The best canal boat holidays for beginners start with a gentle introduction. It can be daunting to consider driving a long barge or narrowboat, so it is a good idea to do a little light homework before you arrive, followed by some practical training.

Training for canal boat beginners

If you are a canal boat novice, these are the steps we take to ensure you feel confident on your holiday or day trip.

1. Online course (45 mins)

With proper training, we have found that guests always enjoy themselves on our canal boat holidays. We therefore created a simple online course which could be completed before arrival. The course enables you to start your holiday or day trip with a basic foundation of narrowboat skills. The course is emailed to you around eight weeks before your booking, along with the boat manual.

2. Beginner Guides (from 1-10 mins)

The team at Union Wharf wrote and filmed a series of Beginner Guides especially for our guests. If there is an aspect of your holiday which is troubling you, this is where you will find the answer. We cover subjects such as “Which knots to use” and “How to operate a lock.” The guides are not compulsory, but may reassure you that help is always at hand.

training on how to tie up a canal boat at union wharf

3. The Canal and River Trust’s Boater’s Handbook (25 mins)

The Canal and River Trust’s Boater’s Handbook is available for free, in a downloadable form and also as a video on YouTube. It details some of the specific hazards you may encounter, such as locks and swing bridges.

4. Practical training (1.5-2 hours or longer if necessary)

On your first afternoon aboard, we arrange for you to meet up with one of our very experienced canal boat trainers at Union Wharf. They will spend time with you inside the boat to begin with. They will show you things like how to turn on the heating and top up the water, and use the onboard maps to discuss the best route for you. 

Up on the deck outside, the training will move on to practical issues. You will learn how to start and stop the engine, where to moor up and how to turn round. Your trainer will explain the basic rules of the canal and how to get out of difficulty, such as getting stuck on a shallow canal bed. There will be an opportunity to take the boat out with the trainer so that you can practice your skills and this stage is the most important of all.

When your trainer is satisfied that you can operate the boat safely, they will step off and wave you on your way.

5. Emergency contacts

Your canal boat manual contains the emergency mobile numbers to call should you have any concerns on your holiday.

a luxury canal boat holiday for beginners at Boutique Narrowboats

The best canal boat holidays for beginners

The best canal boat holidays for beginners will always offer lots of support. Narrowboat holidays are the UK’s best kept vacation secret, but we understand that the idea can make some people nervous. It is our job to make sure that you are as prepared as you can be to drive a boat. We hope that your first holiday with us will not be your last. Many of our guests fall in love with the waterways and return year after year.

We look forward to meeting you soon.

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