Boats and towpaths




NarrowboatA narrowboat is a boat or small barge used on narrow beam canals in Britain. Modern narrowboats are made about six feet ten inches (about 208 cm) wide. They are typically up to 72 feet (22 metres) long, although some locks are restricted to boats 60 feet (18 m) long and a few to only 40 feet (12 m).


Narrowboats are descendants of the working boats used during the Industrial Revolution. The first boats were wooden, horse-drawn (from a towpath), and designed for cargo rather than passengers. The canals went into economic decline in the 1830s as the new railways took away their business, and the impoverished boat-operators began to live on their boats as a way of saving money. Large families of 'boat people' were squeezed into tiny cabins, which were often ornately painted with traditional designs, usually of roses and castles. There are many enthusiasts dedicated to restoring these old boats, and new 'narrowboats' are built to similar designs. The original boats are sometimes called narrow boats to distinguish them from the modern narrowboats.


Horse drawing a narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon Canal

In order to move more cargo for the same manpower, albeit with a minor disadvantage of having to handle two boats at narrow locks, working narrowboats often towed a dumb (unpowered) vessel of similar proportions behind. This was termed a butty, sometimes buttyboat or butty boat. It required one person dedicated to steering the butty, unless on a canal such as the Grand Union Canal where the waterway and the locks are wide enough to handle an alongdise tow.


Modern narrowboats

Modern narrowboats have steel bodies and diesel engines, and are used as homes and for recreation. Some boats are replicas of the old working boats, complete with traditional paintwork.

The number of licensed boats on British Waterways is estimated at about 48,000 , of which most are narrowboats. There are perhaps another 5,000 legitimately unlicensed boats kept in private moorings or on other waterways.



A Flatboat is a boat with a flat bottom and has square ends. It is used to transport freight onto inland waterways.

More types of boat

-Bastard boats or Statters (12' / 3.65 m beam; wide boats on Manchester, Bolton & Bury)
-Broad-beam boats ("wide boats" on the Grand Union, 2.2 m to 4.3 m beam)
-Fly boats (long and short; on Aire & Calder)
-Keels (on Aire & Calder)
-Long boats (narrow boats used on Severn)
-Narrowboats or Narrow Boats (approx. 7' / 2.13 m beam; originally working boats on Midlands canals; now mostly pleasure boats)
-Severners (used on the River Severn)
-Short boats (on Northern canals such as Leeds & Liverpool, Calder & Hebble, Aire & Calder)
-Sloops (on Aire & Calder)
-Trench boats (for 6' / 1.83 m locks on the Trench Arm of the Shrewsbury Canal)
-Tub boats (used on various canals including Bude canal and the Grand Western canal)
-White boats (on Aire & Calder canal; with white side decks for working at night)
-Wide-beam narrowboats (more than 4.3 m beam)



Canal towpath

A towpath is a road or track that runs alongside the banks of a river, canal or other inland waterway. The purpose of a towpath is to allow a land vehicle, beast of burden or a team of human pullers to tow a boat, often a barge. This mode of transport was common before efficient engines could be fitted on boats and where sailing was impossible due to rapid current, tunnels and bridges, or unfavourable winds.


Many of these towpaths have been converted to multi-use trails in modern times since they are not used to tow barges anymore. They are still named towpaths although they are not used as such.


The above information is from Wikipedia under GNU Licence. Source: Narrowboats, Canal Boats, Towpath.


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