A beginners guide to operating a narrowboat

Living on a narrowboat can be a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors and experience the amazing scenery, whilst floating along some of Britain’s most beautiful canals.

It’s also a fun and enjoyable experience to share with the family and makes a huge change from the chaos of being stuck in gridlock traffic for hours on end. Simply sit back and enjoy the countryside views as you steer your way through the waterways.

Although no ‘drivers license’ is required to control a narrow boat, most beginners do find it quite daunting, especially when it comes to being in charge of the boat and operating locks.

We’ve put together some tips to help you get started!

Where should I start?

First, you will need to decide on the location and canal mooring sites that you can visit. You will need to think about what the location offers, and if it will be suited for your stay there, such as access to water, security, sewage disposal. Read more about what you need to consider when choosing to moor, in our previous post.


Once you have decided on a place to moor your canal boat, make sure there are signposts for visitor moorings as some areas are private property. Many mooring sites have bollards or rings to tie up to, so choose the ones that are a short distance from the front and back of your boat, as it would make it easier to tie your boat securely.

Avoid mooring in these places

• Near sharp bends
• At junctions
• Near bridges
• On a tidal river
• Near blind spots

Safety on the boat

Be prepared! Make sure everyone on the boat knows the drill if in case of an emergency, and knows where to find the lifeline or lifebelt. It’s definitely worth practicing the drill a few times as it can help reduce panic levels if something was to go wrong.

Hopefully, these simple tips can help boost your confidence in operating a narrow boat. It goes without saying that it may be a little hard work to wind up the paddles to fill and empty locks and pushing on heavy lock gates, but it’s all part of the fun. Everyone can get involved and share the lock duties as many hands make light work.