Layouts for canal boats can be controversial. Narrowboat purists like to see room layouts which mirror most closely the old working narrowboats of the industrial revolution. And other traditionalists prefer canal boat layouts which hark back to the early holiday boats of the mid-twentieth century.

But what arrangement makes most sense for modern life? How have our tastes changed, and should we be afraid to go against the grain if a layout no longer suits us?

By the 1960s, narrowboats were being built for the first time to appeal to holiday makers. Until then, the leisure industry had repurposed working boats, but the newly-designed holiday boats were now fit out with families and group travel in mind.

But tastes change, as does the way we live. And this inevitably leaks over into the way we use our narrowboats, both as homes and as holiday boats. Increasingly we are seeing boats used by couples rather than families, which has a significant impact on the possible layout options. Boat users need to cater for occasional guests rather than multiple full-time occupants. This brings a certain freedom to the interior design.

So here we present our pick of the most contemporary layouts for narrowboats.

layouts for canal boats

Top 5 contemporary layouts for canal boats

1. Reverse layout

This is probably the most obvious change when you compare canal boat design from the last century to this. Most boat builders nowadays are designing layouts for modern owners who are demanding a saloon or galley space at the stern. Instead, they are asking for sleeping areas to the front of the boat. This differs from older-style boats where you often entered a bedroom from the stern steps. The living accommodation would be situated at the bow. The received wisdom would be that families would want to gather at the front and make the most of the foredeck. However, with the popularity of the cruiser stern, the main socialising space is now usually at the rear of the boat. Now, a reverse layout design makes more sense.


2. Walk through bathroom

These have gained in popularity over the last few years, as more and more couples share their dreams of owning a narrowboat together once the children have left home. A completely private bathroom off a corridor arrangement is no longer seen as a necessity. And this means that the bathroom can use up some valuable space, resulting in bigger shower rooms and a more luxurious feel. The only times we design off-corridor bathrooms these days, is for boats shared by two couples.

walk through bathroom layout on a canal boat for boutique narrowboats

3. Ditch the dinette

Hire boats are still invariably designed with dinettes but not many private boat owners ask for this design feature. I’ve written elsewhere about why this might be, but long story short – they are inflexible and take up a lot of space. Instead, we are seeing a trend towards the breakfast bar layout. It’s a contemporary arrangement which reflects home design, and can be styled in a modern way. A sofa bed usually provides the flexibility needed to accommodate occasional guests.

Breakfast bar on Marbled White luxury narrowboat

4. Home office design

It can be as simple as ensuring a plug socket and USB charging point are situated near the breakfast bar. Or it can be a significant element of the boat interior design. The ability to connect to the internet on a canal boat means that “working from the boat” is a viable option. In our designs for private clients, we have installed large monitor screens, created surround sound systems and designed ergonomic desk spaces; all with the aim of helping the occupants to work effectively.


5. Bed-in-the-bow

This is by far the most controversial design choice for our hire boats. We get many enquiries every year from experienced boaters confused about how they access the bow when a fixed bed is in the way. The perception is that you need to access the foredeck as a matter of course, in order to moor up, but that just is not so. We train all of our hirers how to moor up whilst standing on the back deck only. (Click here to see the relevant Beginner Guide on our sister website.)

Why do we bother to design bedrooms which cause controvery?

Because you get a hotel-standard king sized bed. On a narrowboat. That you can fall into without having to make up.

Trust me, it’s utter bliss. Once experienced, you won’t go back.


modern uk boating holidays for honeymoon

Modern canal boats

Contemporary layouts for canal boats involve a consideration of the way the occupants will use the boat. Narrowboat designers are taking account of modern home trends as well as personal preferences. Boats can be dated not only by their decor, but also by their layout. So a modern floorplan will help to create a vessel which will look contemporary for years to come.