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Narrow boating

You only need a narrowboat to explore the big wide world, so go explore some local rivers and canals.

What to expect

Narrowboats are long, slim boats designed to travel on the huge networks of canals and rivers in the UK. They were crucial to transport goods and people before the use of modern trains and cars. Original narrowboats were made from wood and pulled by horses walking on the towpaths along the edges of the canals.

Modern narrowboats are usually made from steel and are often ornately decorated. They’re used for holidays, touring or even to live in. They’re usually steered from the back using a tiller to control the rudder. Diesel engines are used to power them and they cruise along at around 3mph. Narrowboating is a great way to try something new and get to know your crewmates better by spending time together.

What you’ll learn

Narrowboats may be narrow, but they’re often very long and have to be steered down skinny waterways. Your crew will have to be well-coordinated to adjust the steering and throttle to navigate these, and this could prepare you well for other team activities. You’ll also learn the value of patience, as most narrowboats are pretty slow!

Fun facts

In the UK, there are more than 15,000 ‘liveaboards’. These are people who live permanently on board a narrowboat, and they can often be seen moored in harbours and docks, or chugging up and down the canals and waterways. Imagine doing your daily run to school, work or to the shops on a narrowboat. Maybe you already do!

Handy hints

  • Get a grip. A pair of strong, sturdy shoes will be a huge help when jumping on and off the boat to navigate lochs or moor up at the bank.
  • Pack light. Unsurprisingly, there’s not a lot of space on a narrow boat. Packing light and only taking what you need, especially if staying overnight, can help avoid clutter.


You must always:
Be safe outdoors:
  • Check the weather forecast
Be safe in water:

Everyone should be able to swim 50m wearing the clothing or equipment for the activity. Non-swimmers will need additional support.

Water can be dangerous - be aware of the risks.

The category of water depends on how safe the water is. Use our waterways directory to check.

Be sure to manage the group when near water, keeping everyone safe. 


Make sure that all equipment is fit for purpose and in good condition:

Everyone must wear a life jacket or buoyancy aid

The instructor must make sure boats are seaworthy

There are regulations you must follow if you are hiring a boat


Joint activities with other organisations:
This activity can be led by you or someone else in Scouts:
You can go to a centre or use an activity leader who is not part of Scouting:
You must find a suitable provider who meets the following requirements :

Activity Permit Scheme

Narrow Boating

Canal and River Licences

Recognition of RYA Training Centres


Narrow boating is a great way to spend quality time with your crew and give something new a try. Narrow boats, by design, can be quite cramped and require everyone to spend time very close to each other. What can you do to make this easier and be respectful of those around you to make sure you have the best experience? Are these skills that we can transfer to other activities?

Being respectful of those around us and thinking about how we can work well together isn’t just important in narrow boating, but can also be applied to our daily lives to help us work and get along better with everyone we meet.