10 Tips For Your First Narrowboat Break With Kids. In September we had our first narrowboat break as a family. Travelling across to Bath from Hilperton Marina in Wiltshire and back again which is a 23-mile round trip.  As a family of four with an eight-year-old and a four-year-old in tow, we skippered a 67ft narrowboat for a two-night stay. We went through locks, swing bridges and across aqueducts.   We had a wonderful break but during our trip and learnt lots along the way

So if you are thinking of booking your first narrowboat trip and are a little nervous as to what you have let yourselves in for then this post should help – 10 Tips For Your First Narrowboat Break with kids.

10 Tips For Your First Narrowboat Break With Kids

Learning the ropes

We arrived to pick up our boat mid-afternoon expecting it to take about an hour to get a customised with it and head out.  But in all honestly, it took a lot longer, over twice that.  Partly because we needed to watch several DVDs one of which was about forty minutes long.  The information contained within them is vital but with two excitable kids who just wanted to get on the boat, it was a bit of a challenge.   To shorten the process and to be able to take the information in better. I would suggest when booking to ask for this information to be emailed you. So that you can watch it online and take it all in.

Size matters

When choosing your narrowboat for the first time I would opt for a boat which is comfortable for the number of people but on the smaller end of the scale.   Although we did manoeuvre our 67ft boat reasonably easily,  a smaller boat is a lot less daunting. Especially when travelling with younger children.

Canal etiquette

There are some basics which will make travelling on the canals a lot easier. While cruising you need to keep on the right. When you come across areas where you can not see what is coming in the other direction use your horn to raise awareness. For example, when we travelled across the aqueducts there were points when we could not see. And the canal was only wide enough for one boat.  Finally, you should aim to keep the speed of the boat at walking pace. Which is about four miles an hour.  If you are travelling much more than this then it is likely other canal users will ask you to slow down.

Choose your route carefully

The boat hire company will be able to help you with choosing a route. We had already opted for one which we had kept intentionally simple.   Never having skippered a narrowboat before we chose a route with only one lock.  Perhaps if there had been more adults we may have been more adventurous.   And actually, the locks are easy to manage once you get the hang of it.

But knowing we only had one to worry about makes the journey easy and more pleasurable for us.  Charlie, on the other hand, wants to try a stair lock on our next trip.   Locks, swing bridges and aqueducts can provide entertainment for older children as they jump on and off the boat.

The other thing you need to think about when planning a route is roughly where you want to stop. Especially if you are thinking about stopping in pubs and restaurants as at the moment many will need to be booked in advance.  The boats are completely self-catering so we also had a packet of spaghetti and a jar of pasta sauce in the cupboard just in case we didn’t make our planned stop.

Purchase a route map

We picked up a map of the canal from the marina. I would definitely recommend doing this as not only can you see all the available mooring spaces. But it is also much easier to locate where you are since all the bridges are numbered. On our map, the purple moorings showed where the residential boats could moor and the white where we could.

The map also shows where you can turn the boat around. Including how wide the turning circle is. As we needed to turn before Bath this was really important for us to find one which we fitted in. The width signs are not always visible so the map was essential.


Really for a 67ft boat, you need three adults as a first-timer to manage the locks, especially if you have young children on board. That said my husband and I managed it with two young children, the eldest who is eight also enjoyed helping.   However, if you come upon a lock and there is another boat waiting then etiquette is for you to enter the lock together. Which means you also get the chance to share the hard work too.

Mooring up

We learnt the hard way. Our first mooring experience was in the pitch black on the side of a canal in the middle of the reeds. This is not ideal. So I would recommend making sure that you give yourself plenty of time especially  on our first trip.  The longer boats will have a rope in the middle, it is this centre rope which will hold them against the side of the canal. We only realised this after a couple of attempts.   Boats will contain a hammer and pins so that you can moor at any point.

Keep the boat in the middle

Wherever possible the recommendation is to stay in the middle of the canal.  Obviously, at some points, you come across boats coming towards you you need to move over to the side. Most canals are man-made so there is a concrete lip at the side which in some places can stick out quite away. It is not always obvious so when you are heading over to the side its best for someone who is not the skipper to keep an eye out on how close you are so you don’t get too close.


You can drink the water which is on the boat. Our first trip was only two nights so we did not need to fill up the water tanks as the marina had done this for us.   For a longer trip you will need to fill up yourself from the services on the canals.  They are easy to spot on the map.

Kids entertainment

Don’t forget to take something to keep the kids entertained. Although there is lots of time spent together as a family on deck navigating the water. There will also be a time when they want to retreat inside. We took some small games for the boys to play during our trip.  Along with some colouring books and nature spotter guides. There are lots to keep them entertained when passing through bridges and locks but depending on your route there could be quiet moments.

Have you been on a canal boat holiday? What are your tips? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.

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10 Tips For Your First Narrowboat Break With Kids

10 Tips For Your First Narrowboat Break With Kids


  1. Carly Belsey

    What a fab holiday. This would be a dream to do something like this with my little family.

  2. Sondra Barker

    How cool! Looks like alot of fun! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Celebrate Woman Today

    This boat experience is an amazing way to learn something about yourself. Truly magical.

  4. Autumn Murray

    My family wold love to experience a narrow boat ride! It looks like it would be exciting and a little scary at the same time. LOL

  5. What an amazing experience and adventure. I bet my family would love this. Thank you for all the tips and for idea. I will show this to my husband.

  6. Aliceee Traveler

    It looks like you had so much fun. Fabulous idea, my son would love an adventure like this

  7. Pati Robins

    i have loved this guide ! i am actually thinking of living on a narrowboat full time , i might actually stay there first for a test run x

  8. Marie Phillips

    I never even knew this was a thing! I wouldn’t want to be the one in control of the boat, but it sure would be a fun trip to take with the kids.

  9. Emman Damian

    I think canal etiquette is so needed. Also, research before getting into the boat. Know the safety precautions so that it will be a seamless ride after.

  10. Veronika Sykorova

    I’ve never been on one of these but it looks so fun!

  11. Gervin Khan

    These are very helpful tips! It looks like you had fun doing this! I’d love to try this someday!

  12. tweenselmom

    what a great adventure for kids, even adults will learn a thing or two here

  13. Lucy Clarke

    This looks like a wonderful adventure the whole family will relish in. Being well prepared definitely helps in carrying out family trips. Will definitely take note of these guidelines you shared for when we go on our first narrowboat trip.

  14. What an unusual way to spend your holiday, I love it! 🙂

  15. Looks like a lot of fun and great time with family. We never tried this interesting narrowboat adventure. Will definitely going for this thing in future and will keep all the points in my mind

  16. Stephanie | Adventures in Aussieland

    I’ve never been on a narrowboat nor skippered a boat let alone tried to do both whilst having kids on board. I think this is a wonderful idea especially if you’re on a family holiday. I would probably hire someone to captain the boat as I would be too worried I’d crash.

  17. This looks like a fun family adventure! I have never heard of a narrow boat before your post, so cool!

  18. that must be qute an experience for the kiddos. Looks like an great adventure to enjoy with littles.

  19. This looks like something my entire family would love to do together. We currently live in Arizona so my daughters are not familiar with canals. What a great adventure idea!

  20. I don’t have any kids but I sure would love to experience a narrowboat break with my parents 🙂

  21. Matt Taylor

    Wow that looks like such a fun idea. I never new narrow boats in canals were a thing. I usually think of gondola rides in Venice.

  22. Jasmine Hewitt

    This looks like a lot of fun. Maybe one day we can do this

  23. Buena Paz L Montero

    We did this while in London with friend who had a canal boat and we had such a great time:) It looks so hard to navigate though.

  24. Yeah Lifestyle

    We just came back from a holiday to Skipton and saw lots of Narrowboats and were saying that we want to book our first narrowboard travel. so your post has come in at the right time. Thank you for the tips

  25. I think my family would love this. We love to experience all kinds of new things when we travel, and we love ANYTHING that has anything to do with water or boats. Looks like a lot of fun!

  26. That sounds like an awesome adventure for kids AND adults. I’d love to take a narrowboat ride like that.

  27. What a fun experience for the whole family! Gosh I’d love to do something like this! 😀 Looks like so much fun 🙂

  28. Melissa Cushing

    This is super cool and I would love to do something like this with my family. Looks like an amazing adventure and fabulous memories to be had 🙂

  29. Great tips! I’ve never been on a narrowboat before, it looks fun x

  30. Rose Ann Sales

    Such a lovely experience. I had ride a boat before but not like this one .

  31. Nikki Wayne

    Seems like the kids enjoyed so much. Such a fun experience.

  32. Krysten Quiles

    Oh gosh this would be so fun, my nephew loves boats!

  33. Kimberly Hogg

    My parents had a canal boat holiday last year but I never thought about doing it with kids! I think at 2 my youngest would make me a bit too nervous at the moment but maybe in the future

  34. Sabina Green

    There is a lot to learn! I think I would take a back seat and rely on my husband – haha. It does look amazing though and it is on my bucket list!

  35. I always see these narrowboats in the movies. I’m not sure we have them here in the states.

  36. Mosaics Lab

    That is an amazing adventure! I would love to go on an adventure like this one, so cool!!!

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