What boats are allowed on canals?

15th December 2020

We’ve all been on a walk along the canal and watched the canal boats sail peacefully by, envying the passengers as they drift along in their floating homes. But did you know, there are more exciting ways to float along the waterways than just the traditional narrowboat? From rowing boats to paddleboards, this extensive list should help you enjoy canals in a way you never have before.

Types of boats that can travel on canals


The most traditional form of canal transport is, of course, the narrowboat. These long, thin boats, painted in their bright, happy colours have become a signature of British culture with many people choosing to uproot their city lives and live on the waterways. Whether you hire a canal boat or choose to buy one as your forever home, a trip in a narrowboat can be just what you need to leave the stresses of everyday life behind.

Wide beam canal boat

The wide-beam canal boat is very similar to its narrowboat brother - but with a wider interior. Often wide-beam canal boats are residential as they provide families with extra living and storage space allowing them to really turn their floating house into a home.

Rowing boat

Unlike our last two entries, a rowing boat cannot double up as a home, however the tranquillity of leisurely paddling down the canals with a loved one is second to none. To merrily row along the canal, you need to either 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 for meeting new people.

Sail boat

Sailing is a skill that is not normally associated with the canal system, however you can learn to sail in a number of reservoirs across the country. Joining a sailing club is the perfect way to be close to water without giving up your current home plus, as an added bonus, it introduces you to a variety of new people with similar interests.

Freight boat

A freight boat travelling across canals is a rarity now compared to when canal systems were first built, due to their slowness. However, as a greener form of transport, any freight boat you do see making its way down the canal is contributing to a healthier, happier environment. 

Model boat

Probably the most inclusive form of canal transport - the model boat. All members of the family, big and small, can get involved in a model boat race or the sailing of a family-built ship - sailing model boats can be a great day out with the kids! 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 crash into any full-sized 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 beauty of the canalside nature without the hassle of rowing or hiring a full-sized narrowboat.

Water Sports

Contrary to popular belief, there is also a range of water sports you can participate in along the waterways!

Stand-up paddleboard

When you picture a stand-up paddleboat, your mind may first go to somewhere warm and tropical, where you’re likely in swimwear. However, you can still use a paddleboard on the canals in the UK - slowly make your way down the waterway in the same relaxing method you might do in Thailand.


Finally, you can also canoe or kayak down the canal. Canoeing is a fun and exciting method of getting fit and enjoying the wildlife that the UK has to offer. You can begin by hiring, and then move on to owning your own affordable canoe - allowing you to sail down the canal whenever you feel like it.

So, there you have it - a comprehensive list of the methods of transport you can use on the canal. Enjoy the waterways and stay safe!

For more information on canal boats for hire, learn more about canal boat holidays by getting in touch with our expert team now.

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