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Difference between barges and narrowboats

20th September 2021

To many people, barges and narrowboats seem like the same thing. Both travel on water and both are long, narrow vessels which are typically used for transport. But there are definitive key differences between barges and narrowboats which mostly comes down to size. Read on to find out more and learn about how to book your next canal boat holiday with us.

Narrowboats vs barges

The main difference between a barge and a narrowboat is the size of the boat – more specifically, the width. Narrowboats typically have a beam (width) of between 6ft 10in – 7 ft, whereas a barge can typically be around twice the width – often around 14.5 ft. If you come across a boat which is in between, this range of vessels is typically known as ‘wide beam’ canal boats.

What is a narrowboat?

A narrowboat is a long, narrow, flat-bottomed vessel which is typically built from steel, designed to carry heavy loads in shallow waters i.e. the British Waterways. Historically, canal boats were used to ferry bulk items of cargo from metal foundries to industrial centres, but this has since transformed into the residential and travel sector – providing homes on the water for canal boat owners, and fantastic narrowboat holiday opportunities for people of all ages.

What is a barge?

A barge is defined as a long, flat-bottomed boat which is used on both canals and rivers for carrying freight. Barges are either towed by another boat, or under its own power. The type of freight that a barge would usually carry would be heavy goods and bulk cargo – rather than recreational use. Historically, barges were towed by draft horses – which is similar to the history of canal boats.

Their size and beam mean that you won’t see barges on some specific canals due to the width of the locks – this is because some locks on the waterways are only able to accommodate the widths of narrowboats. However, there are wider areas of the waters, such as the Thames and Medway, where barges are more likely to be spotted.

Can you holiday on a barge?

Due to the width requirements of the waterways, barge holidays are not as common as narrowboat holidays – despite common belief that barges and narrowboats are the same. Many canal boat companies will likely advertise their holidays as barge holidays due to the popular misconception that the two are the same – but when you enjoy a holiday on the canal, this is most likely going to be in the comfort of a narrowboat. Find out more about our narrowboat berths and what you can expect onboard now.

Narrowboat holidays from ABC Boat Hire

Now the difference between barges and narrowboats has been highlighted, it’s time to book your next canal boat holiday. Here at ABC Boat Hire, we offer canal holidays from a wide variety of locations in areas across England, Scotland and Wales. Check out our canal routes – ranging from short breaks of 4 nights, to featured routes of up to 14 nights – to find out more!

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