Waterways Hire and Holiday Guide

Published: Wednesday, 23 February 2011

CONSIDERING a boat holiday or short break? This guide is aimed at those who are considering a waterway holiday.

May 2017

This article was last amended in January 2011, but since then the lack of maintenance of the waterways has had a great effect on the hire industry, with many stoppages caused by their neglected condition, meaning that hirers are often unable to complete their intended journeys or are prevented from returning to hire bases, that should be borne in mind.  However, the hire companies do make every effort to rescue their customers if unable to return the boats to base.

Since 2011 the canals and some rivers have passed from the hands of British Waterways into those of Canal & River Trust, who have taken upon themselves much of what has little bearing upon the upkeep of its waterways, even to replacing its knowledgeable staff with contractors who have little knowledge of the workings of the 200 years old archaic equipment.

Many locks no longer have proper balanced gates, that once being very easy to swing now need a great deal of effort, often beyond the capabilities of many woman and the aged.  Being unbalanced, even when closed some gates then swing open making it difficult for the inexperienced to fill the lock with water.

Paddle gear too, is often very difficult to wind being extremely stiff, either through lack of grease or more than likely wrongly adjusted, being too tight.   A prime example are the gate paddles of the Bosley Flight on the Macclesfield Canal that we have cruised this May, that were extremely difficult to operate, though no trouble whatsoever some ten years previously. 

Prospective hirers, especially if aged or not of robust health, should realise that to travel any distance by boat should bear the above in mind.

First time hirer

This information is particularly targetted at the first time hirer, who is perhaps not too sure what it is all about or which waterway to cruise. We are not suggesting any particular boat hire company, which must ultimately rest with the desires of the hirer and the cost.

This guide gives a true description of the various waterways, without the normal hyperbole associated with the glossy holiday brochures often created by a publicity company,  but is the narrowboatworld way—telling it like it is!

For those who have hired before, are regular boaters or in robust health, what is considered difficult in this guide would not perhaps apply.

No pubs are listed, as these can change hands frequently, so one serving food and particular drinks one week could be completely changed the next, or even be no longer open.

From actual experience

All the information contained in these reports is from actual experiences of the waterways listed, over a period of many years, most on numerous occasions, with current knowledge incorporated. But more than this, it is from information  gathered from the countless hirers we have interviewed over the years whilst cruising the actual waterways.

The cost of hiring a 50ft or thereabouts narrowboat for two people During April is £800/£900. The same boat hired during August would £1,200/£1,300 during 2017.

The cost of hiring a similar narrowboat for four people is £1,100/.£1,200 during April and £1,400/£1,500 during August 2017.

These prices can only be an averge, as prices will vary depending on the facilities in the boat and the waterway.

For those wondering about saving cost by hiring from a private owner, this is illegal.

Completely equipped

Hire boats are completely equipped with all that is necessary for the holiday including fuel and gas. (Since this article was first published the cost of fuel by many hire companies is not now included.) The boat will include a cooker, sink and basin, with hot and cold water plus a shower. It will have a refrigerator and heating, and ample storage space.  Complete of course with all crockery etc and bedding.  The more expensive boats will have various luxuries.

Tuition is normally given plus the actual working of a lock. Our experience over many years of previously hiring, with association with hirers and with our own boats has found that lock working gives the most problems for beginners, and we cannot stress too much the importance of being shown how to operate an actual lock, and fully understand its workings, to ensure at least a less stressful holiday. It is suggested you confirm you will be taken in the boat through an actual lock.  It cannot be stressed too much that only actually working a lock under tuition will give you the confidence. A model or a video is not enough.

Hirers do not need a licence to steer a narrowboat. Maps of the waterway(s) are provided by the hire company as are the 'rules of the road'. The equipment needed to operate locks, obtain water and where to moor is also provided.

No calculations

There is purposely no calculations of the time needed to cruise the waterways, as an anywhere near calculation is impossible, depending on so many circumstances.  Those given in guides should be ignored as they are far too misleading and optimistic, often resulting in holiday makers having a most stressful time attempting what is virtually impossible.

The majority of the photographs contained in the guides were actually taken by the author on the actual waterway depicted.

The stars:

Ease of operation applies to the operation of locks, swing and lift bridges.

Ease of passage refers to the ease of passage along the waterway, its popularity, the number of marinas and hire bases. The  less stars mean more boats and more hold-ups that can be expected, particularly in high season and week-ends.

Features means actual features of the waterway.

Boat facilities applies to provision of water taps, boatyards supplying fuel and pump-outs, chandlers.

Shopping applies to known supermarkets available by the waterway or at a very short walking distance.

Moorings applies to the provision of such as Armco piling with depth for mooring, rings, etc. including and away from built-up areas.

The more stars the better.


Over the next few months the following various entries will be undated based on more recent information obtained by our own cruising or that of our experienced advisors.  The update will appear in bold.