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Inland Waterways Narrowboat Terminology

I’m sure you’ll be relieved to discover that inland waterways boaters aren’t quite so precious about using nautical terminology as saltwater sailors. You’ll hear boaters referring to their craft’s bow and stern, but that’s about it. Port and starboard rarely describe the boat’s left and right sides, you’ll park your boat just as often as you moor it and drive, steer and helm are all interchangeable words to describe your navigational efforts through England’s muddy ditches. However, boating terminology rears its ugly head on occasion, so here’s a comprehensive list of the terms you may encounter.

I’ve added links in the list to forum articles you may find useful too. Please note that although my website forum hasn’t been active for several years, most of the linked information is still valid.

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

Adrift Anything broken away from moorings or fastenings.

Aerials – Television Aerials – If you can’t live without your Corrie, you’ll need a decent aerial for your boat.

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.

Aluminium narrowboats – They don’t rust so why don’t you see more of them on the inland waterways?

Anchor Heavy iron or steel implement for chaining a boat to the sea or river bed, with barbs or partly swivelling 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.

Anchors – What’s the best size and weight anchor for narrowboats on tidal rivers

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.

Back Boiler – Plumbing In A Back Boiler – Advice Offered

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.

Battery monitors – Gimmick or essential boating equipment?

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

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.

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?

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

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.

Boat monitoring – A simple way of keeping a close eye on your boat from afar

Boat Shares – A low cost alternative to outright narrowboat ownership. Advice from a current share owner

Boater’s Code, The Free illustrated guide published jointly by British Waterways and Environment Agency containing a summary of regulations and good boating practice.

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.

Budget Software – The world’s only budget planner for narrowboat owners. All the information you need to calculate the cost of living afloat whether your narrowboat is intended for recreational cruising or as a primary home. Highly recommended. You can find out more here.

Building a narrowboat – A very detailed account of how a narrowboat is put together

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.

Buying A Boat – The logistics A fascinating account from a potential narrowboat owner as he tried to get a boat out of the water so that it can be surveyed.

Buying a boat – The best time of the year to buy a boat – Is there a deal to be done by buying a boat in the winter?

Cabin-top The cabin roof of a narrowboat.

Cam, living on the river – Live aboard boat owner Luther Phillips talks about the pleasures of living on the river,

Cold weather – Living on a boat in cold weather

Canal network map – There are over 2,000 miles of connected rivers and canals to explore. Here they are.

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

Car insurance for boat owners – A boat owner had his car insurance cancelled when he told them he lives on a narrowboat. How does he approach other insurance companies?

Case Studies – For the last couple of years I have been asking boat owners who live on board full time questions about their life on board; who they are and what prompted them to switch from a traditional bricks and mortar home to life on the water, how they funded their purchase, whether they cruise continually or live on a fixed mooring, boating likes and dislikes, how they cope with the logistics of washing clothes, restocking essential provisions and medical supplies, their favourite sections of the network and, last but not least, what advice they would share with a potential live aboard narrowboat owner.

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.

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.

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.

“Chiggers” – It’s a mite you can pick up from the ever growing population of Canada Geese. Beware!

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.

Children – More mites, but far more expensive to get rid of than chiggers. Is life really practical with children on board?

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.

Composting Toilets – Most narrowboats have either pump out or cassette toilets. Here’s an environmentally friendly alternative

Computers on boats – Can a computer be powered from your boat’s 12v system or does it need to be plugged into the mains

Condensation – Do all narrowboats suffer from damp? What can you do about it?

Condensation – My own battle against condensation and a technical explanation

Condensation – Windows – Why do narrowboat owners tolerate condensation? Why don’t they have modern uPVC windows fitted?

Continuous cruisers: How to cruise the network continuously – Peter Early sent me this excellent article soon after he joined the site

Continuous Cruisers – Tips – He’s making a bit of a habit of it; Pearley’s back with some great cruising tips

Continuous Cruising – The Cost Of Continuous Cruising – How much does the nomadic lifestyle really cost?

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.

Cruising – Pre Cruise Checklist – What checks do you need to carry out before you set out on a cruise?

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

Damp: Dealing with condensation – Do all narrowboats suffer from damp? What can you do about it?

Deliveries to your boat – Excellent information from regular forum contributor Pearley

Depreciation – How much does a new narrowboat lose in value as the years go by?

Digital Books – A lifetime’s reading in the palm of your hand

Digital maps – GPS Devices and Canal Mapping – Are there any decent ones available for your narrowboat and do you need them anyway?

Digital music – Getting Rid Of Space Wasting CD’s & DVD’s – The solution is to digitise your collection. Here’s how to do it.

Diesel Costs – You need it to run your boat and maybe your heating system. How much can you expect to pay for it?

Diseases- “Chiggers” – It’s a mite you can pick up from the ever growing population of Canada Geese. Beware!

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.

Downside to narrowboat life – It’s not all sitting on the towpath drinking gin and tonics as the sun goes down. Here are the less pleasant aspects of life afloat

Downside to narrowboat life: Pauline Roberts – Pauline sent me this article about her life afloat. It proved to be very controversial.

Downsizing – The practicalities and logistics of moving from a house with plenty of storage space to a boat with virtually none.

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.

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.

Electrics Part 1: Batteries – Ex narrowboat builder Tim Davis explains narrowboat electrics

Electrics Part 2: Generators and Inverters – The concluding part of Tim Davis’ very detailed explanation of narrowboat electrics

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.

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?

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)

Finance – Narrowboat Finance – A Canadian hoping to move to the UK, buy a boat and cruise the network.

Flooring – The best flooring for a narrowboat pets – What’s the best way to protect your floor from a dirty doggy?

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

Footwear on board – Your boat floor is often very cold. What can you wear to keep your feet toasty warm?

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

Fuel Contamination – How do you know if you’ve water in your diesel… and what do you do about it when you have?

Furniture – Narrowboat Furniture – Not everyone wants fitted furniture on their boat. Here are a few ideas if you want to add your own.

Gadgets – Must-have gadgets and necessities – The most useful/useless gadgets for life on 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.

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.

Generators – A Big Inverter Or A Suitcase Generator – What are the pros and cons of either option?

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

Heat – Advice for the owner of a cold boat

Heating – Free Narrowboat Heating – Is there any such thing? Read this post to find out

Heating systems – Hurricane and Mikuni heating systems discussed

Heating Systems Part 1: Stoves – An in depth look at narrowboat heating systems by ex boat builder Tim Davis

Heating Systems Part 2: Central heating – The second and concluding article on narrowboat heating systems

Height – Is a narrowboat suitable for you if you are above average height?

Hire boats – Best Ex Hire Boats – Are you considering buying an ex hire boat to live on? Should you? Here’s some important information for you.

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.

Hurricane Heating systems – Hurricane and Mikuni heating systems discussed

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.

Internet access – How do you connect to the internet when you live on a boat?

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.

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.

Inverters – Problems Powering An Inverter With A Generator – Why didn’t it work and what’s the solution?

Inverter Installation – What do you need and can you fit one yourself?

Ironing Board On Board – How do boaters manage a crease free life?

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 stuff 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.

Kindle review – Digital reading for boat owners.

Knots – 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!

Length – The best length for a liveaboard narrowboat – What’s the best length to buy? What are the pros and cons of different length boats.

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

Lightning – Is there a risk of your narrowboat being struck by lightning?

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).

Live aboard narrowboat – 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.

Llangollen Canal – One of the country’s most beautiful canals discussed

Lock The main means of raising or lowering a boat between changes in water levels, comprising a chamber with gate(s) at its head and tail, and sluices with paddle(s) to raise or lower the water (see also flash lock, pound lock and turf-sided lock).

Lock key See windlass.

Loans on boats – Information about getting a loan for your floating home and how to deal with a cash transaction

Lock Techniques – How do you handle a narrowboat in a lock on your own?

Mail services – 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?

Maps – GPS Devices and Canal Mapping – Are there any decent ones available for your narrowboat and do you need them anyway?

Marinas – How to choose the right one for you and your boat

Marinas Listing – Here are all of the marinas listed on the site. If you want to filter the results by the waterway you’re interested in, just hover over the “Marinas” label on the menu at the top of any page on the main part of the site, select either rivers or canals and then select the one you want.

Marinas Map – A more or less complete map and listing of the network’s marinas

Mikuni Heating systems – Hurricane and Mikuni heating systems discussed

Mobile Broadband Internet access – How do you connect to the internet when you live on a boat?

Mobile Broadband – More information – All you need to know about internet connectivity on board

Money – How to continue earning as you cruise the network

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.

Mooring in winter – Winter on the cut – Are you able to cruise all year on your boat or should you find a mooring for the winter?

Mooring enforcement – CRT & Continuous Cruising – The Trust and their enforcement of the rules

Mooring fees – It’s Official: There’s No Need To Pay Mooring Fees – Or so this Daily Mail article claims. You may disagree. I do.

Moorings – Different Types of Mooring – What’s the difference between residential and leisure moorings? How long can you stay on your boat with each type?

Mooring Pins and Piling Hooks – What are they and when do you use them?

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.

Music – Getting Rid Of Space Wasting CD’s & DVD’s – The solution is to digitise your collection. Here’s how to do it.

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.

Narrowboat Choice – 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.

Narrowboat hire (long term) – If you aren’t ready to buy a narrowboat yet, what are your chances of hiring a narrowboat for more than a few weeks?

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.

Overcrowded Waterways – More and more people are choosing a life afloat. Are the waterways becoming congested?

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

Overplating/Replating – What’s the difference between the two and what’s involved in having the work done?

Ownership – Determining Proof Of Ownership – How do you prove that the person offering a narrowboat for sale is the real owner?

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

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

Painting – A professional paint job can cost you in excess of £100 a foot. You may want to save money and do the work yourself. Here’s a blow by blow account of my own attempt in April 2010

Paying for a boat – The practicalities of transferring your money to the seller and how to prove he actually owns the boat

Pets – Keeping Cool On A Narrowboat – How to keep people and pets cool in the summer

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.

Planning – Boat Planning & Design – Is there any free software available to hel you plan your dream boat?

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.

Postal services – 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?

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.

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.

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.

Replating – Overplating/Replating – What’s the difference between the two and what’s involved in having the work done?

River cruising – 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.

Rivers – 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?

Road Transport – 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

Ropes – 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?

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.

Running costs (Month) – Living on a narrowboat costs far more than many people imagine. Here’s a detailed breakdown of my own costs for February 2013

Running costs (All) – I’ve put together a package of everything you need to know about the cost of buying and maintaining a narrowboat, whether it’s for occasional recreational cruising or as a full time home. It’s the only information on the site which you have to pay for but the feedback I’ve had from the thousands of people who have invested in my guides is overwhelmingly positive. For the price of a round of drinks you get a very clear picture of the cost of life afloat.

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

Safety – Keeping yourself out of harm’s way on the cut

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

Self build/Self Fit Out – Are you on a budget and thinking of buying a sailaway to fit out yourself? Here’s someone who has done it and recorded everything along the way

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.

Shared ownership – It’s a cost effective way of enjoying regular canal breaks. Here’s what you need to know.

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.

Single handed Lock Techniques – How do you handle a narrowboat in a lock on your own?

Single handed boating – How do you handle a narrowboat on your own?

Single Handed Boating for Ladies – Can a lady on her own pass safely through locks?

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).

Smoke detectors – Why you need them

Solar panels – More information about portable and fixed solar panels

Solar power – The owner of popular narrowboat solar power system installation service, Onboard Solar, explains how they work (and what they cost)

Space – The practicalities of sharing a long corridor with a significant other

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.

Spiders – How to keep the eight legged monsters out of your boat

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.

Steam Power – Are there any steam powered narrowboats on the network?

Steel – Narrowboat steel thickness – How thick is your boat’s steel? How long does it last?

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.

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

Stoppages – The Trust carry out essential scheduled repairs during the quieter, cooler months. Here’s their planned stoppages for the coming winter.

Stoves – 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?

Stove Fuel Test – Based on a Waterways World test but conducted in the real world on my own boat

Stove Glass Cleaning – 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

Stove Top Fans – Are they worth the money?

Stoves – Retrofitting a solid fuel stove – Where’s the best place to put your stove and what’s involved in fitting it?

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.

Survey Costs – How much should you pay to have your boat removed from the water for a survey?

Swans – How to deal with the world’s second heaviest flying bird

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.

Television aerials – Here’s what I use

Television license – Do you need one on a narrowboat?

Television reception – Which aerial is best?

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.

Tips – 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.

Toilets – Choosing the best one for your boat

Toilets – 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?

Toilets – Pump Out: 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.

Towing a butty – What’s the best way of towing an unpowered second narrowboat (butty)

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.

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

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.

Tunnels – How do you navigate them? Who has priority?

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.

VAT on narrowboat sales – Does the price of your narrowboat contain a VAT element? Can the VAT be reclaimed?

Vertigo – How to deal with walking over lock gates if you’re frightened of heights.

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?

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.

Washing Machines – 12v Narrowboat Washing Machines – Is there any such animal?

Water damage – Freezing Water – How to stop your pipes and pumps from freezing in the winter

Water Pump Problems – What to do if your water pump appear to have a life of its own

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!

Weight on a narrowboat – How many people can you carry on a narrowboat, and how much luggage can they bring with them?

Weil’s Disease – Canals are not the best spots to choose for a cooling dip on a hot day. Here’s why.

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 front deck 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.

Windows Choice – Windows Or Portholes – Round or square, which is best? Is it just a matter of personal preference?

Windows – Condensation – Why do narrowboat owners tolerate condensation? Why don’t they have modern uPVC windows fitted?

Winter – Living aboard a boat in cold weather

Winter – A new boat owner’s first winter on board

Winterising – Preparing your boat for the winter

Winter moorings – Winter on the cut – Are you able to cruise all year on your boat or should you find a mooring for the winter?

Three Quick Ways To Turbocharge Your Narrowboat Research

  1. Calculate your new lifestyle cost: I've recorded every penny I've spent buying, maintaining, improving and living on my narrowboats since I moved afloat on 2nd April 2010. Get access to this data now and add YOUR lifestyle costs and income in a bespoke narrowboat budget calculator. Click here for details.
  2. Download the complete indexed guide for reference now: This guide is a distillation of everything I've learned about narrowboat life since I moved afloat. I covered EVERY aspect of life afloat (but I'll write a detailed article for you if you don't find the answer to one of your questions). Download the guide here.
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