The United Kingdom is a land of canals and waterways, and narrowboats are right at home on these placid waters.
The “narrow boat” refers to the original working boats built in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries for carrying goods on the narrow canals. The term is extended to modern “narrowboats” used for recreation and occasionally as homes.
The key distinguishing feature of a narrowboat is its width: it must be no more than 7 feet (2.13 m) wide to navigate the narrow canals. Modern boats are usually 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) wide to guarantee easy passage everywhere. Because of their slenderness, some narrowboats seem very long. The maximum length is about 72 feet (about 22m), the length of the locks on the narrow canals. However, modern narrowboats tend to be shorter than this, so that they can cruise anywhere on the connected network of British canals.
Modern narrowboats are used for annual holidays, weekend breaks or as permanent residences. Usually, they have steel hulls and a steel superstructure, but they can also be made of fiberglass or timber. They are usually powered by modern diesel engines. There will be at least 6 feet (1.8 m) of internal headroom, and similar domestic facilities as a small landward home: central heating, flush toilets, shower or even bath, four burner stove, oven, grill, microwave oven, refrigerator, satellite television and mobile phones. Externally, many narrowboat owners will brighten up the linear shape with bright paint, designs or crests.
They can be owned by individuals or groups, rented out by travelers, or used as cruising hotels. A few boats are lived on permanently, either based in one place (though long-term moorings for residential narrowboats are currently very difficult to find) or continuously moving around the network (perhaps with a fixed location for the coldest months, when many stretches of canal are closed by repair works or “stoppages”).
On most narrowboats steering is by tiller, and the steerer stands at the stern of the boat, aft of where a person emerges from the hatchway and rear doors at the top of the steps up from the cabin. The roof of the narrowboat is usually used for lounging or storage space.
Just like anything that is in or near the water, upkeep is constant. Many narrowboat owners need to be familiar with engine and hull repair. Also, because of the small size and it being a floating home, clutter and excess stuff has no place on a narrowboat. In fact, there is quite a funny video about a very messy narrowboat and how the ladies from How Clean is Your House? make it shipshape.
We would love to hear from our readers in the UK about their experiences with narrowboats, if you live on one, even better!
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