12 Useful tips for your canal boat adventure

In Counties, Featured, Kennet & Avon Canal, Mini Breaks, Other, Our Journeys, Trip-Types, UK Travel, Wiltshire by JanisLeave a Comment

It’s the little details that make meandering through the British waterways perfect

Ahh, there’s no better way to discover the British countryside than hopping on a canal boat and letting the world go by around you.

The old Lock Keepers house with a rainbow over it.  In the distance is our wide beam canal boat just past the locks in the foreground.

The Lockkeeper's house at Wootton River

Watching kingfishers nosedive for their dinner, ducklings frantically paddling along trying to keep up with their mum. And folks just out for afternoon strolls. 

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A close-up of a duckling chasing our canal boat as we head along the Kennet and Avon Canal.

A duckling in pursuit

It doesn’t get more relaxing.

Oh yes, then there’s the alluring call of the waterside country pub, offering local ales to wash down their hearty homemade meals.

Everyone loves it

I’m not saying that we’re experts on canal boating, although we have enjoyed a few boat trips with the family. We’ve journeyed around the Cheshire Ring and taken a few voyages along the Kennet and Avon Canal.

The family at the aft end of the boat enjoying the trip basked in the summer sunlight.

The family on Moonbeam, from Moonraker Canalboats

Our last trip with my family was to celebrate my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary, and we took to the water on a luxury narrowboat. You’d be amazed at what you’ll find on some of these beautiful boats.

We hired our wide beam narrowboat from the family-run business Moonraker Canalboats, located along the Kennet and Avon Canal. Their boats are amazing, you can even choose one with a jacuzzi.

Moonbeam, our wide beam canal boat, heading along the Kennet and Avon canal at relaxing pace barging makes you adopt.

A peaceful pace of life

Winding our way through the southern counties of England, mastering the locks and then mooring up in the heart of the city of Bath was a wonderful experience. 

Our little pointers

I’ll stop waffling on about how much I love canal boating and get to the point of why I lured you here in the first place.

A narrow beam canal boat is exiting a lock with the children wearing life vests as a safety precaution.

Life Jackets for safety.

So, if this is your first time on a canal boat or even if it’s just been a while since you’ve taken to the water, I’ve compiled some useful tips for you. 

These handy hints will make the joy of canal boating even more relaxing. 

Map out your route

Whether you’re planning a road trip, plotting a hiking route or cycling one of UK’s scenic trails, there’s nothing quite like using a tactile paper map.

The Ordnance Survey folk are here to help, with maps, guides, gadgets and more. Take a browse through their vast array of maps and grab your ideal companion for your adventure.

Safety is paramount, particularly with children; it is so easy to become complacent. As your confidence builds, you take these heavyweight goliaths for granted. I don’t want to sound negative; however, it is essential.

The view along the roof of our Widebeam canal boat with the lifebuoy, one of the many safety features onboard, located on the hatch at the aft end of the boat.

The lifebuoy on the roof of Moonbeam - one of the many safety features

Carry out some research prior to your trip to find out where stores, pubs & restaurants are along the way. You may need more provisions or just fancy a leisurely cream tea. Often you are unable to see these amenities from the canal side, and you will need to go exploring.

Tables and chairs outside of a tea room next to a lock on the Kennet and Avon Canal with a Narrow boat moored up alongside.

A canalside rest stop

If you are not completing a circular route on your canal trip, then you will need to turn your boat around. Be aware of the turning points along the way and make sure you are aware of the length of your boat. The turning point may not be wide enough if you have an extra-long boat.

The view of the Pulteney Weir at Bath in front of the Pulteney Bridge as we attempt to turn the 65 foot (20m) Widebeam canal boat around.

Approaching the Pulteney Weir at Bath

A bit more info

The Canal River Trust website is particularly useful for planning your trip and gives detailed information on the canals and the surrounding facilities.

You’ll be amazed how quickly time passes even at 4mph. Allow plenty of time to get to your daily end destination. It may take longer than expected to navigate through the locks, mainly if the canals are full of activity.

Our canal boat is entering a lock.  It's an all-hand job with a couple on the lock gates while the 'skipper' pilots the vessel into the narrow lock.

Managing a lock

Again Time: Don’t leave mooring up until too late into the evening as you may be disappointed if you are unable to moor near where you had planned. Be flexible, you may have to walk a little further to the country pub, but it’ll be worth it.

The aft end, or back to you & I, of our Moonraker canal boat safely moored up at the end of a day barging on the waterways of England

Our Moonraker Canalboat moored up

It is crucial that you slow your barge down to tick over when passing other boats, a slight swell of water may dislodge their mooring pegs from the banks of the canal, especially if the ground is wet.

Three narrow beam canal boat moored up as we pass slowly on our relaxing trip along the Kennet and Avon canal.

Slow speed ahead

Ensure you read the signs on each of the lock gates you pass through, as often locks differ from each other. Some are required to be left open, others to be closed.

A part opened, pedestrian, swing bridge on the Kennet and Avon canal with a board detailing it's operating instructions for the safety of all waterway users.

A swing bridge with its operating instructions attached

8 - Consideration

Be considerate to other boaters these canals are a permanent residence for some folks and are to be shared by everyone. It’s the simple things, but if you follow 6 & 7, you will be fine.

A narrow beam canal boat that is clearly somebodies home is moored up in an idyllic lush green scene as we chug along the Kennet and Avon Canal

Consideration for those who call the Kennet & Avon canal their home

Keep an eye on your water levels. You may need to top up en route particularly if you are away for more than a few nights.

The neatly coiled mooring rope at the bow, or front, of the boat.

The view of the bow end mooring rope

Once again plan ahead and understand where your watering stations are. Filling a Canal boat with a hose can take a very long time (30 minutes-1hr), and you may need to wait for another barge to fill-up in front of you.

This may sound obvious, but you won’t get too far without it (you will generally be supplied with at least two; however, if you lose one it makes operating the locks much more difficult). 

A full lock is now level with the bridge over the waterway on its exit.  Demonstrating the height you can climb on some of the sections of the Kennet and Avon Canal

Taking care at the locks & your lock keys

We had lost our key overboard before and had to purchase another. Remember they are slippery when wet!

Don’t forget your mozzie spray those pesky little mites are everywhere. Ahh, also take a torch with you, as the canal paths are not usually lit & maybe crunchy underfoot. I know your phone may have a torch function, but would you want to rely on that?

A close up of some yellow flag Iris growing wild at the side of the canal in amongst the grasses of the canal bank.

Canalside flora

Your favourite route

We’d love to explore more of the British countryside by canal boat, drop us a comment below with your lovely narrowboat experiences and the routes you took?

If you are planning to eat out on a Sunday evening ensure that the Pub/Restaurant you choose is serving food, it may be Sunday lunch only. You could be left with limited options in remote areas.

Narrowboats moored up alongside a towpath as the rain sets in.  One of the perils of barging in the UK, even in summer.

The rain sets on on the Kennet & Avon Canal

Most important of all, enjoy yourself, take your time, you are on holiday after all.

* This post may contain links to affiliated sites where we earn a small commission at no additional charge to you.

Inspired to take to the British waterways?

It’s a really great way to unwind, relax and slow life down a little.

The great thing is you do it at your own pace. If you’re interested in reading our adventures from our Kennet and Avon Canal trip, then why not check out our post ‘I would do it all again.’

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About the Author


Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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