This week we waved off the latest Boutique Narrowboat built for private clients. Swallow is 53 foot of loveliness, every inch of it designed with our clients in mind. Here’s what was involved.

First design meeting

Our clients asked to meet with us a couple of years ago, after seeing the standard of our hire boats on the internet and social media. They are experienced narrowboaters and have holidayed throughout their adult life. They had a long wish list and were on the hunt for a company that could pull it all together in one beautiful boat.

At our first proper design meeting, we went through our signature specification list, filling in as many of the fields as we could. At this stage, we aim to get all thoughts down on paper. Nothing is off the table.

If you’ve done any work on a boat, you’ll know that the biggest challenge is thinking 10 steps ahead of yourself. What seems an entirely reasonable request (a niche in the shower, for instance) soon rabbit warrens down a conversation about depth of panelling, vibration effect, plumbing, lighting, bulk head positioning, height of gunnels and insulation. Each narrowboat that we build requires hundreds of such conversations because each design is different.

At the early stage of a design, we try not to get bogged down with these details and keep conversations at a top level.


Sketching out our ideas for a narrowboat built for private clients

The next stage begins at the drawing board. I use a Computer Aided Design (CAD) package to lay out my ideas. The drawing can be 2D or 3D, and it means that the client can begin to see how their boat will look in real life. The designs are sent backwards and forwards via email, so that the client can make comments. I will then redraw the layout as many times as necessary.

Boutique narrowboat build sketch

Team meetings are vital, to see what is possible within budget. Our joiner will guide on the kind of carpentry that will work and my co-director, Aaran Chapman, is consulted on the engineering. We also bring in external advisers when necessary, such as engine manufactuers or surveyors.



Narrowboat steelwork design

We work very closely with a number of steelwork fabricators in the design of the narrowboat hull. On this particular design, we opted for a hull by HT Fabrications Ltd. This is a family-run Leicester based company and they are very happy to work with us on design details for each of our private clients.

Narrowboat steelwork by HT Fabrications

Engineering design

Each canal boat that we design is unique. If we are designing for our own hire fleet, we know which engineering and electrical systems are the most reliable and consistent for our hire guests. But when people come to us to design their boat for them, they often have their own ideas of which engineering systems they prefer. Therefore we need to design a bespoke boat from scratch and this takes time at a very early stage.

electrical cupboard design on boutique narrowboat


Painting the outside of the boat

Meanwhile, the clients agree a colour scheme for the exterior paintwork and signwriting. On this occasion we worked with the talented team at North Kilworth Wharf. The clients visited and liaised directly with them over the paint finish, colours, unique signwriting etc.

painting bespoke design narrowboat

Narrowboat interior design

As the work of the fabricators and engineering design continues, I began to focus on the look of the interior. This is very detailed work, starting with mood boards and discussions with the client, and ending with a final specification of fixtures to order.

The interior design is never really finished as alterations are made right up until the very last minute. A narrowboat interior has such quirky spaces and awkward angles within, that it can be hard to picture the final room until major structures are in place. I often find myself asking my colleagues to hold mirrors and wall lights in place so that I can take a photo to send to the clients.

planning a bathroom on a narrowboat

But in the end it all works out!

finished bathroom on boutique narrowboat built for clients

We are delighted with the results of our collaboration and – most importantly – so is the client. This boat was designed as a team, and the clients themselves brought lots of ideas to the table. Many items were handcrafted especially for them, such as the basin vanity unit, hidden mirror niche and reclaimed wooden door, all pictured above.

We hope they now enjoy many happy years on Swallow, making the most of this wonderful bespoke narrowboat.