A video intro to your boat

If you’re planning a canal boat holiday then grab a cuppa and watch our introductory video to a Black Prince narrowboat.

An introduction to your narrowboat

This video is designed to provide you with details of the interior layout of the narrowboat plus an overview of how to operate and steer the boat safely.   All of our boats have a similar bow and stern – or front and back – design. However the internal layout may be slightly different depending on the category of boat you have chosen and how many bedrooms there are on board.

If you are complete novice to narrowboating, don’t worry! Our teams are here to help you and we will ensure that you are fully confident before you cast off and start cruising.

Entering the boat

When entering the boat from the stern deck, you’ll need to unlock and open the doors and slide back the roof hatch. Carefully step down, minding your head.

In the rear lockers you’ll find two lifejackets and a Black Prince umbrella. The only time we require you to wear a lifejacket is when going through a tunnel or cruising on a river. The person driving the boat and the lookout at the front must wear these. If you fall in, the life jackets are self-inflating. More life jackets, including ones for children, are available on request.

The Control Panel

The electric distribution board and the inverter ensures that you have power for the lighting and the heating on the boat.  All these switches should be on. If something stops working, check if any of these have popped out. If a button pops out, switch it off, press it in to reset it and switch it back on again. If it doesn’t reset, it’s a phone call to the Black Prince team back at base.

The electrics on board run at a 12-volt output. However, if you want to use or charge a 240-volt appliance on board, such a laptop, then you will need to convert the battery output.

The inverter system is controlled by a key or a button, depending on the boat you have. Ideally you will use the inverter when the engine is running; otherwise it will drain your battery. You switch on the inverter system simply by turning the key or pushing the button – now the 240-volt system is live on the boat. You just need to remember to switch the inverter off when you’ve finished using your appliance. It there’s a power overload through using too many appliances at the same time the inverter will cut out. It can be reset by turning it off and on again.

Mobile phones can be charged via the USB ports on the boat which run off the normal 12 volt system.

The control for the diesel powered central heating system is also situated in this area.  This is operated with a simple pull / push button. Pull it to turn the heating on. Push it to turn the heating off.  You’ll find that once the heating is on, the radiators throughout the boat will soon warm the boat through.

Hot water is generated by the central heating and the engine. You may need to run the engine for a short time in the morning to top up the hot water supply.

Also on this panel, you’ll find the headlight switch that is to be used when passing through tunnels.

Again, it’s a simple pull / push maneuver. Pull it out, it goes on, push it in, it goes off.


You will be given a selection of keys when you take charge of your narrowboat.

Your most important key, after the one that switches on your boat, is the British Waterways key. This one key opens a number of locks, gates, swing bridges and water points.

The second key is an anti vandal key. A few of the inner city locks will have additional security on them so before you can open the lock paddles, you will need to use this key.

In your key collection you will also have one to access the discharge unit. Toilet waste is collected in sealed tanks on board the boat. Depending on the amount of usage, the tanks will hold water and waste for four or five days. If you are on a narrowboat holiday of a week or more then you will need to get a pump out during your trip. Boat marinas or bases similar to ours will manage the pump out for you and the Black Prince team will be able to advise where to do this on your trip. There will be a small charge for the pump out.

Bed layout

Depending on the boat you have booked, the bed layout will vary.  You’ll be asked before your arrival as to what layout you would like, for example, either as double or single beds.  All bed linen will be provided.

Some boats can cater for extra guests using the lounge area. The dining table can be adapted to create a double bed. To do this, lift the table up  – a sharp tug may be required as it’s a snug fit onto the table legs.  Then swap the long table legs for two short legs. Replace the table on top of the short legs, bring the cushions down, and you have a comfortable extra double bed.

Wardrobes are situated throughout the cabins and doors can be used to provide privacy between the bedrooms.  There’s plenty of under-bed storage for clothes and bags – don’t forget it’s better to have bags that will fold down as oppose to hard suitcases.

On board toilet & WC

Your narrow boat will have one or more fully fitted bathrooms.

The toilets on our boats look similar to the ones you have at home but they operate slightly differently.
These are macerator toilets and all waste is stored in a sealed tank on board.  It’s really important to remember that these toilets can block if not used properly. The two simple rules to follow with this toilet are that if you haven’t eaten it, it cannot go in and only use 2-ply toilet paper. If anything other than this is put into the bowl, such as sanitary products, tissues or moist tissues, there will be an immediate blockage and you will need an engineer to clear it for you.  This will mean extra charges for you.

All bathrooms have a fitted shower with a standard mixer system like you have at home. However, whenever you’re using the shower, the shower pump has to be switched on to clear the water from the shower tray.

The wastewater outlet from your sink and shower is allowed to flow straight into the waterway. To help keep the water as healthy as possible we recommend using use environmentally friendly detergents and hair products.

Kitchen / Galley on board the narrowboat

In the kitchen, or galley, you’ll find everything you need with which to cater for all the guests on board the boat.  There is plenty of cutlery, utensils and cookware stored in the cupboards and drawers, plus you can request extra items such as a cafetiere.

There is a gas oven, grill and hob which lights via an igniter button.  To keep your fresh food chilled, there is a small electric fridge which runs off battery and needs 2 to 4 hours engine-running time to keep it topped up. Most fridges have a small freezer compartment that is suitable for ice trays or ice blocks.

For your safety there are three fire extinguishers, a fire blanket and a smoke alarm on board plus all the boats have carbon monoxide detectors. If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds then leave the boat and contact our team immediately. There is also a first aid kit on board.

All our boats have tanks for your water supply and it’s a good idea to keep the tank topped up each day by stopping at a water point for a refill. The water gauge on board will indicate how much water you have and the water pump switch should remain in the on position for the duration of the cruise.

TV on board

In the lounge you will have a television. This will probably need retuning every time you stop as you travel between transmission areas. The aerial can be moved to help boost the signal.

Starting and Operating the Boat

Next we are going to go through the process of starting and operating the narrowboat.

The control lever, or Morse control, allows you to accelerate or go into reverse. Morse controls can vary. You will push the lever forwards in order to travel forwards and backwards to go into reverse. At the top it clicks into neutral.

There are two buttons near the Morse control: the horn and the bilge pump. The horn can be used to attract attention to other boaters or when entering a tunnel. The bilge pump will empty out any water that may be in the engine room.

Black Prince canal boats have diesel engines with glow plugs so it’s important to warm the engine first.

Ensuring that the control lever is in neutral, you will go through the process of starting the engine. A member of the Black Prince team will go through this process with you, as the procedure can differ slightly across our fleet of narrowboats.

When you cast off make sure your front rope is stored tidily on the forward deck so it doesn’t get tangled. Remove the rear rope from the bollard and store it out of the way on the roof, otherwise you could trip over it or it could fall in the water and become tangled around the propeller.

Once underway, you’ll need to steer the boat using the tiller. This can take some getting used to as you are doing the opposite to what you might think. To move the boat to the right you need to move the tiller to the left and to turn to the left you move the tiller to the right. With a little practice you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Even though the boats can be quite long, they are quite maneuverable, and within a short time you will pick this up quite easily.

One of the great things about boating is that everyone can muck in together. But at least one person needs to know the boat-handling basics, to understand the safety guidelines and to know what to do in an emergency.  So, once you’ve chosen a ‘skipper’, it’ll be his or her job to make sure your crew and passengers have all the information they need to stay safe.

On all waterways, you drive on the right. In practice, on most canals, you’ll keep to the center of the channel – it’s shallow near the edges – unless there’s another boat coming towards you.

Always slow down when passing anglers and other boats and don’t let your boat create a breaking wave along the bank. This is a sign that you should throttle back to prevent damage to the bank and disturbance to moored boats.

On the roof of the boat, you’ll find a boat pole, a boat hook, a boarding plank and a life ring. The poles can be used for pushing the boat away from an obstacle or the bank. The plank is for boarding the boat if you have a gap between the boat and the towpath. If you need to use the life ring for someone in the water, throw it towards him or her and turn the engine off as soon as you can.

Mooring up

When mooring up your narrowboat for the night you’ll need to use your mooring ropes to secure your boat at the front and the back.

Many mooring sites have bollards or rings to tie up to – choose ones a short distance beyond the front and the back of your boat. Run your ropes at roughly a 45-degree angle from your boat, loop them back onto the boat and tie securely, but not too tightly. On rivers, you should fix your upstream rope first.

If there aren’t any bollards or rings, use your mooring stakes, but check the stability of the bank and watch out for signs of underground pipes or cables before you start hammering. Knock them in to about three-quarters their length and make sure they’re firm and don’t tie your ropes across the towpath. Piling hooks are a convenient way of attaching a mooring line to canal side piling where available.

The your anchor should be used if you need added security or extra help in a strong stream or tide, such as on a river – and you should still use mooring ropes.  The anchor is attached to the vessel; you simply need to drop it into the water.

Your mooring stakes and hammer are located at front of your boat in the storage lockers underneath the seating.

Daily Checks

Finally there are some routine daily checks that should be done at the end of each day’s cruising. Making sure that the engine key is out of the ignition and stored safely in your pocket you are ready to start.

On the stern deck, you’ll need to lift up the hatch to access the propeller and the engine room. Step down and undo the retaining bar that covers the weed hatch compartment. Slowly lift up the cover, let the water out, and put the weed hatch on the side of the boat. Check the propeller by hand, removing any weeds or debris, watching out for anything sharp that may have been picked up.  Replace the cover and tighten up, making sure it’s properly sealed.

Your second daily job is to prime the stern greaser. Once a day turn it 360 degrees clockwise until you feel a bit of pressure.

We recommend that you top up with fresh water each day. On this particular boat, you’ll find the fresh water filler point and your water filling hose in the front storage locker. Water points will be clearly marked on the sides of the canal and you can moor up next to them to refill the tank. Simply attach your hose on the shore side, put the other end of the hose in the filling point and fill until the water squirts out the top. That way you know that tank is completely full.

At the front of the boat, or bow, you’ll find the gas locker, which carries two thirteen-kilogram gas bottles. If one gas bottle runs out on your trip then you need to simply turn the changeover switch 180 degrees to point to the new bottle.

Cleaning materials and eco-friendly washing up liquid is provided for you. At the end of your trip, we ask that you leave the boat tidy, with any kitchen crockery and utensils washed and put away.