6 top tips on how to narrowboat

Extreme narrowboaters Terry and Monica Darlington help you navigate the world’s waterways

7 mins

1. Plan your route

Don’t be too ambitious. Allow time to visit historic/scenic spots; don’t put yourself in the position of having to boat all day to get back to your yard at the required time. There’s no rushing on a canal.

2. Time your trip

There will be queues at locks in high season. In spring, canals are less crowded, and lined with flowers: take flora and bird books.

3. Choose your canal

There’s nowhere more beautiful than a British canal. Industrial architecture (iron bridges around Birmingham, Victorian warehouses on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, London’s skyline) is just as interesting as that idyllic mooring in the Douglas Valley or the views of Ben Nevis from the Caledonian Canal.

4. Be disciplined at locks

Make sure all your crew know what’s expected of them. Concentrate on letting the water in slowly, taking care that any ropes are moving freely. A multi-purpose knife is invaluable – hang it in the engine-room near the tiller in case you need to saw through a jammed rope. Don’t speak to ‘gongoozlers’ (folk who hang around locks, asking stupid questions) while working the lock – being distracted is dangerous.

5. Be bridge aware

Think your boat won’t fit through the approaching bridge-hole? Use our ‘geranium system’: aim the pot plant on your roof at the number plaque in the middle of the arch – you’ll pass through without losing your chimney.

6 Boat abroad

Northern France is not geared to leisure boating (wide canals are busy with commercial barges) but in the south try the Canal du Rhône à Sète, across the wild Camargue. On the USA’s Atlantic IntraCoastal Waterway you need charts, a GPS, a VHF radio, a list of marinas (no towpaths, no side mooring) and plenty of money; friendly people though.

Terry’s new book is Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier (Bantam Press, £14.99) 

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