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What to Take on a Canal Boat Holiday

We recently took a narrowboat holiday on the Grand Union Canal. As this was our first time on a canal boat, we were unsure of what we needed to pack! Based on our experience I've written this article to help other people who are going on a canal boat holiday for the first time.

Pearl © AboutBritain.com

Essentials for the boat

  1. Trainers or non-slip shoes (I found trainers the best - better than sandals or wellies)
  2. Wellies for walking along the towpath when it rains or early in the morning.
  3. Waterproofs - waterproof coat (with hood, or a waterproof hat) and over-trousers are essential for the skipper as your legs can get very wet if you're sitting at the tiller in the rain.
  4. Golf umbrella for going through tunnels (water can drip from the roof of the tunnel, especially if it has been raining)
  5. Canal Map - we bought the Canal Companion and the Nicholson canal map books. These are essential to tell you where to fill up with water or dispose of rubbish, and where the locks and interesting features are!
  6. Torch if you want to go for walk at night - it is very dark on the towpath!

Packing considerations

There are lots of nooks and crannies and cupboards on the boat to fit your luggage into, but each one is quite small, so there won't be room for suitcases.

Take everything in soft bags (not too large - 2 smaller ones will be more convenient than one large one) or take your luggage in a suitcase, unpack it into the boat and leave the suitcase in your car.

When buying food to eat on the boat, it's best to have small packets rather than large ones,  e.g. cereal boxes - there won't be room for the largest cereal boxes, so buy the smaller ones instead.

On our boat it was possible to fit largish, flat items under the double bed - we took a guitar in a hard case and stored it under our bed, but that will of course reduce the amount of space you have for other stuff.

Pearl © AboutBritain.com


On our boat there were two cupboards for hanging clothes, but they weren't full length, so it's probably best to take clothes that will stay crumple free!

NB The boat will not have an iron!!

It's a very relaxed environment on the canals - the canal-side pubs are used to hungry and thristy boaters arriving in their boating gear! You won't need formal "going out" gear if you are sticking to the canal and its pubs.

We wore jeans, T-shirts and trainers for most of the holiday, with a kagoule each for the single rainy day.

Things we took but didn't need

We took lots of books, board games and DVDs, but we were so busy that we only watched one DVD, played one board game, and only read one or two books in a whole week!

This may be because there were only three of us on the boat, so we were all involved in opening all of the locks. Perhaps there would have been more "spare" time if there were more people on the boat?

We took a huge bottle of midge repellant but didn't need it at all...coming from Scotland we expected lots of flying insects near the water, but we weren't bothered at all on this section of the Grand Union Canal (Linslade to Braunston in June). I wouldn't recommend leaving the insect repellant at home though, as it might be different on other canals or at different times of year!

Our boat had all the essentials for cooking (crockery, knives and forks etc) plus washing up liquid, cloths, mop (for cleaning the decks!) and even a vacuum cleaner. You should check with your hire company to see which of these will be provided for you. The electrics on your boat may not be able to cope with a vacuum cleaner.

Don't panic if you forget something - you'll probably be able to get it at a shop in a canal-side village, if it's absolutely necessary! 


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