiday for beginners, remember to take it slow – your maximum speed is 4 miles per hour and it’s best to knock the speed down when passing other moored boats so that you don’t cause wash to hit the boats.  This is a relaxing holiday – time to take it down a notch and soak up the calming atmosphere of the UK countryside and nature reserve waterways, many of which have world heritage status! To celebrate your first successful day of travelling, we recommend you moor up at one of England’s great canalside pubs to enjoy a well-earned drink!

Top Tips for Canal Boating

Here are some simple top tips that beginners to canal boating need to know, don’t forget to check out our new to narrowboating pages for more information.

  • Stick to the recommended best canal routes for beginners
  • Keep to the right when meeting another boat. Otherwise, it’s safest to cruise in the middle of the canal.
  • How to steer – push the tiller right to go left, and left to go right.
  • How to stop – put the engine in reverse to stop.
  • Cruise at 4mph and slow down when passing other moored boats or approaching a bridge, lock, bends or junction. Our guide on how to handle a canal boat can be found here.
  • Use your horn to warn canal boats coming towards you when approaching sharp bends and as you enter a tunnel.
  • Locks – ensure there is always someone on the boat when in a lock (that’s why there is a minimum two-person crew if you wish to hire our boats). Make sure the boat is kept forward of the cill (ledge at the bottom of the lock). Our guide to locks can be found here.
  • Mooring – you can moor anywhere on the canals during your boat trips, apart from opposite winding holes, on bends, near to bridges, on lock landings (unless waiting to lock through) or at water points (unless filling up). A more comprehensive guide to mooring up can be found here.
  • Tie up your boat securely, front and back.