The creation of narrow boats came about at the beginning of the industrial revolution in England in the 18th century. A system was needed that would transport goods around the country and to take cargo to and from the international shipping centres on the coast. A network of canals were constructed around the country, and because the English countryside is not flat, locks had to be incorporated along the canals. The narrow construction of these canals and locks meant that the boats using them had to be of narrow construction. The normal width of a narrow boat is only 6 foot 10 inches. However, the length of these boats vary considerable from 20 feet to 70 feet long. Anything over these sizes will have trouble accessing the locks and some of the smaller waterways.
The first working narrow boats played a key part in the economic changes accompanying the British Industrial Revolution. In those days they were made completely of timber, hull and all. And were drawn by a horse walking on the canal tow path led by a crew member, often a child. Although narrow boats were chiefly designed for carrying cargo, there were some packet boats, carrying passengers, letters, and parcels.
Canals are part of the English cultural heritage, but what was the commercial network of the industrial revolution, has become the leisure playground of boat-owners and holiday-makers who wish to take the time to discover the wealth and beauty of the canal system. A holiday or vacation on board a narrow boat is a perfect way to see what life afloat is all about. This canal network is now governed and run by the British Waterways Board. They look after the 2,200 miles of the country's canals and rivers. Rich in heritage, abundant in wildlife and alive with culture, inland waterways are as popular today as they've ever been. Half the population lives within five miles of one of our canals and rivers and an incredible 13 million people use them every year as part of their everyday life - as a short-cut to work, walking the dog or simply taking time-out and watching the boats.
Narrow boats are divided into three main types:
Traditional - Ideal for live aboard, typified by short back deck of 2-3 Feet in length, giving more room inside for living.
Cruiser - An ideal holiday boat, a back deck of between 4-8 Feet in length, providing ample space on the back for several people to stand and socialise.
Semi-Traditional - A good compromise between the above two. The looks of a Traditional, with the space of a cruiser.
Originally narrow boats were made completely from timber, but modern vessels are made from steel. With regards to the steel thickness, the figures that you will see will be for example, 10/6/4mm, these figures relate to 10mm (bottom plate) 6mm (hull sides) 4mm (cabin). Today’s standard spec is 10/6/4mm but steel thickness of 8/6/4mm and 6/5/3mm if well looked after will provide you with many years of service, so do not rule them out. Also used on boats are Wood and GRP(glass reinforced plastic) mainly for the cabin. But these are more commonly seen on older boats and are not as desirable as all steel, but provide a cheaper option for those wishing to get onto the waterways.
The type of engine found in narrow boats will generally be the modern water-cooled diesel engines or the older and slightly louder Air cooled diesel engine. Both of these offer ease of use and reliability.
All narrow boats come with some form of heating. The three main categories are:
> Solid Fuel Stove
> Gas Central Heating
> Diesel Fired Heating
As with Caravans, Motor-Homes and Recreational Vehicles, narrow boats come with electrics and toilet.
Nearly all boats will have a 12-volt system installed. To have a 240-volt system you have a number of options, Inverter, Landline or Generator.
1. Landline. A connection to plug in at a marina when a electric supply is provided.
2. Inverter. This is a device that converts your 12-volt battery supply to a 240-volt supply for domestic use.
3. Generator. Either a petrol, gas or diesel generator will give you a 240 volt supply.
The two types of toilets fitted are Pump Out and Cassette. Pump out toilets are considered more hygienic but a cost is involved of around £12 per pump out. While the chemical or Porta Potti is free to empty.
Taking a holiday or vacation on a narrow boat is a wonderful experience, if your looking for peace tranquillity and a stress free time, this is it. Gliding peacefully through wonderful countryside at about 3 mph, seeing parts of the world you never otherwise would. You can travel through towns, cities and countryside. Negotiate locks and long stretches and at the end of the day moor up at arms reach of any one of the hundreds of canal side pubs along the way.
Nearly all canal boating holidays are self operating, you crew the boat yourself. This is very easy, basically there is a tiller arm that steers the boat and a throttle. After a quick 10 minute training talk by the boat operator you can be away. Tow paths that were once used by horses many years ago run alongside the canals, any time you want you can moor up along the tow path side. There is no mooring charge, you can use mooring posts to secure your boat or hammer your own stakes into the ground.
Some peoples dream of retirement is buying and living on a narrow boat, other can't wait that long. The idea of living an alternative lifestyle and escaping the rat race proves to much. If your serious about buying and living on a narrow boat you should consider renting one for a short while, just to see how you get on. The over-riding factor is the lack of space. After living in a house the 'space' factor can prove difficult to overcome. For a narrow boat suitable for two people to live in, you should expect to pay about £40,000 ($62,5000) for a used boat in good condition and around £80,000 ($125,000) plus for a new one with some degree of customisation. You will still have bills to pay such as food, fuel and you will need a British Waterways license. Which will cost about £ 400 to £800 a year depending on its length. And although you can moor up just about anywhere for free, its only for a limited time. The only alternative is to pay for a residential mooring. You should always get your potential purchase surveyed, and make sure the survey is done with the boat out of the water. Despite looking like a cheap way of living, full timing on a narrow boat can prove expensive.