Narrow Boat - Narrowboat - Narrow Boat Design
All narrow boats (narrowboat) normally have decks fore and
aft. The after deck can be large enough to allow a passenger to
sit with the helmsman when the boat is said to have a ‘cruiser’
stern. Some boats have a much smaller after deck and the
helmsman can get some protection from the weather from the back
of the cabin. It is this variation in deck area forward and aft
that defines the various styles of narrow boat design.
So called cruiser style boats have a large after deck combined
with a small fore deck or cockpit and are fitted with a long
central cabin This type has a large flat rear deck which gives
no protection but is large enough for several people to sit
together on the after deck – a useful feature for young families
and older folk. A seat for the helmsman or steerer is often
Traditional style boats on the other hand have a reasonable fore
deck but only a small counter deck at the stern for the
helmsman. It is called the traditional (trad for short) style
because it is similar in layout to the traditional working
narrow boats. The cabin design follows that of the old
commercial canal boats and refers usually to the size of the
after deck or counter which is short in length with the steerer
standing between the after doors of the cabin.
The advantage of a trad style narrow boat is that the steerer
has a protected position against wet or cold weather and the
additional advantage of the heat from the engine or the
boatman’s cabin stove around his or her legs. There is also a
very real feeling of closeness to the canal traditions. Friends
can stand on the gunwales or sit on the roof. The main seating
area is in the bow.
There’s an in between style which has some protection for the
steerer and some room for passengers known as the semi-trad.
This type has a large cruiser style stern deck enclosed by cabin
sides and doors (but no roof), combining some of the advantages
of both styles, and is becoming increasingly popular.
Tug style boats usually have a much longer fore deck and the
cabin have scuttles instead of windows.
Narrow Boat Design
Narrow boats vary in length from 35 feet to a maximum of 70
feet overall but have a standard beam or width of six feet ten
inches - nominally seven feet. The depth of the hull varies from
about three feet six inches to four feet with a further three
feet or so for the depth of the cabin. The maximum draft (aft)
is usually not more than about two feet nine inches. Boats up to
fourteen feet wide can be found and these area called in a
somewhat contradictory fashion wide beam narrow boats.
The maximum breadth of the boat restricts the distance it can
travel on the canal system and a good 'go anywhere' boat would
be about 50 feet long by the nominal seven feet beam. The beam
can vary and it should never be taken as read but should be
measured at several places along the parallel mid body of the
The majority of can boats have a flat bottom - some with a
slight cut up at the forward end - although some boats - notably
those built by Springer Engineering Ltd have a slight V to the
bottom. Modern boats with a flat bottom have the bottom plate
extended beyond the sides by up to one inch (25 mm) to form a
so-called wearing chine. This construction also allows a better
external weld between the side and bottom plates.
The sides are usually vertical and flat although some boats have
the upper side plate tumbled home. The side decks are usually
from four to six inches wide.
The scantlings or plate thicknesses are usually given in the
order bottom/side/cabin thickness and are in millimeters. A good
modern boat would be 10/6/4 mm.
The forward swim of the boat i.e. from the stem to the forward
end of the parallel mid body is called the entry and the after
swim from the after end of the parallel mid body to the stern is
called the run. The flat counter plate above the propeller is
called the uxter plate.
If you are interested in building your own narrow boat
checkout these wooden boat plans,
you may get some useful and interesting information about
building wooden water craft.