Learn about life afloat the easy way

Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.

Find out more

2013 11 03 Newsletter – Know Your Narrowboat Terminology

Living on a Narrowboat News 3rd November 2013

Were you blown away by last weekend’s storm? We weren’t at Calcutt. The high winds and heavy rain which caused so many problems and four tragic deaths passed us by here in the Midlands.

I received a couple of emails last Sunday wishing me well with the coming storms. I was asked what precautions I take when high winds are forecast. The simple answer is that I don’t need to take any precautions at all.

One of the many wonderful aspects of living on the inland waterways is the fact that it’s generally a very safe and placid environment. It’s a different kettle of fish on the rivers where heavy rain can cause significant problems for boaters due to rising water levels but canal boaters don’t have to worry on that score.

I suppose you could argue that I lead a sheltered existence moored on a marina. I agree, up to a point. The main danger for online moorers during periods of high winds is from falling trees. Many canal moorers are close to  – or under – trees next to the water. The high winds we often experience in October and then again in March are just nature’s way of getting rid of weakened and dying trees and branches. A falling limb from a 150-200 year old beech, ash or oak can cause substantial damage to a boat moored under it.

When we finally start cruising full time, I’ll make sure that I’m always moored a long way away from anything which can fall on the boat in high winds. I’ll also make sure that I can tie up to a strong anchor point. Mooring rings, bollards or Armco will be far more practical in windy and often wet weather than mooring pins, no matter how firmly they are hammered into an often soft and unsuitable canal or river bank.

For the time being though, I’m moored in a marina secured fore and aft to mooring rings on a wooden jetty. Although there are over 8,000 trees on site, none of them are close enough to the boat to cause me any concern. In fact the closest tree to James, an eight year old cockspur thorn wouldn’t cause me too much damage if it was uprooted and used to beat me around the head. It could reach 20m tall when fully grown but I don’t expect to be on the same mooring in fifty year’s time.

Although falling trees don’t present a problem at the marina, the wind makes things a little difficult. Although the moored boats are quite safe, those brave enough to try to cross the marina in high winds, or even turn off the Grand Union into the marina entrance, are asking for trouble.

Although Sunday afternoon’s gale didn’t come anywhere close to the forecast 60mph, we had one or two 35mph gusts. Not many boaters were brave enough to venture out but two which returned to moor on Sunday struggled t0 get on their moorings.

I mentioned the first of them in last week’s newsletter, Sue and Watson on their narrowboat Nell. Although they crossed the marina crab-like, they managed to race up to their mooring bow first at high speed. The second boat came in about an hour later.

Anaconda is a heavy deep draughted seventy footer but she couldn’t cope with the ever strengthening wind. Some boat owners prefer to be reversed into their mooring for a variety of reasons, usually either for a better view or to enable the shore line to reach the pier socket. Anaconda’s owner tried to reverse his boat in. It was never going to work.

Reversing of course involves stopping and then turning the boat, two things you don’t want to be doing in near gale force wind. The inevitable result was that Anaconda was blown at right angles against the moored boats. After much pushing and shoving by the owner’s two sons and a couple of willing fellow moorers the boat’s bow was pushed far enough away from the moored boats and towards the centre of the marina to allow the owner to unstick himself, do another quick circuit of the marina island and have another go at mooring, this time bow first into a nearby empty berth.

Anaconda remained there until the wind died down enough a few days later for one of the marina staff to reverse the boat onto the correct berth.

Yesterday the wind returned without fanfare and without any media attention. If anything, it was stronger than last Sunday. I had the pleasure of taking a family who were interested in one of our boats for sale from our wharf, up through Calcutt top lock, along the Grand Union as far as Napton Junction and back again.

The family owned a GRP cruiser but with two fast growing children they wanted a boat with a bit more living space for their regular canal cruising holidays. They couldn’t have picked a better day to test the difference between the handling capabilities of a keeled cruiser and a flat bottomed narrowboat.

Just after exiting the lock there’s an open 200m stretch overlooking the 30 acre wildlife haven of Napton reservoir. This section also passes half a dozen permanently moored boats, some of them liveaboards. It’s always interesting negotiating this section when you need to both slow down to appease the moored boat owners and travel fast enough to counteract the lateral drift caused by the cross wind.

The boat and the helmsmen performed admirably, even at the forty five degree angle we were cruising at. Just before the junction we passed another dozen boats on residential moorings, again without incident, before executing a swift and none to subtle three point turn in the strengthening wind.

At the wharf I left the family sitting around the boat’s dining table, marveling at the additional space the narrowboat would offer them after their claustrophobic cruiser accommodation, and calculating whether their finances would allow them to buy the boat. Test drives are wonderful tools for vehicle sellers. They increase the likelihood of the potential buyers responding to hearts rather than heads. From the dreamy expressions on the adults’ faces as I left them, I had a feeling that in their minds the boat was theirs already. The deal was done. All they needed to do was hand over the cash.

Jack RussellBack on dry land, I spent an hour in the afternoon logging a mostly dead field maple I cut down last week. With my new moisture meter – I carry it with me everywhere on the site now – I knew that, with a moisture content of 20% in the dead limbs, most of it was ready for burning immediately.

Last night as the wind howled and the rain rattled against the windows, Sally and I sat quietly in front of the stove, basking in the free heat courtesy of the field maple logs, quietly watching the flickering flames as we sipped our wine. It was a tranquil moment somewhat spoiled as both dogs started to growl and stared at the closed front doors.

Not having any confidence in their ability to sense something out of the ordinary, we told them both to shut up so we could resume our fire watching. They wouldn’t and we couldn’t.

A quiet scratching from the front deck sent Sally into a blind panic. She’s been pestering me for a year or more to fix internal locks to the front doors. The doors are open to anyone, welcome or otherwise, until I get around to it. Events like this just reinforce the need in Sally’s mind to beef up security.

A little voice from somewhere far behind me ordered me to go and investigate. I confidently opened the doors expecting nothing more than the cratch cover flapping in the wind. The jack russell bitch sitting trembling on the front deck came as a bit of a shock. We don’t own a jack russell, nor do any of the boat owners moored anywhere near us.

I carried the terrified dog into the boat. Our two placid spaniels Charlie and Daisy came to say hello. The not so placid jack russell told them with a curl of the lip and a low growl to stay away.

We sat with a now happy and smiling little brown and white dog on our laps, Charile and Daisy still trying their hardest to get in on the action while we decided what to do with it. There wasn’t a name tag or an address on the dog’s collar so we couldn’t return it to the owner unless the owners was out searching for their missing mutt on a wild and stormy night.

I left Sally in charge of the three dogs and did a quick circuit of a very windy Meadows marina looking for signs of life.

Fortunately I spotted torch light in the distance after I had been out for ten minutes. The dog belonged to Dale, a long term online moorer who keeps his boat on the canal about half a mile from me just above the top lock. He had been taking his jack russell for a night time walk when it had been spooked by distant fireworks. Our boat’s font deck was the closest refuge it could find.

With Dale reunited with his best friend Sally and I threw another couple of logs on the fire and settled down for another hour’s relaxing fire watching before bed.

Popular Narrowboat terminology

Confused about narrowboat terminology?I’m in the process of putting together another guide. It’s for anyone new to boating in general and narrowboats in particular who is considering buying a boat. There are in excess of 1,000 narrowboats for sale at any one time. You can find adverts for most of them online in one form or another but to the uninitiated the adverts are a mystery.

The most popular place to start is Apolloduck. There are currently 1,113 cruiser, semi-trad and trad stern narrowboats for sale. That’s where the confusion starts for many. What’s the difference between these styles and which is best for the potential buyer’s intended purpose?

Reading through the individual adverts leads to more confusion. What’s a tug style deck, what’s a hydraulic gearbox and why on Earth would you want a large pigeon box on the roof unless you were a flat cap wearing, rollup smoking, bird racing enthusiast from up north?

The range of narrowboat terms is mind boggling to those new to the game. There are steel specifications to consider, layout and equipment levels, toilet type, engine type and power, space considerations, heating and electrical requirements… It’s all too much.

The first stage in my guide writing/compilation has been to put together a comprehensive glossary. Fortunately most of the hard work has been done for me. Enter Tony Ward.

I found his web site when I was researching narrowboat terminology. On his web site he says;

“I’ve been actively interested in the canals since the late 1950’s, for the last 12 years I have been a qualified Boatmaster steering passenger trip & hotel boats in London & the Midlands.
Years ago, I started collecting some of the idiosyncratic and colourful old boatmen’s terms and sayings. More recently I have added many more generally used canal boating expressions. Like Topsy it has grown to unexpected proportions so I thought I would make it available on the web so others can dip into it either just out of interest or perhaps to look up something they’ve heard but don’t understand!”

I emailed Tony to ask permission to reproduce some or all of his glossary. He kindly agreed providing I gave him credit for the compilation and included a link back to his site. The abridged glossary is below. I’ve left out many of the old boatmen’s terms which you’re never likely to hear but if you want to see the glossary in all its glory, it’s here.

I haven’t had time to trawl through many of the thousands of online narrowboat adverts, compare them with Tony’s glossary and determine which, if any, terms are missing. Can you help me with that?

If you see any narrowboat terms which aren’t included in the glossary, in particular those related to narrowboat sales, can you please let me know? I’ll then add them to the glossary which will be included in the new guide and also pass them on to Tony to include in his master list.

abreast  Alongside; side by side (not to be confused with breasted-up).

adrift  Anything broken away from moorings or fastenings.

aft  (1) Behind (2) (on board): – towards or near the stern.

air draught The overall height of a vessel measured from the water line to the highest fixed part of the superstructure.

anchor  Heavy iron or steel implement for chaining a boat to the sea or river bed, with barbs or partly swiveling flukes that bite into most types of bottom to give a firm purchase.  Narrowboats are extremely weighty and need large heavy anchors when on river navigations.  When dropped, the angle at which anchor presents itself to the bottom is critical for obtaining a swift hold and is governed by the way the cable (q.v.) is constructed.

anchor-hold  The hold of an anchor upon the ground.

anchor-stock  The cross-bar of an anchor which causes one or other of the flukes to turn to the bottom.

anode (or sacrificial anode)  In steel boat terms : –  replaceable, large piece of metal e.g. magnesium, fitted to hull under the waterline, designed to corrode due to electrolysis instead of the hull.  Annual inspection for wastage/possible replacement is usual at which time it is normal to clean the hull and apply blacking.

anti-cavitation plate A plate, usually attached to the weed hatch cover, that is flush, or almost flush, to the uxter plate so that it closes off the underside of the weed-hatch aperture.

antifouling  Paint applied underwater to inhibit weed growth on the hull. Usually applied to river and canal cruisers rather than narrowboats (the steel hulls of which are invariably coated with bitumen paint, which has some antifouling characteristics).

APCO The Association of Pleasure Craft Operators – an organization that represents the narrow boat hire industry. A subsidiary body of BMIF.

aqueduct   (Often pronounced “akkyduck” by old boatmen)  A bridge which carries a waterway over a valley, road, river etc., constructed to avoid the expense of providing inconvenient locks.

arm  A ‘dead-end’ branch off a main canal, built to service a town, quarry, mine etc.

astern   (1) Area (or something) behind (or aft) of the vessel  (2) Of boat:- going backwards; Of engine:- in reverse gear (note, boat may still be going forwards).

AWCC  Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs – organization for the numerous boat clubs of Britain’s inland waterways.

balance beam  Wooden or metal beam projecting from a lock gate (or lift bridge), to counterbalance the weight of the gate (or bridge) and thus allow leverage for opening and closing it.

ballast  Loose, heavy material (e.g. stone or iron) strategically placed within a hull to increase a boat’s displacement and thus its stability, and also to correct a natural list or poor trim.

bank effect Tendency for stern to swing out from bank when in reverse due to some of the water thrust from propeller rising up between boat and bank and pushing boat away.

barge  Not an alternative word for a narrowboat! Barges are generally much wider commercial inland boats – or leisure boats based on the style of the commercial types. However, some barges (like some Dutch styles) have been copied in narrow-width versions for use on narrow canals
basin  A partly enclosed area of water at the terminus of, or at a point alongside, a canal or other navigation comprising wharves and moorings.

BCN  Initials by which the Birmingham Canal Navigations are often known, an extensive and intricate network in and around Birmingham, reduced from an original 160 miles to a little over a still impressive 100 miles.   Still in substantial commercial use as late as the mid 1960’s.

beam  (1)  The overall width of a boat. (2)  A transverse support for the deck (see cross-beam). (3) ‘On the beam’: – same as abeam
bilge  The line along the hull sides where sides and bottom meet.  Also, the lowest curved section of hull between side and bottom in a round-chined vessel.

bilge pump  A pump for removing water that has collected in the bilges.

bilges  Strictly, the ‘air space’ inside a boat’s hull lying beneath the level of the port and starboard bilge lines but usually applied to the whole region beneath the cabin floor or decking.

blacking  Term for protective coat of, often bitumen based, paint applied to steel hulls to discourage rusting
Boater’s Code, The  Free illustrated guide published jointly by British Waterways and Environment Agency containing a summary of regulations and good boating practice.

boat-hook  A light, multi-purpose, shaft normally about 8 feet long and usually made of wood with a metal (or, sometimes, plastic) point and hook at one end. Essential part of a boat’s deck equipment and a legal requirement for licensed passenger boats.  Working boatmen would always carefully place it within arm’s reach on the cabin-top with the hook-end pointing to the stern in order not to damage the paintwork when taking it up. Useful for clearing fouled blades especially if there is no weed-hatch.

boat lift  A mechanical means of lifting a boat vertically from one level of waterway to another, usually with the boat floating in water retained in a chamber, or caisson, e.g. Anderton Boat Lift and Falkirk Wheel. (See also inclined plane).

boatman’s cabin  Originally the after-cabin (approx. 8′ long) of a working narrowboat, providing the crew’s living and sleeping accommodation. Often recreated in modem traditional-style narrow boats in addition to the main cabin accommodation.

bow thruster  Steering aid transversely mounted in bow section giving, from a small propeller, thrust on demand to either port or starboard.  Powered electrically by battery or alternator, or by hydraulic motor.   Useful on longer boats in close manoeuvres, adverse weather or water conditions or when going astern.  Regarded by some traditionalists as cheating – but then they should go back to hauling open boats by horse!

breach  Burst or collapse of a canal bank or dyke, allowing water to escape, perhaps causing flooding etc.

breasted-up  Two boats, often a motor with a butty or mud hopper etc., tied up fore-and-aft alongside each other but being powered and steered from only one, allowing the steerer of the other vessel, which otherwise would have to be towed behind and steered, to attend to other duties.

bridge hole (pronounced “bridge’ole”)    The narrow water-channel beneath a canal bridge.

broad   The East Anglian term for a lake.

Broads (The)  The connecting system of navigable lakes and rivers in East Anglia.

BSS (Boat Safety Scheme)  The scheme by which British Waterways ensures boats meet minimum safety standards.  A certificate of a boat’s compliance is renewable every 4 years. Mandatory for all private, hire and house boats.  Boats built after 16 June 1998 are covered for the first four years under the RCD.

Buckby/Buckby Can   Common nickname nowadays for decorated water can (q.v.).   The village of Buckby (on the ‘Junction’) was only one of a number of places where these were produced but name now seems to be all embracing.

bulkhead   Upright panels (or ‘walls’) separating a boat into compartments.

bulls-eye  Small round porthole set in the cabin-top fitted with convex glass, for lighting the cabin rather than for seeing through.

butane gas  Bottled gas, usually in blue containers, with a higher calorific value, and delivered to the appliance at a lesser pressure, than propane gas. Not liked by many boaters as it can ‘wax’ and not burn properly during freezing temperatures.

button fender  Cylindrically-shaped rope fender fixed by chains to stem or stern of narrowboat. The fender at stern should be long enough to protect the rudder when held amidships.

butty or butty boat   An unpowered narrowboat, similar to the ones originally towed by horse, now towed by a motor. For efficient steerage it requires a much larger rudder than a motor.  Traditional butty characterized by large, curving, often highly decorated tiller arm, a larger cargo hold and slightly longer boatman’s cabin than a motor (due to absence of engine hole).

BW (British Waterways)   Prior to 2012 the navigation authority for most of Britain’s inland waterways and, particularly, the narrow canals. Succeeded in 2012 by the charitable status Canals & Rivers Trust.

cabin-top  The cabin roof of a narrowboat.

CBA (Canal Boatbuilders’ Association)   Organization representing the interests of narrowboat builders. A subsidiary organization of British Marine Industries Federation very helpful to builders on Recreational Craft Directive matters.

Canals & Rivers Trust (CRT) The successors in 2012 to British Waterways, responsible for the canals system and many of the navigable rivers.

cavitation  Loss of thrust efficiency caused by air being drawn into the propeller.

cavitation plate  In a narrowboat, the underside of the stern counter forming a horizontal plane just under the waterline, that sits over the propeller helping to direct the propeller’s thrust aft, and reducing chances of cavitation.  The bottom plate of a weed-hatch if fitted, forms part of, and aligns with, the larger plate. In other craft, or on outboard motor legs, any plate that performs a similar function.

centre line  Boat handling or temporary mooring line bent to stud or eye-bolt on cabin-top amidships, invaluable when working single-handedly.  When under way it is usually laid out aft along the cabin-top so steerer can step off stern with line in hand.

chimney (nearly always pronounced “chimley”)  The removable metal flue on the left side at the rear end of cabin-top, venting the boat’s stove.  Normally painted black and bound with one or more brass bands.  Usually secured by plain or fancy safety chain to cabin-top to prevent loss overboard.  Sometimes fitted with a Coolie or Chinaman’s Hat for rain protection.

Chinaman’s hat  A rain cover placed on top of a chimney that still allows flue to vent.

chine  Where hull bottom and hull sides are flat surfaces (rather than curving gradually from one to the other as in round bilge) the chine is the sharp edge where they meet.

cill  See sill.

cockpit  Open area, usually set lower than surrounding side-decks, used for sitting-out and for storage.

companion  Ladder or stairway.

contour canal  An artificial navigable channel that follows the same land contour throughout or for much of its course. Early canals were mainly contour ones to avoid the expense and construction difficulties of deep cuttings, high embankments, locks and tunnels (then in their infancy) and the exaggerated winding routes were expected to be more profitable by bringing extra business from the greater number of towns and villages that could be reached. Later, when competition from other canals, and then from the railways, made speed between the major towns and cities more critical, many contour canals underwent  ‘straightening’ programmes (the Oxford canal is a famous example).

coolie hat  A metal cover fitting into top of chimney which gives protection from rain whilst at the same time permitting flue gases to vent.

counter or counter swim The underwater stern section of a motor boat where the beam gradually tapers down to the stern post, allowing water to flow to the propeller.

counter bottom plate  Alternative name for uxter plate.

counter deck  The round or elliptical (looking from above) small stern of a motor forming a ledge projecting over the propeller and shaft.

cratch  Optional assembly over the forewell of a modern pleasure narrowboat. Based on a solid or glazed triangular deckboard (frequently but less properly called a cratch-board) which is supported from the cabin-top by a ‘top plank’. The assembly is completed by a fitted soft cover, usually of vinyl, sometimes of proofed canvas. The result greatly extends the usability of the forewell. Either side of the cover can be rolled up to allow access, and may be fitted with a zipped door/window panel. Early forms of cratches were covers over the fodder stores of horse-drawn narrowboats, the term thought to be derived from the French word ‘crèche’.

cratchboard  The forward ‘bulkhead’ of a cratch assembly.

cross bed   Narrow double bed across the full width of fore-end of boatman’s cabin, formed by opening the bed cupboard. Usually very attractively finished with curtains, lace, pictures etc and frequently left in place by working boatmen when it would be referred to as bed hole.

cruiser stern/style  A style of modern pleasure narrowboat roughly based on the lines of former working boats but adapted to provide a large exposed but more sociable aft deck, protected by taff rails, under which is the engine compartment.

cut   The name much preferred by the canal community for a canal navigation or any artificial channel.

dinette  A table with a bench seat either side, or on 3 sides, which in conjunction with the seats, can also be lowered to form a bed.

displacement  The water displaced by a boat, equal to the boat’s weight.

dodger (or skirt) The detachable cover round a cruiser stern, below the taff rail

dog box A roof skylight/vent on a narrowboat, larger than a pigeon box and with fixed or hinged glazed double pitches attached to an underframe.

dolly  An upright cylindrical metal deck fitting, with either concave sides or a button head, on a motor’s counter to which ropes may be secured for tying up or towing.  See also T-Stud.

draught  The maximum underwater depth of a vessel’s hull, normally aft at the skeg.

EA  (Environment Agency)   Government body responsible for monitoring condition of Britain’s natural waterways (in addition to some coastal areas), whether navigable or not..  Also the navigation authority for the river Thames (and some other south-eastern rivers), and for Anglian waterways (excluding The Broads). It acts jointly with BW in harmonizing boat safety standards and navigation byelaws.

electrolysis  Decomposition by electric current, frequently experienced in steel hulls, due to its activity in canal water caused by e.g. electric leakage from own or nearby boats, proximity to steel pilings etc.  Effect reduced by use of sacrificial anodes.

fairlead  Deck fitting to guide ropes and reduce wear, frequently fitted amidships to upstands of cabin sides on modern narrowboats to protect paintwork from centre-line chafing.

fend off  To keep a boat clear of another boat or object, either by hand,  or with boat-hook, portable fender etc.

fender Traditionally, rope, but now often plastic or rubber object, to protect the sides, stem and stern of a boat, different styles depending on location (see pipe fender, button fender, tip-cat),

fluke  One of the barbs or pointed blades of an anchor.

foul  Not clear or free e.g. a fouled propeller has something wrapped around it or its shaft,

gate  The moveable wooden or steel door or shutter enabling a canal or river lock to operate.  May contain paddles allowing passage of water when gate closed.

gate paddle  A sliding door over a sluice in a gate to allow water to pass through.  When ascending in a lock, the ground paddle(s) should be opened first and the gate paddle not opened fully until the water has risen above it.

gongoozler  A term of unknown origin for someone who idly stands and stares, particularly at boats and especially at locks.

grab rail  A rail, usually fixed along edges of narrowboat’s cabin-top, to give a secure handhold when moving along the deck or gunwale.

grounding  Striking the bottom or running hard aground – arts well practiced on the canals.  Common place for grounding of deeper-draughted boats in low water conditions can be in bridge holes, not only because of rubbish that tends to accumulate but also the brick invert can form a sill proud of the bottom under water.  This may be overcome by using the old technique of accelerating up to the bridge strongly enough to make the water ‘wobble’, cutting the revs down to tick-over when the fore-end reaches the hole and by the time the stern reaches the channel the, by then, overtaking wake lifts the stern high enough to clear the obstacle.   On the other hand this may dump you on top of the obstruction, leaving you high and dry!

guillotine gate   A lock gate raised and lowered vertically from overhead framework, common as a bottom gate on the Nene navigation.

gunnel   Alternative (phonetic) spelling of gunwale.

gunwale  The wale, or upper edge, of a boat’s hull sides next to the bulwarks, if any. (So called because in fighting ships the upper guns were pointed from it). Pronounced ‘gunnel’.

handspike   A wooden bar used as a lever. On some locks on the Calder & Hebble Navigation a handspike is still needed for working lock paddle gear instead of a windlass. Also used for operating capstans and some types of fire hose and bilge pumps.

hatch  (1) A horizontal opening with a moveable cover, that may slide or hinge open, in the deck or superstructure of a vessel.

hopper window  A form of rectangular window on modern pleasure narrowboats where the whole pane lets down slightly into the cabin for ventilation when required. See also top-hopper window.

hung up  A narrowboat caught on a gate projection within a lock, particularly the rudder or skeg on the sill inside the top gate, so as to stop it descending as the water empties.

hydraulic drive  Drive transmitted from motor to propeller through pressurized oil system, obviating need of conventional gearbox and allowing great flexibility in siting of motor.

inboard motor  An engine mounted within a vessel’s hull.

inclined plane  A wheeled system which lifts boats from one level to another without using locks, on a slope fitted with rails, the boats either afloat in a tank (or caisson) e.g. Foxton Inclined Plane, or in a dry cradle.

inspection launch A short narrowboat with a long, covered but open-sided front forewell which contained the wheel steering position and loosely modelled on Victorian Thames launches. Used by canal companies to carry the Directors on their periodic inspections.

inverter   Device, common on modern narrowboats with no onboard AC generator, for taking power stored in the service battery bank and converting it from 12v DC to 240v AC for intermittent use of mains appliances e.g. TV’s, vacuum cleaners etc.  Quality of supply is generally poor making it unsuitable for some sensitive electric motors and electronic equipment.

IWA  Inland Waterways Association – a voluntary body set up in 1946 to rescue Britain’s waterways from threatened dereliction. Represents the interests of all waterways users – not just boaters. Its fund campaigning includes several rallies, of which the best known is the National Waterways Festival, held every August,

Josher  Colloquial name for a working boat belonging to carrying company Fellows Morton & Clayton Limited – derived from Joshua Fellows

keb  A long handle fork with the tines bent through 90 degrees. Used for raking rubbish from behind lock gates, recovering stuf dropped in the water that your magnet won’t get, pulling bodies out.

keel  (1) One or more parallel longitudinal fins on the underside of the hull, strong enough for a boat to sit on when not afloat. Main function is to improve directional stability through water. Not needed in conventional square-sectioned narrowboats because the flat hull sides grip water.  (2) Square-rigged sailing barge.

keel cooling  Method whereby sealed water-coolant system is cooled before return to the engine block by passing in fine tubes through a radiator attached to the inside skin of the hull below the water line.   Avoids the blockage problem inherent in raw water cooling system.

lift bridge  A movable bridge, the deck of which either swings up around its hinged end or moves vertically upwards.

list  When looking end-on, the angle at which a boat sits from vertical caused by e.g. imbalance of ballast or loading, or through shipping water. (see also heel and trim).

lock  The main means of raising or lowering a boat between changes in water levels, comprising a chamber with gate(s) at its
lock key  See windlass.

moor  To secure a boat against the bank with lines to strapping stumps, mooring pins etc.  A canal boatman never ‘moored’ – he ‘tied up’.

mooring hook  A usually g-shaped metal mooring aid designed to fasten into the top of the metal piling sheets used to repair the towpath bank and then treated as if it were a mooring ring. Much favoured as, unlike stakes, they cannot be pulled out by the action of other boats passing by too quickly.

mud box  Filter chamber, just inside raw water cooling hull inlet and sea-cock, which traps mud, weed and other debris, stopping it from being drawn into and blocking the finer waterways of the engine.

mushroom vent  A usually brass ventilation fitting on cabin roof looking somewhat mushroom-shaped. Older versions could be hand-screwed down to shut off draughts but not now allowed under BSS regulations.

narrowboat  (Also known as a monkey boat or long boat).   A commercial, cargo carrying canal boat measuring approximately 70ft to 72ft long by 6′ 10″ to 7′ beam. Used extensively throughout, but not confined to, the Midland narrow canals system. Design and dimensions thought to have evolved from those first used in C18th on the Bridgewater Canal taking coal to Manchester from the Worsley coal-mines.  The original boats were of all wood construction, followed by ‘composites’ (wood bottoms but hull sides made of iron, later of steel), followed by all-steel hulls (iron and steel hulls were much lighter than wood) although some all-wood construction continued right up to mid C20th. There were many, relatively slight, design variations but the first major change came with increased long distance traffic requiring the provision of a boatman’s cabin for living and sleeping accommodation for the steerer and his family. The next significant change came with introduction of steam and then diesel engines, resulting in the motor with its stern counter and capable of towing what previously had been a horse boat but which became known as a butty.  Notwithstanding, some hauling by horse continued commercially right up to the 1960’s in some places, particularly with day boats.  Modern and usually much shorter narrowboats built for leisure purposes roughly retain the ‘motor’ design, but with full-length cabin accommodation, and have either traditional, semi-traditional or cruiser style sterns.

narrow canals  Canals, generally those in the English Midlands area, whose locks were built to take narrowboats with a beam of no more than 7 feet.  Why this became the standard is not known but it is thought probable it was to keep down canal construction costs. Without their introduction from the mid C18th onwards, bringing a lightning fast (for the period), reliable, year-round way of carrying raw materials and finished goods throughout inland England, the Industrial Revolution would not have got going until very much later.  The early canals were highly profitable, leading to a canal mania but many of the later ones were doomed to poor returns and even early abandonment through lack of sufficient commercial demand or inadequate water supply.  Canals ruled supreme for some 70 years but the establishment of the railways from mid C 19th onwards and improved road transport in C 20th dealt them blows from which they could not recover. In the 1930’s, the Grand Union Canal Company, in a valiant effort to make the canal system viable for the modern age, tried to encourage all the other canal companies to broaden the locks to 14 feet and, with government aid, famously led the way by widening their canal almost to the centre of Birmingham (they ran out of money).  Unfortunately no one else followed suit. The Second World War temporarily postponed the death sentence, after which the system quickly fell into terminal decline and by the mid 1970’s commercial carrying had finally expired.  Thanks mainly to the efforts of various canal societies and recovery groups, there has been a long term restoration programme bringing derelict canals back into use and there is now a very decent navigable network being enjoyed by leisure boaters.

National Rivers Authority (NRA), now incorporated with Environment Agency (EA).

navigation  A navigable river or canal.

navigation lights  Lights required under IRPCS and by various navigation authorities to be shown at night or when visibility is poor.   White light forward required to be visible through 180º but very few canal boats comply in practice, often relying on their tunnel light (usually a car spot or fog light).   Port (red), starboard (green) and stern (white) lights not yet required on canals but are on most rivers.

off-line mooring  Berthing space away from main line of canal e.g. in marina, side channel or private cut.

on-line mooring  Permitted berthing space alongside towpath or outside bank of main line of canal.

overflow A weir set in the bank of a canal to take away excess water and prevent flooding. Also called storm weir.

packing  In a greased-type stern gland assembly, the thick tape-like material that circles the prop-shaft and is forced up into the void between the prop-shaft and the stern tube by the follower. When supplemented by water resistant grease from the remote greaser (which also acts as a lubricant for the bearings) the packing forms a water tight seal and stops water from dripping into the bilges.

paddle gear A blanket expression for the mechanism that opens and closes a paddle such as a windlass-operated rack and cogwheel device.

paddle The sliding door of a lock gate or other sluice, the drawing of which permits water through.

piling  concrete, timber or metal posts or sheets going through water, or non-load bearing or otherwise unstable ground, to a considerable depth to support a structure (e.g. a pier) or to act as a protective or retaining wall (e.g. canal bank).

piling hook  Same as mooring hook.

pitch  (of a propeller) – the distance a propeller would travel during one complete revolution, theoretically calculated from the dimensions and geometry of its blades.

port  Left-hand side of boat when looking forward. Most narrowboaters prefer to use the much simpler ‘left’.

port to port  The usual manner in which oncoming boats pass each other when in close proximity i.e. each boat moves over to its right (starboard)  and passes the other on its port side, unless the steerers agree otherwise through hand or sound signals. (Custom believed derived from ancient times, before the rudder was developed for sailing ships, when many boats had their steering mechanism – the ‘steer board’ – on the starboard side  making steering to port very difficult and slow, and where passing starboard to starboard would also have exposed the steering gear to possible collision damage. They would also tie up to quay on the side opposite the steering gear hence ‘port-side’).

porthole Circular window in cabin, or hull, side.

pound The stretch of water on a canal between two locks – no matter how far apart.

pram canopy  Cloth canopy fitted on folding framework allowing it to be easily raised and lowered, fitted to cockpit of cruiser and, infrequently, over a narrowboat’s counter to protect steerer from bad weather.

propane gas  Bottled gas, usually in red or orange containers, with a lower calorific value and delivered at
a higher pressure to the appliances than butane gas. Generally preferred by most narrowboaters as, unlike butane, its performance is relatively unaffected by freezing temperatures.

propeller  (or blades).  Radially assembled, spiral shaped blades which by reason of rotation in water and blade angle of attack, convert the rotary force provided by engine and gearbox into thrust.  A ‘right-handed’ propeller is designed to rotate clockwise (when viewed from astern) – vice versa for ‘left-handed’ prop.    Larger diameter propellers with greater pitch and producing more thrust are usually needed by narrowboats powered by slow-revving traditional engines but at the cost of greater transverse thrust.   Correct choice of propeller, gearbox and engine combination is crucial for optimum performance.

ram’s head  Name given to the large wooden headstock of a butty’s rudder (frequently decorated with fancy ropework or a dead horse’s tail) into which the large wooden tiller was slotted, and also applied on motors to the Z-shaped piece made from steel which is attached to the upper end of the rudder stock and to which the tiller is fitted.

raw water cooling   System of engine cooling constantly taking cold water from canal or river through hull via sea cock and mud box, passing it through either a heat exchanger in a sealed water system or through the engine’s actual waterways – and expelling it warmed via a hull fitting above the waterline.  Beloved by many traditionalists but has disadvantage on inland waters of becoming blocked by mud, weed and rubbish. (As opposed to keel cooling).

RBOA Residential Boat Owners Association – represents the interests of live-aboard boaters.

remote greaser  A metal cylinder fitted close to the stern tube, acting as a reservoir for the frequent supply of grease required for stern gland (or stuffing box).  Grease is forced from cylinder by hand-operated piston, through intermediate tubing into gland.

roses and castles  Traditional and highly stylized manner, along with simple geometric shapes and playing card suit symbols, of decorating a narrowboat’s cabin exterior and interior, doors, deck equipment etc. Close up the roses seem almost diagrammatic and each should comprise of no more than four? colours.  The castle is the main element of what is called the ‘landscape’.

rubbing strake  A longitudinal steel reinforcing strip welded to the hull of a narrowboat to lessen damage to the sides.
rudder An underwater vertical metal blade at the stern which when angled by the tiller arm against the water thrust by the propeller turns the fore-end of the boat in the same direction.

RYA Royal Yachting Association, mainly concerned with coastal cruising, but offers much advice on inland boating abroad and manages Helmsman Certificate courses.

scumble Painted graining on cabin wood work or onto steel to make it look like wood – interior or exterior.

scuppers Holes through bulwarks for draining decks or venting gas from gas locker.

sea cock  Valve to shut off a water inlet passing through the hull under waterline for e.g. raw water cooling.   Often combined with a mud box

shackle  Metal link with removable bolt, in various shapes such as ‘D’, ‘U’, bow or twisted.

Shaft  A long or short pole, useful for pushing the front or rear of a boat when turning or propelling a boat with no engine. Also used to push a boat when aground. Sometimes applied to a boat hook.

shell The empty structure of a glass-fibre or steel boat.

sill (of a lock) The bar of masonry often faced with a timber sealing piece below water level, against which the bottom of the lock gates rest when closed. When descending, care must be taken to avoid the stern gear becoming hung up on the head-gate sill.

skeg  A short piece of metal running fore-and-aft from the bottom plate, beneath the propeller (for which it provides some protection) to the underside of the rudder stock where, in a cup-shaped bearing, it houses the rudder pintle.

skin tank  A steel tank fitted to the internal face of the hull below the waterline, the tank contents being cooled by the canal water via the hull plating, usually used for cooling the engine’s sealed coolant water system (similar to a car’s radiator).

speed wheel  Small metal wheel in the steerer’s hatches that opens or reduces the throttle via a system of rod connections to engine. The gearbox can, rarely, be speed wheel controlled but usually this is by a pull/push handle.

spike  same as mooring pin.

Springer  Type of pleasure narrowboat, usually of short length, formerly constructed by Springer Engineering of Market Harborough. The first company to build narrowboats along ‘production lines’.

staircase locks  A series of two or more lock chambers each of which leads directly into the next without a pound in between. The bottom gates of one lock thus form the top gates of the one below. Sometimes called a ‘riser’.

starboard  When looking forward, the right-hand side of the boat or the area away from the boat on that side. (Derived from steerboard, being that side of ancient ships on which the steering paddle was situated). “Right” has always been preferred on the canals.

stern gland An arrangement – usually by means of greased packing in a stuffing box or stern tube – whereby water is prevented from entering a vessel at the point where the propeller shaft passes through the hull. Also usually contains the prop-shaft’s aftermost bearing. Some modern pleasure narrowboats have stern-glands that are lubricated by water drawn by the propeller’s action through the gland by pipe from the weed hatch.

stern line  Rope used for securing boat by stern dolly or T-stud to other things e.g. mooring pin.  Considered unprofessional when seen hanging coiled from tiller pin from where it could slip and foul the propeller when under way or get under the steerer’s feet.   Preference is to remove it from dolly and coil it neatly within reach on the cabin-top ready for possible emergency use – perhaps with a bowline formed at the end.
stern post  Vertical edge of hull or fin, through which prop shaft emerges.

stern rail  An enclosed safety rail around the stern of a vessel.

stern tube  Casing which contains the prop shaft’s aft bearing (where it emerges through stern post). Also contains a waterproof seal at forward end of bearing. See also stern gland.

stop lock  A lock sited at the junction of two canals, originally constructed to prevent loss of water from one company’s canal to another, sometimes with only a small rise in level of an inch or two.  As boats had to stop, it also provided a convenient place for the canal company to gauge boats for tolls.

stop planks  Wooden boards slotted into stop grooves to seal off section of canal.

stoppage  A temporary closure of a waterway necessitated by required repairs or due to water shortage.

stud The T-headed pin fitted on bow and sometimes stern of a narrowboat to which mooring or handling lines are attached.

stuffing box Traditional type of seal at forward end of the aft prop-shaft bearing (see stern tube). Uses combination of special rope packing and grease to lubricate bearing and prevent water entering the hull.

Swan’s neck  Name for the curved steel bar that connects the top of the rudder to the tiller.

swim  (1) The tapers at forward and aft end of a narrowboat’s hull sides – from full hull width to stem post or to stern post. (2) A boat is said to swim well  or to be a good swimmer  if it answers quickly and positively to the tiller and makes way without causing too much turbulence.

swing bridge A movable bridge which pivots horizontally on some form of turntable. Can be manually pushed, cranked by handle or electrically operated.

table cupboard  Distinctive and often highly decorated cupboard in boatman’s cabin fitted on port side between range and bed cupboard. Has tall door hinged along bottom edge that lets down to become a table top. Sometimes featured in main cabins of modern narrowboats due to its space saving properties.

taff rail  Rail wholly or partly around aft cockpit or counter, usually high enough and wide enough to sit on.

tiller  Lever against which the steerer pushes to direct the rudder to steer the boat. The bar is often removable in which case it is a courtesy to remove it immediately boat is tied up and not to put it place until immediately before letting go.

tow (or towing) path  The path by the side of the canal used by horses or men hauling boats.
traditional-style/trad stern  A style of pleasure craft based on the lines of former working narrowboats in which the stern counter, only up to 3ft – 4ft astern of the accommodation, extends over the propeller, and the tiller is arranged so that the steerer stands in the hatches within the aft doors of the cabin.

trim  Angle at which a boat sits in the water, looking from the side. Level trim, with gunwale line parallel to the waterline, is said to be ideal for narrowboats, although invariably gunwale line rises gradually towards the bow, particularly when boat is under way.

T-stud  A metal T-shaped deck fitting to which ropes may be secured.

tug  A generally shorter length boat with no cargo space but with an often powerful engine for towing other boats, hoppers etc. Modern pleasure boat versions have a long open foredeck with the deck level with the gunwale.

tumble home  Angle at which the cabin side of a narrowboat leans in, when seen end-on. Most narrowboat hull sides also tumble home – with slight lean-in from top rubbing strake to the side deck; and from the top rubbing strake down to the chine.

Turk’s Head  Highly decorative knot work frequently seen on ram’s heads, tiller arms, traditional rope fenders etc.

uxter plate  The steel bottom plate of a narrowboat’s stern counter deck where it projects over the propeller. Also known as the counter bottom plate.

wake  The disturbed water astern of a moving boat, caused by propeller action and the fast moving counter current meeting the stationary or slower moving water immediately aft of the hull.

wash  Waves along the bank created by the wake from a boat. On canals, to avoid damage to the banks, boats should keep wash to a minimum at all times but especially if the waves have breaking crests.

weather side  Side from which wind is blowing.

weed-hatch A watertight compartment with a removable lid (and to which an anti-cavitation plate is usually fitted), in the stern of the boat, which provides access from deck level for clearing a fouled propeller. Boatmen of old did not have this luxury, if they could not clear the fouling by using the boat hook from the towpath then they had to get into the water and duck down underneath the counter deck!

weir  An overspill dam placed across a river or alongside a canal or by the sides of locks (in which case they discharge back into the waterway below the locks) for regulating the depth of water.

well deck  The floor of a well or cockpit.

wharf  Structure built of brick, concrete, masonry or timber, for cargo loading or discharge. In some places also known as a staith.

wind To turn a boat around. (Rhymes with tinned).

winding hole  (pronounced win-ding) A triangular bay cut into the outside bank of the canal to provide sufficient room for craft longer than the canal’s width to turn around.

windlass (1). L-shaped handle for operating lock paddles. Has a square socket at one end to fit on the spindle operating the paddle gear.  Also known as a ‘crank’ in some districts. Sometimes called a ‘lock key’  (2). Drum winch with cranked handles or removable hand spikes used for raising an anchor.

Suggestions Please!

I’ve been writing regular newsletters for a couple of years now. During the first year they were every two weeks or so. To be honest, the frequency was a bit hit and miss. My New Year’s resolution, and one that I’m delighted to say that I’ve kept, was to send out a newsletter every Sunday, rain or shine. The hardest part of the process isn’t the writing itself, it’s constantly thinking of new content. The trouble is, I don’t know what you want to read. I think I keep the newsletters reasonably interesting but I don’t know for sure. That’s where I need your help.

Can you let me know what you would like to read in the future? Are there any areas of narrowboat life you don’t think I’ve covered enough or areas which I’ve missed completely? Please let me know what you want to read about. Thanks for your help.

Newsletter Index

I created the site just over three years ago to provide a source of information for anyone interested in narrowboats and the possibility of living on one full time.  The site has grown to encompass a comprehensive listing of inland marinas in England and Wales, dozens of articles, a forum and regular newsletters. I’ve already created (below) indexes of the site articles and the more popular forum posts. I thought it was about time I created an easy to use index of the newsletter content. Here’s the index so far. I’ve managed to reach the end of 2012. I’ll add the rest next week.

11th January 2011 – 1st Newsletter

Dealing with the coldest winter on record
Digital reading – A detailed review of the Kindle, the perfect solution for book loving boat owners

2nd February 2011

Article – Living on a narrowboat in winter

8th January 2012

The first four narrowboat case studies published

I’ll start with myself; Paul Smith, living on my own, moored in a marina and working full time. Narrowboat James case study

Meet Peggy. She has a husband and two small children, works full time and cruises the network during the summer months. Narrowboat Violet Mae case study

Fancy spending your retirement cruising the waterways of England and Wales? Meet Barry and Sue Horne. They’re living the dream! Narrowboat Adagio Case Study

Here are another working couple. Lina and Warren cruise the cut with their two cats.Narrowboat Olive Rose case study.

22nd January 2012

Two more case studies. One of them waxed lyrical about life on the waterways and enjoyed every minute of her life afloat. Now (April 2013) she’s selling up to follow another dream in Spain.

4th March 2012

Reviewed: The Liveaboard Guide by Tony Jones. A great guide to living afloat

eBay Narrowboat scam (and a little bit of flack for me from another forum)

Case Study: Author Toby Jones on his own liveaboard narrowboat

A review of Debdale Wharf marina

18th March 2012

The downside of living on a narrowboat – This was a very controversial post. Liveaboard Pauline Roberts wrote about the less pleasant aspects of life afloat… and attracted a storm of comments

Case study: The Woodsman – Pauline Roberts again giving an insight into the life that you may think she doesn’t like.

 1st April 2012

As a result of the article about the downside of living on a narrowboat published in the 18th March newsletter, I asked liveaboard narrowboat owners to complete a survey to give a balanced view of the issues raised by Pauline. Here are the survey results and a much more positive article by liveaboard narrowboat owner and frequent forum contributer Peter Early.

15th April 2012

Life on the river Cam – A guest article on the pleasures of river life by wide beam liveaboard Luther Phillips

Case Study – Freelance writer Anne and her South African farmer partner John reveal all

Case Study – Toni cruises constantly with ex husband Allan. They cruise together but they live apart… on separate boats

29th April 2012

DIY narrowboat painting – I spent three weeks in April painting my boat. Here’s the first of my progress reports

13th May 2012

DIY narrowboat painting – I’ve broken down the complete cost of painting your own boat and

Dealing with wind on the river – A guest article from liveaboard narrowboat owner Alan Cazaly

27th  May 2012

How to clean your stove glass – One of the real pleasures of a living fire is watching the flames on a cold winter’s eve. Here’s what you need to do to ensure you can actually see the fire.

Smoking on board – An alternative to smelly smoke

10th June 2012

Survey – Do you want a forum on the site? (You already know the answer to that!)

7th July 2012

Repeat prescriptions, diesel heating systems and solar panels

20th July 2012

Dealing with pests on a narrowboat – spiders and swans

Posh boats – My personal favourite: S.M. Hudson

18th September 2012

I published my guide Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat. When this newsletter was published it was only available as a Kindle edition. Now it’s available in both Kindle and PDF format and is bundled with Narrowbudget, the site’s bespoke narrowboat budgeting application.

VAT on narrowboat sales

30th September 2012

The best tip for a wannabe narrowboat owner – Advice from existing boat owners

14th October 2012

Practical flooring for narrowboat dogs

Case study – Mike and Mags use a double redundancy payment to pay for their new floating home

17th October 2012

I started to develop the narrowboat budgeting software. This newsletter detailed the concept and the progress to date

28th October 2012

An unscheduled dip in the marina prompted me to write about safety on the waterways

Living on a narrowboat – Through the eyes of a young lady who would clearly prefer to be somewhere else

6th November 2012

The first release of the new spreadsheet based narrowboat budgeting application

21st November 2012

First tests and reviews of the budgeting application

The best aerial for a narrowboat television

2nd December 2012

Low cost narrowboat ownership – A low cost solution to the problem of funding your first narrowboat

Solar power – All you need to know about installing solar panels on your boat. Written by the inland waterways most popular solar system installer

Case Study – Mr. Solar Panel Tim Davis writes about life on board his own narrowboat

18th December 2012

Understanding narrowboat electrics – Another excellent article from Tim Davis

Satellite television for narrowboats – Information from a system installer

24th December

Narrowboat electrics part 2 – The concluding article from Tim Davis

I asked newsletter subscribers to send me detailed breakdowns of their bricks and mortar expenses so I could compare them with the cost of running a narrowboat. Quite a few subscribers obliged. I added the breakdowns to my narrowboat costs guide and the budgeting application.

8th January 2013

Case Studies – I put together 21 of the best case studies and analysed and summarised the data in this low cost guide. If you want ton save yourself hundreds of hours of research and costly mistakes, you need to read this guide.

Case Study – Mike’s circumstances are similar to my own. He moved onto his boat after a failed marriage. He’s upgraded from a 27′ GRP cruiser to a 50′ narrowboat

20th February 2013

The real cost of going cheap. An in depth look at the cost of my 36 year old boat, and how much I spent (and still need to spend) before it will be a comfortable full time cruising boat.

3rd March 2013

Stove fuel test – What works best; coal, wood, briquettes or something else entirely – Here’s my own take on a Waterways World test

Essential stove maintenance – Here’s what you need to do to make sure that your stove always performs well.

Internet connectivity – I use the internet four or more hours every day. This is the setup I have on my boat to make sure that I’m always connected.

Detailed running costs for my own boat for January 2013

11th March 2013

James’ upgrade – Adding solar panels and replacing carpets with oak effect laminate flooring

17th March 2013

Where can you find residential moorings? Here’s a great place to start

Getting rid of unwelcome visitors – Geese used to regularly disturb a peaceful night’s sleep where I moor. Not any more. Here’s my solution

Know your narrowboat costs – Detailed costs for my own boat for February 2013

Half a dozen boaters now have access to their own blog section on the site. You can too. Here’s how.

24th March 2013

Here’s an example of what happens when you really don’t understand how your narrowboat works.

Essential boating equipment – Here’s a low cost item which has paid for itself over and over again.

Whilton marina boat sales – Sometimes things aren’t what they appear to be. This alleged fact about the boat sales at Whilton has come to me from several different sources.

31st March 2013

Case study – Sarah lives on wide beam Antioch on the Leeds Liverpool canal. She can do man things with her hands. Here’s her story.

Be inspired – There are always reasons why you don’t make the move from bricks and mortar to steel and water. Here’s an anecdote which demonstrates once and for all that there really aren’t any worthwhile excuses.

7th April 2013

Narrowboat security – A spate of burglaries from boats and a break in at my former family home encouraged me to write this article

Case study – You need to committed to sell your home to fund the purchase of your narrowboat. That’s what Mick and Marlene have done.

14th April 2013

The perils of exceeding your monthly broadband data allowance. Learn from my mistakes.

21st April 2013

The Trust target illegal moorers but just what does the Trust consider to an illegal mooring?

Identity theft – The ongoing saga of my hacked laptop

RCR engine servicing – River Canal Rescue (RCR) are well known as the waterways equivelent of the AA but did you know that they will also come to your mooring to service your boat?

28th April 2013

Narrowboat blogs – My own first cruise, Our Nige takes his new home on its maiden voyage and a chance for you to have your very own blog section on this site.

5th May 2013

Narrowboat fuel tanks – How much do they hold

Meet one of your legless canal side companions

The canal network’s largest floating hotel

12th May 2013

An encounter with a wide beam boat and why they aren’t suitable for much of the canal network

An interview with the Trust’s head of boating. Sally Ash talks about the Trust’s approach to the thorny issue of residential moorings

19th May 2013

My comments about an encounter on the Oxford/GU section between Napton and Braunston sparked a debate about the pros and cons of wide beams on the cut.

Keeping dry – You don’t really need to limit your cruising to sunny summer days. There’s something very special about standing on the back deck in the pouring ran protected by a set of bomb proof waterproofs.

Do you really need a car? Living on a narrowboat is all about enjoying a simple and stress free life. Sally and I had a car each. Mine cost £2,000 to run in the previous 12 months so I decided to get rid of mine to see if I could manage without one.

26th May 2013

Laptop hacking – An update on the problems I encountered after buying a brand new laptop which I suspect was tampered with before I bought it.

Diary of a new narrowboat owner – Frequent forum poster “Our Nige” finally moved on to his new floating home. Here’s his story

2nd June 2013

An encounter with two poorly prepared holiday boaters and my own impending two week cruise encouraged me to put together a pre cruise check list

9th June 2013

I was on holiday for the first two weeks of June. Sally and I cruised from Calcutt to Braunston, north along the north Oxford where we joined the Coventry canal briefly before taking a very sharp right turn onto the Ashby canal. Here’s a daily report of the first week of our holiday.

16th June 2013

The Ashby canal cruise part two – We spent a bit more time on the Ashby before heading south again, joining the Coventry canal, this time following it into Coventry’s rather depressing and disappointing city centre, then retracing our steps back to Calcutt

Most popular narrowboat names – Here’s the definitive list of the top 200 most popular narrowboat names and a resource you can use to find out if any other boat has the same name as yours

Considerate boating – An article prompted after a near head on collision with another boat trying to avoid a fallen oak.

23rd June 2013 – The cost of a two week cruise. If you live on your own boat, what’s the real cost of taking it away for a two week break?

Case Study – Mary Anne swapped dry land home rental for floating home ownership. Now she loves life afloat and works from home.

Life as a continuous cruiser – The Holy Grail of narrowboat ownership. The ability to travel where and when you like. Peter Early tells all.

30th June 2013

Keeping your stove glass clean – Maybe you think it’s an odd subject for the summer but you can’t trust the English weather. Late June and the stove was still on now and again. At least now I have a crystal clear view of the fire I shouldn’t need to light.

Traffic chaos caused by Braunston’s historic boat rally – On a day with high winds and a canal full of working boats returning home after the rally, I had the pleasure of taking some very nervous hirers out on the cut.

7th July 2013

Anticipating winter weather – You may well be enjoying unusually warm winter weather but the winter will be with us all too soon. Now is the time that you need to plan for the cold weather ahead.

14th July 2013

Fenland river cruising – Another boater’s maiden voyage to whet your appetite.

21st July 2013

Hire boat expectations – Fully understanding what facilities will be available to you is essential if you’re going to enjoy a narrowboat holiday. Here’s what not to do.

28th July 2013

The cost of living on a narrowboat – An article in the Daily Mail… and why most boaters disagree with what they said.

4th August 2013

The perfect narrowboat washing machine? – It’s low cost and doesn’t need plumbing in, but does it actually clean clothes?

The cost of a continuous cruising lifestyle – How much does living the life of a water gypsy really cost?

11th August 2013

A free download – Living On A Narrowboat: 101 Essential Narrowboat Articles

Narrowboat tips – Handy hints from experienced narrowboat owners

The cost of a continuous cruising lifestyle – How one liveaboard boater manages on a shoestring

18th August 2013

CART Guide Approval – The waterways’  governing body is now promoting the information packages available from this site. Yippee!

Narrowboat Insurance – A summary of insurance quotes from the major narrowboat insurers

Liveaboard Case Study – Keith and Nicky downsized their property in Jersey, used the released capital to buy their 57? “go anywhere” narrowboat and now live on their boat full time while they continuously cruise the canal network. They’re ridiculously young to retire, and I’m very, very jealous

Downsizing from a 3 bed semi to a narrowboat – What do you do with a lifetime’s accumulated possessions?

25th August 2013

Effective fly killers for boats

The downside to living on a narrowboat

Liveaboard Case Study – American Richard Varnes has taken a year out from work to cruise the canal network and write about his adventure. Here’s his case study and a few stories from his journey so far.

1st September 2013

Solving engine room leaks – A simple solution to a dripping stern tube

All about the weed hatch – Removing debris from your propeller

8th September

A disaster – I inadvertantly deleted this week’s newsletter and there wasn’t a backup on the server. What a shame. It was all about the damage you can do to your boat if you don’t watch what you’re doing in a lock. You would have loved it!

15th September 2013

Managing your water supply

An American blogs about his travels

22nd September 2013

A tragedy at Calcutt. Sudden Oak Dieback hits our 1,500 twenty year old oak trees

Forum private messaging – Now you can email other forum users from within the site

29th September 2013

The folly of using unseasoned wood as a fuel – Here’s essential information if you plan to use logs you find to heat your boat for free

Creating lasting memories of your cruises – Slightly off topic, but please bear with me. You’ll have some wonderful adventures as you travel throughout the network. They’ll be adventures worth remembering but will you remember them? I have a very poor memory but instant and total recall of all my cruises is just a click away.

6th October 2013

Managing your boat’s water supply. You can use your water supply as and when you need it when you live in a house with all mod cons. You can pretty much do the same when you’re on a marina mooring with a water supply just a hose length away. It’s a different kettle of fish when you’re on an online mooring.

Liveaboard case study – A prime example of mooring without a water supply on tap.

13th October 2013

On demand water heater problems – Discover a common fault with these water heaters and what you can do to resolve the problem.

Know your firewood – Not all timber burns well. Find out which is best and which to avoid.

20th October 2013

Condensation. It’s a common problem on boats. Here are a few suggestions how to keep your boat’s interior dry.

A new organisation for liveaboard boaters

27th October 2013

The wind chill factor – How strong the wind is blowing and which direction it’s coming from can determine how difficult it is to heat your boat. Here’s what you need to know.

Case study – Another couple from down under living the dream on the inland waterways.


Comprehensive Site Article Listing

There are dozens of helpful and interesting articles on the site, but have you found them all? I thought you might appreciate a list of the more popular articles that you can glance through and click on the ones that take your fancy. Here it is.

Popular Forum Posts

There’s a wealth of information on the site in general, but if you’re struggling to find the answer to a particular issue, the forum is the place to find it. I’ve listed some of the more popular posts below but if you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask your question on the forum. If you don’t know how to create a post, or if you can’t log in, please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to get you up and running.

  • GPS Devices and Canal Mapping – Are there any decent ones available for your narrowboat and do you need them anyway?
  • Battery Monitors – Replacing your leisure batteries is one of your more expensive maintenance costs. Here’s some detailed information about a device for looking after your batteries
  • Survey Costs – How much should you pay to have your boat removed from the water for a survey?
  • Battery monitors – Gimmick or essential boating equipment?
  • Engine size and performance – Most engines are suitable for pottering about on the canal but what size engine do you need if you plan to cruise on rivers?
  • A Big Inverter Or A Suitcase Generator – What are the pros and cons of either option?
  • Who Owns Your Boat? – How do you find out if there’s still finance attached to your boat when you buy it.
  • Boat Shares – A low cost alternative to outright narrowboat ownership. Advice from a current share owner
  • Plumbing In A Back Boiler – Advice Offered
  • Inverter Installation – What do you need and can you fit one yourself?
  • Getting Rid Of Space Wasting CD’s & DVD’s – The solution is to digitise your collection. Here’s how to do it.
  • Depreciation – How much does a new narrowboat lose in value as the years go by?
  • The Cost Of Continuous Cruising – How much does the nomadic lifestyle really cost?
  • 12v Narrowboat Washing Machines – Is there any such animal?
  • “Chiggers” – It’s a mite you can pick up from the ever growing population of Canada Geese. Beware!
  • Post & Postal Addresses For Continuous Cruisers – You need an address in order to receive post and open bank accounts, register for doctors and hospitals etc. How do continuous cruisers with no fixed abode manage it.
  • Keeping Cool On A Narrowboat – How to keep people and pets cool in the summer
  • It’s Official: There’s No Need To Pay Mooring Fees – Or so this Daily Mail article claims. You may disagree. I do.
  • Overcrowded Waterways – More and more people are choosing a life afloat. Are the waterways becoming congested?
  • VAT On New Narrowboats – Can you knock 20% off the cost of your new narrowboat?
  • Lock Techniques – How do you handle a narrowboat in a lock on your own?
  • Narrowboat Burglary – Two boats burgled at the same location. Where is it and what can you do to minimise the risk of theft from your own boat wherever you are?
  • Insuring Your Car When You Live On A Boat – A boat owner had his car insurance cancelled when he told them he lives on a narrowboat. How does he approach other insurance companies?
  • Remedies For Sooty Stove Glass – For me, one of the great pleasures of living on a narrowboat is a winter evening in front of a flickering fire. Here’s how you can keep your stove glass clear so you can see the fire in all its glory
  • Visitor Moorings With Shore Power – Sometimes you need to hook up to the mains when you moor for the night. Where can you find these moorings?
  • Steam Power – Are there any steam powered narrowboats on the network?
  • Lightning – Is there a risk of your narrowboat being struck by lightning?
  • Overplating/Replating – What’s the difference between the two and what’s involved in having the work done?
  • The Logistics Of Buying A Boat – A fascinating account from a potential narrowboat owner as he tried to get a boat out of the water so that it can be suryeyed.
  • Winter Stoppages 2013/2014 – The Trust carry out essential scheduled repairs during the quieter, cooler months. Here’s their planned stoppages for the coming winter.
  • A New Narrowboat Dog – Alan recently moved on board his own floating home. He loved his new boat but something was missing. Now he has a new best friend and he’s in love, although his new best friend has proven a bit of a challenge.
  • Electric Boats – What do they cost to run? Why would you want one? There’s a huge amount of information for you here if you’ve ever considered an alternative to a diesel narrowboat engine.
  • Pram Covers – “Pram cover” is the term for a cover over the rear deck, usually on a cruiser stern narrowboat. Here are the pros and cons.
  • The difference between cruising on canalas and rivers – This is a very popular thread for very good reason. It’s packed with advice if you’re new to river cruising.
  • Checklists – What do you need to check before you set off on a cruise? There’s some very detailed information including a very useful post by fellow Calcutt moorer Graham who has issues with his mobility after an RTA many years ago.
  • Television Aerials – If you can’t live without your Corrie, you’ll need a decent aerial for your boat.
  • My New Life – I urge you to read this forum thread. If you dream of living on your own narrowboat one day, reading this post, written by a new liveaboard boater, may well prove the catalyst you need. It’s essential reading for any aspiring narrowboat owner.
  • Narrowboat Ownership – How do you prove that the person offering a narrowboat for sale is the real owner?
  • Tips For Continuous Cruisers – He’s making a bit of a habit of it; Pearley’s back with some great cruising tips
  • The Llangollen Canal – One of the country’s most beautiful canals discussed
  • Deliveries to your boat – Excellent information from regular forum contributor Pearley
  • Mobile Broadband – All you need to know about internet connectivity on board
  • Internet Data Theft – Did you know that fellow boaters can steal your internet data allowance?
  • Boat Planning & Design – Is there any free software available to hel you plan your dream boat?
  • A Narrowboat Checklist – What checks do you need to carry out before you set out on a cruise?
  • Tunnels – How do you navigate them? Who has priority?
  • Windows Or Portholes – Round or square, which is best? Is it just a matter of personal preference?
  • Day To Day Questions About Narrowboat Life – How can “newbies” find out the answers to questions about day to day life on a narrowboat? The answer is simple. Find out by reading this post.
  • Beds – The pros and cons of fixed doubles and cross beds. You need to read this if you are taller or slightly wider than average.
  • Flushing Out a Toilet Waste Tank – Emptying your pumpout toilet holding tank isn’t just a case of sucking out your unmentionables. You also need to flush water through the tank to remove the built up solids. Here’s how to do it.
  • Narrowboat Knots – Do you know your bowline from your buntline hitch, your cleat hitch from your clove hitch or your poacher’s knot from your square knot? No? It’s about time you did!
  • Free Narrowboat Heating – Is there any such thing? Read this post to find out
  • Narrowboat Furniture – Not everyone wants fitted furniture on their boat. Here are a few ideas if you want to add your own.
  • Weight on a narrowboat – How many people can you carry on a narrowboat, and how much luggage can they bring with them?
  • Narrowboat Finance – A Canadian hoping to move to the UK, buy a boat and cruise the network.
  • Internet Data Theft – Did you know that you can have your boat’s broadband allowance stolen? Here’s what you can do to prevent the theft.
  • Problems Powering An Inverter With A Generator – Why didn’t it work and what’s the solution?
  • Diesel Costs – You need it to run your boat and maybe your heating system. How much can you expect to pay for it?
  • Stove Top Fans – Are they worth the money?
  • Mooring Pins and Piling Hooks – What are they and when do you use them?
  • Water Pump Problems – What to do if your water pump appear to have a life of its own
  • Fuel Contamination – How do you know if you’ve water in your diesel… and what do you do about it when you have?
  • Anchors – What’s the best size and weight anchor for narrowboats on tidal rivers
  • Single Handed Boating for Ladies – Can a lady on her own pass safely through locks?
  • Different Types of Mooring – What’s the difference between residential and leisure moorings? How long can you stay on your boat with each type?
  • Which Ropes To Use? – There are so many different types available. Are the more expensive ones worth using or is it just a case of money for old rope?
  • Windows – Why do narrowboat owners tolerate condensation? Why don’t they have modern uPVC windows fitted?
  • Best Ex Hire Boats – Are you considering buying an ex hire boat to live on? Should you? Here’s some important information for you.
  • Liveaboard Conclusions – Mel Davies has been doing  plenty of research into her hoped for lifestyle afloat. Here are the conclusions she’s reached and comments from a few existing liveaboard narrowboat owners.
  • Handling Floodwaters – How safe is a river mooring during and after heavy rain? Can you stay on a river when the level rises? What can you do to minimise danger?
  • Narrowboat steel thickness – How thick is your boat’s steel? How long does it last?
  • Retro fitting a solid fuel stove – Where’s the best place to put your stove and what’s involved in fitting it?
  • Converting from a cassette toilet to a pump out – A pump out toilet is far more convenient to use than a toilet with a portable cassette but how easy are they to retro fit in a narrowboat?
  • Gas free boating – If you don’t fancy heaving unwieldy gas bottles into a difficult to reach bow locker, a gas free boat might be the solution
  • Winter on the cut – Are you able to cruise all year on your boat or should you find a mooring for the winter?
  • Transporting your boat – Sometimes you may want or need to take your narrowboat by road rather than cruise along the canal. Here’s an idea of the cost
  • Bike types and preferences – If you don’t have a car parked near your boat, you’ll probably want a bike, but which type of bike is best?
  • Towing a butty – I’ve upset someone. I didn’t mean to. Wainbody wanted to know the best way of towing an unpowered second narrowboat (butty). I came across as patronising when I replied. It was unintentional but to make amends I thought I would ask anyone with boat handling experience to reply to his thread with some constructive advice. If you can help him, please reply to the post.
  • The best flooring for a narrowboat pets –  What’s the best way to protect your floor from a dirty doggy?
  • The best time of the year to buy a boat – Is there a deal to be done by buying a boat in the winter?
  • The best length for a liveaboard narrowboat – What’s the best length to buy? What are the pros and cons of different length boats
  • ONE tip to offer a potential narrowboat owner – If you are already a narrowboat owner, you can share your experience. If you haven’t bought one yet, you need to read this thread.
  • Powering your computer on a narrowboat – Can you power your computer/laptop from the boat’s 12v supply or do you need mains power?
  • Must-have gadgets and necessities – The most useful/useless gadgets for life on a narrowboat
  • Choosing a stove for your boat – Are domestic solid fuel stoves as good as the ones designed specifically for boats? Which is the best one to buy?
  • Diesel heating for boats – How important is a solid fuel stove on a liveaboard narrowboat? Is a diesel heating system OK as a primary heat source?
  • Computers on boats – Can a computer be powered from your boat’s 12v system or does it need to be plugged into the mains
  • Receiving post on your boat – How does the postman find you when you’re cruising? How do you apply for a driving license, a TV license or a bank statement when you have no official address?
  • Bikes on board – Many boat owners do not have cars so they rely on bikes to get them to the shops (or the pub). Some use bikes to collect their cars after a day’s cruising. There’s a huge selection of bikes to choose from. Which are the best for your boat? To tell you the truth, I don’t know the answer. Can you point forum member Ainslo in the right direction?
  • VAT on narrowboat sales – Does the price of your narrowboat contain a VAT element? Can the VAT be reclaimed?
  • Internet access – How do you connect to the internet when you live on a boat?
  • Living off property rental income – Do you have a property that you indend to let while you cruise the waterways? Read this before you work out your budget.
  • How to find a narrowboat to live on – Here’s an article about choosing a liveaboard narrowboat, and a question about finding a narrowboat with a steering wheel.
  • Vertigo – How to deal with walking over lock gates if you’re frightened of heights.
  • Long term narrowboat hire – If you aren’t ready to buy a narrowboat yet, what are your chances of hiring a narrowboat for more than a few weeks?
  • Residential moorings and single handed boating – How do you handle a narrowboat on your own? What do you do about a mooring if you live on board and only want a mooring for part of the year
  • Too tall for a narrowboat? – Is a narrowboat suitable for you if you are above average height?
  • Dealing with condensation – Do all narrowboats suffer from damp? What can you do about it?
  • Solar panels – More information about portable and fixed solar panels
  • Heating systems – Hurricane and Mikuni heating systems discussed

Useful Links

Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat – Narrowboat costs explained in detail. My own maintenance and living cost on narrowboat James for a full year. Use this information to work out your own costs.
Find out 
what parts of the canal are closed and for how long. Essential cruising information for you.
Do you need to find a home for your boat? 
Here’s a comprehensive list of the narrowboat friendly marinas in the UK
Do you want to see where these marinas are on a map? 
Here it is.
Here’s a
 map of all the canals on the system to help you plan your route.
Newsletter Archive – Browse through a wealth of useful content in the newsletters over the last year.



Useful Information
Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia now wander Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 32' Dutch motor cruiser.