Canal boat rental information for American visitors to Britain

Everything Americans need to know about canal boat vacations in Britain

Here at Drifters we’re delighted to welcome aboard our canal boats many customers from the United States wanting to explore historic Britain.

To answer frequently asked questions, we’ve put together a guide to everything our American visitors need to know about our canal boat vacations and trips.

What’s so appealing about a canal boat vacation in Britain?

Cruising slowly through some of Britain’s most beautiful countryside and visiting some of our most popular historic destinations is a great way to see the country.  Travelling at just four miles per hour, you have time to take in the scenery and the wildlife.

What are the most popular trips and routes?

From historic sites, gardens and Royal residences, to world famous university cities and castles, you can visit some of Britain’s best-loved destinations on a canal boat vacation.

Drifters offers self-drive canal boat rental from 45 locations across England, Scotland and Wales, giving you access to hundreds of historic destinations and canalside pubs.

For example, on a short break (three or four nights), you can visit Shakespeare’s Stratford, the Georgian City of Bath, the University cities of Oxford and Cambridge, Edinburgh or the UNESCO World Heritage Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

On a short break canal cruise, you will usually be ending up back at where you started your canal vacation.  On a longer holiday, you can travel round one of the canal circuits.

Where can I moor up?

It’s free and safe to moor up along the towpath on most of our inland waterways network, but don’t moor your boat within 50 metres of a lock or bridge.

We recommend using designated mooring areas where possible.  For example close to canalside pubs and other waterside destinations.

There are some specially designated visitor moorings at popular places where you may have to pay a small fee (for example at quays, marinas or harbours) and some limit your stay to 48 hours.

For more information about mooring your boat, go to Moorings | Canal & River Trust (

What’s the best time of year to take a canal boat vacation?

Late spring (May), summer (June, July, August) and early autumn (September) are the best time to take a canal boat holiday vacation.  The weather is generally drier and the days are longer.  Though the British weather is notoriously unpredictable! We’d also suggest avoiding vacations in Scotland in June when the midges are out.

How do I get to the boat yard?

Our popular route guide tells you where the nearest airports and train stations are from our boat yards.  Our American visitors and their travel agents find the website Roam to Rio helpful when planning their journeys Rome2Rio: discover how to get anywhere. And Trainline is useful for booking rail tickets.

You can hire a car from the airport you arrive at or travel on from the airport by train and take a taxi to our boat yard.  We’ve provided travel information here for our most popular routes.

Do I need any expertise?

You don’t need a licence to steer a canal boat and all our canal boat vacation operators offer tuition as part of their boat rental.

Where can I store my luggage?

Our narrowboats are just 6 feet 10 inches wide, but they do vary in length – from 48ft to 69ft.  The longer boats have more space to store your luggage.  Some of our boat yards will store extra luggage for you on request, or if you’ve hired a car you can leave your suitcases in there.

How big are the beds?

On many of our boats the beds are standard singles and doubles in size, but some of our boat rental companies offer extra wide beds and king sized beds.

How much headroom is there?

The standard height on board our narrowboats is around 6ft.  But some of our boats offer 6ft 4inch headroom.

Can I bring my sleep apnoea machine?

Many of our canal boats can charge a sleep apnoea machine that is used for comfort.  Please do mention this at the time of booking as the boat will need to have 240 volt inverter charging points.  However we can’t power sleep apnoea machines that are required for life-threatening conditions. You can however hire a portable/battery CPAP machine from the British Snoring Association:

What should I pack?
  • We recommend packing all weather/waterproof clothing and deck shoes, pumps or sneakers
  • It’s a good idea to bring slippers or thick socks to wear on board
  • Bedding is provided
  • Towels are provided for all our overseas visitors
  • Our canal boats have well equipped kitchens with everything you need to cook with, including gas cookers with hob, oven and grill, cooking utensils, saucepans, plates, bowls, mugs, knives, forks, spoons, etc
  • The fridges are small so it’s best to buy smaller items and do regular top-up shops en-route
  • There isn’t any freezer space on board so don’t bring frozen food
  • We recommend bringing wine in a box/carton rather than a bottle
  • It’s useful to have a canal map to help plan your trip. You can usually buy one at the boat yard when you arrive to pick up your boat.  Or you can buy one online beforehand.  For example Amazon sells Nicholson’s and Pearson guides to individual canals.  The Canal & River Trust also has a free online route planner Planning your boat route | Canal & River Trust (

For more information on what to pack go to What to pack for your canal boat holiday – Drifters

For a guide to our popular destinations for overseas visitors, go to