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Top Tips to Narrowboating

The Black Prince team, together with our customers, have put together some top tips those considering a narrowboat canal holiday for the first time.

1. Planning Versus Just Turning Up

The brilliant thing about a canal boat holiday is that there are many, many people keen to help you on your way. It’s that kind of social environment. So if you have a hectic lifestyle that doesn’t allow the luxury of holiday planning, that’s OK. We’ll get you on your way.

However, if we’re honest, it’s probably a good idea to have a quick look at a route map before you go. Take in the different routes available, decide how many locks you want to tackle, be realistic about how many miles a day you can, or indeed want to, travel. Dusk til dawn cruising can be a bit stressful, and it’s not good etiquette to race by other canal cruisers as they are tucking into their aperitifs! Aim for six hours a day to start for.

You can take a weekend break or a week or even two-week long holiday, and there are many destinations and routes to choose from. Amongst the best for a week-long cruise is The Cheshire Ring from our Acton Bridge base in Cheshire (98 miles, 92 locks, 8 hours per day) where you can take in six different waterways and incorporates both industrial landscapes and countryside scenes. For a two-week cruise choose The Four Counties Ring (141 miles, 102 locks, 4 hours per day), a largely rural ring that also takes in the Harecastle Tunnel outside Stoke on Trent.

If you don’t want to risk a ring (you have to be pretty strict on your time), your other option is to go ‘out and back’. Again from Acton Bridge base you can do Chester return (84 miles, 44 locks, 6 hours per day). It’s an active route but easily manageable at around 5/6 hours per day. Travelling southwards past the old salt mines to Middlewich, you turn onto the Middlewich arm to join up with the Shropshire Union Canal. The trip to the medieval city of Chester is particularly pleasant with the canal built next to the old city walls. You should also have time to visit the boat museum at Ellesmere Port.

If you want more advice on which route is best for you, then check out our base pages which will give you lots more information on travel times, locks etc. You can also give our expert team a call any time – they will be pleased to advise you.

2. Ask all the questions you need to.

You’ll get a full induction at the canal base before you are let loose on a boat, including the facilities on board, how to drive the boat and how to operate a lock. Our inductions are done by British Marine Federation accredited personnel for Hire Boat Instruction & Handover Procedures – so you’re in good hands!

3. Don’t be afraid of bashing the boat

Very occasionally it feels like bumper cars out there. If it’s your first time in charge of a 60 foot boat, it’s going to take some getting used to. Just when you think you’ve got the hang of going in a straight line you suddenly have a bend and a bridge to contend with. And of course it’s sod’s law that another boat will be heading towards you just the other side of the bridge!

We are, of course, not advocating that you treat your boat as a fairground attraction, but there are times when you’ll need to bump (mooring up for the first time always takes you by surprise). The tip here is don’t worry about it, the boats are made of stern stuff.

The most important thing to remember is slow down, especially when going past other boats that are moored up, or approaching a corner. Never underestimate the time it will take to turn hard left if you’re going over the recommended speed limit of 4 mph…

4. Pack carefully

A great piece of advice that was given to us by one of our American friends was the following:
“As a Yank, who has to fly to get on one of your boats, I would recommend the use of crushable luggage such as military style sea bags. They stow so much easier. Also, if going for a week long cruise, do plan to do a laundry stop, it takes too much time from the fun!”

No need to say more!

5. Choose your crew carefully

Narrowboats are, well, narrow. So think about who you are going to travel with. It’s a great social holiday (who wouldn’t enjoy cruising from pub to pub!) but the living quarters are ‘cosy’. The extra hands on deck are useful, but choose good friends who you can get along well with in close confines!

6. Respect other canal users …
We mentioned earlier about being considerate around other canal users, especially those who own their own boats. It’s good etiquette not to travel too early or too late – starting the boat in the morning can make quite a racket! (You should be moored up between 8pm and 7am).

When you are passing other moored boats, slow right down. And we mean slow! Even travelling at the grand speed of 4 mph can cause wash which in turn will cause the boats you are passing to rock. Your fellow travellers will not take kindly to their breakfast landing in their lap!

A canal boat holiday is the type of break where you have to take it easy, relax and enjoy the ride.

7. Don’t stress it!

As a natural continuation from the previous point – try not to stress! If it’s your first time on this type of holiday, it will take you a while to adjust to the pace of life, as well as the complexities of handling your boat.

Frequent feedback we get is that it takes a few hours to adjust. If you think of the normal pace of your everyday life, plus the distractions around you (phones, work, people, tv, schedules, children etc etc etc), when you suddenly arrive to the quiet canals and the 4 mph pace, it can feel rather different. You are forced to slow down, concentrate on the quiet of the water, and breathe in a easier pace of life.
Then of course you reach a lock, where the energy suddenly returns and sometimes panic takes over! Don’t stress, don’t panic, take it easy and think things through. The best thing about many of the locks is that there are lock-keepers in attendance, and you’ll find that these people are the friendliest, most helpful, most chatty people in existence. They will get you through (and cover up any mistakes!)

8. Keep a tidy ship

Another top tip from one of our customers:
“Keep things tidy. Upfront identify a place for soiled garments to be placed out of the way, keep decks (what landlubbers would call floors) clear of clutter to minimize trip hazards, keep galley clean, make use of disposal bins along the way so that trash does not accumulate. It all makes for a safer and more pleasant environment.”

9. Watch that cil

The cil is part of the lock that you will no doubt focus on mostly during your canal boat holiday. It’s essentially a ledge that you’ll see once all the water has drained out of the lock. What you don’t want to happen is that your boat, as it’s peacefully descending between the lock gates, is located in the wrong position so that as the water drains away the boat becomes wedged on the ledge! Unfortunate things start to happen (i.e. the boat tips up, people start to shout and panic, and you are at risk of falling into the canal).

There is a white line painted on the side of the lock called the cil marker. All you have to do is make sure that your boat is past the white line. Easy.

10. Don’t lose your sense of humour…

Perhaps the best top tip we can give you – especially when you are trying to turn the boat around – is keep your sense of humour intact throughout your holiday. There are times when you are going to need it. That’s all we have to say!