What boats are allowed on canals?

26th December 2023

The waterway is a great way of exploring new cities. From historical landmarks, festivals or one of the 7 wonders of the waterway – there is plenty to see and do for everyone. But did you know, there are more exciting ways to sail along the waterways than just the traditional narrowboat? From rowing boats to paddleboards, take a look at our guide to find out the ways you can enjoy our glorious canals in a way you never have before.

Types of boats that can travel on canals


The most traditional form of canal transport is the narrowboat. These long, narrow, brightly painted boats have become a signature of British culture – gaining a lot of popularity with avid boaters from around the world. Whether you hire a canal boat for an exciting trip, or choose to buy one as your forever home, a narrowboat can be an ideal way to explore the waterways.

Wide beam canal boat

The wide-beam canal boat is very similar to a narrowboat but with more interior space. Despite their limited mooring and cruising options, wide-beam canal boats are more for residential use as they provide families with greater living and storage space – allowing them to turn their floating house into a home.

Rowing boat

A rowing boat can double up as both a leisurely paddle down the canals or a competitive sport. You will either need to own a rowing boat and a license, or hire one from a company - there is also the option to join a local rowing club and row along the canals weekly – which is a great way to meet new people.

Sail boat

Typically, sailing is not normally associated with inland waterways, however, you can learn to sail in a number of reservoirs across the country. Joining a sailing club is a great way to enjoy the waterways and learn a new skill, whilst meeting people who share similar interests. ,

Freight boat

A freight boat travelling across canals is a greener form of transport, carrying commercial cargo along the waterways. Any freight boat you see making its way down the canal is contributing to a cleaner environment. 

Model boat

The model boat is the cheapest and most inclusive way to explore the inland waterways.  However, although model boats are allowed and encouraged, if you are taking yours to the canal, be mindful and try not to disrupt the wildlife or any bigger boats.

Open powered boat

An open powered boat is one that propels itself through the use of an engine, rather than manual force. A rigid inflatable boat (RIB) with a small engine is the perfect example. You can glide across the water, taking in the glorious canalside nature without the hassle of rowing or hiring a full-sized narrowboat.

Exploring the canal through water Sports

There is also a range of water sports you can participate in to enjoy the waterways.

Stand-up paddleboard

This form of paddle sport is a great way to slowly drift along the canals across the UK. This form of water sport has become increasingly popular over recent years and is easily accessible, with plenty of paddleboarding groups available around the country.

Canoe or kayak

Canoeing or kayaking is an affordable and exciting way of enjoying the waterways and the canal wildlife the UK has to offer, the only difference between the two is that a canoe is paddled with a single ended paddle and a kayak uses a double paddle. Canoeing or kayaking is an

For more information on canal boats for hire or to book your very own canal boat holiday, browse our routes here or  get in touch with our expert team today.

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