Boating Holidays on the canals and rivers


First time afloat?


All Your questions answered

do I need to know about boating before booking a holiday on the canals Do I need to know anything about boats or boating?
  • what is a canal holiday like What is a Canal boat holiday like?

  • Canal boat holidays in Yorkshire with Drifters.
    Canal boating in Yorkshire

    Holidays on the canals are becoming more popular - and with good reason. The canals are in the best condition they have ever been in their two hundred year history. And top quality boats like ours make it a pleasure to cruise on them. With such a wide choice of canals to cruise, there's something to suit everyone.

You can enjoy the peace of the countryside, the sightseeing in historic towns and cities, quaint country pubs, working the locks, seeing the industrial heritage, or just getting away from it all for a really relaxing and enjoyable break, taking everything at your own pace. Click here for photos
Step back in time and spend a relaxing week or two aboard a modern, purpose-built self-drive craft, designed to provide for your every need. Canal holidays allow you the freedom to cruise through the unspoilt heart of the British countryside enjoying life in the slow lane. Use this website to help you to unlock the secret world that is Britain's Inland Waterways and find the perfect location for your boating holiday.

Click here to view our Boating Safety Video



Click here to read a History of the Waterways


What are the boats like?

Click here for a detailed plan of a typical Narrowboat

Most of Britain's canals were built with locks just 7 ft wide and 70 ft long. This meant that a particular style of boat was developed to navigate along them. These boats are known as narrowboats, however over the years they have also been variously incorrectly described as barges and longboats. (Barges are generally wider and therefore cannot cruise on the narrow canals.)

Just to confuse things, the engineers worked out that wider canals (and boats) were more desirable and so some of the major canals were later widened to allow 14 ft wide boats (or two 7 ft boats) to navigate along them.

During the last twenty years the system has been revitalised by the development of the leisure industry and so what was a freight transport system in the 19th century, is now a unique holiday experience that allows you to cruise along these forgotten highways and see the countryside at its very best.

In tandem with this growth has been the development of brand new boats, specially designed and constructed to provide superbly comfortable holiday hire craft. Given only the restrictions of width (7 ft) and length (70 ft max) the standard of the accommodation in these modern craft is staggering. They have all the comforts of the modern home including central heating and are powered by quiet and smooth running diesel engines.

All our boats have strong steel hulls, 6ft plus headroom, central heating, ample hot water, full inventories, TV, radio/cassette or CD players, hygienic flushing toilets and showers.

Return to 'First time afloat index'

Where can we go?

Drifters has 30 holiday starting points for you to choose from, stretching from central Scotland down to the South West of England and including Wales. (Click here for a map)

But to make choosing your first holiday on the canals a bit easier, we have detailed below some ideal first trips for you to look at.



Scotland: -


Return to 'First time afloat index'

How do I choose a route

One of the great advantages of boating holidays on the canals is that you can do as much or as little as you like.

For the young family there are undemanding routes that bring you fresh views and things to see and do every day. You are not tied to the boat as such and are free to explore a whole wealth of canalside attractions that vary from rural experiences, to Cadbury's World and the National Sealife Centre.

Larger crews, including of a number of adults may well want to cover more ground during their break and there are some great 'one-way' trips that take you on a circular trip (known as a cruising ring) allowing you to travel further and avoid having to retrace your steps.

There are hundreds of options open to you whatever the nature and interests of you and your crew.

Click here for top 10 canal boat holidays for beginners
If you would like to talk to some one about what and where might suit you best, please do not hesitate to call our Holiday Advice line on 0344 984 0322 (Overseas +44 1252 796404)


Return to 'First time afloat index'

Where to go and what to do.

A boating holiday is suitable for almost everyone, but to make it enjoyable your party should include two fit adults (if you don't have two fit adults, consider taking a hotel boat cruise). When you are cruising along, all that is needed is for one person to steer. Youngsters can steer under the supervision of an adult. When you reach locks, one person needs to stay on the boat and another gets ashore to work the paddles and gates. If you have more than two, it makes it all much easier. Children will be happy on the boats, and they can get off to help with the locks or walk the towpath almost everywhere. So, a couple can hire a small boat, but if you are choosing a route with many locks, it would be advisable to have extra adults in the party - maybe two families together, or a group of friends - we have boats suitable for parties from two to twelve in size. The boats all have fully equipped galleys, so you can do all the catering on the boat, shopping at village stores along the route - or if you prefer, there are plenty of waterside pubs and restaurants.


Once you realise that there are over two thousand miles of canals and rivers to choose from, the choices may seem bewildering. (Click here for a map.)

You'll see on other pages we have shown maps which give suggested routes in each area of the country. For a first cruise, we would recommend choosing a route with not too many locks, unless you have an energetic crew lined up. As a general rule, if you wish to avoid too many locks, then choose a route that does not go up down large hills - avoid the routes in and out of Birmingham , or which cross the Pennines . Cruises with a reasonable number of locks are available from all our bases except those on the Worcester & Birmingham canal (although they are an excellent choice if you are going to have an energetic crew). Particularly lock-free cruises are available from Goytre, Rugby and Stretton. If you'd like to discuss which routes would be suitable for your party and level of experience, just call our help line on 0344 984 0322 for free advice. (Overseas +44 1252 796404)

All you really have to do is plan roughly which part of the country you would like to visit, and choose one of our bases there. They can then suggest routes from their base that would suit you - you don't have to decide until you get there. You can plan a route by looking up each canal on

Guide books are available from our bases, which describe the route you will take, with details of pubs, towns, shops and where to moor at night.


Adults will find plenty to do on a canal holiday: steering the boats, planning the route, exploring waterside villages, visiting country shops (or town ones, if you prefer). You will find that the slower pace of life on a canal holiday means you will want to do less, anyway. It really is a great way of relaxing and slowing down.

Children love the canals - there is so much to see, with close up views of animal and birds, locks to do, keeping a log of where you've been and there are even some amusement parks next to the canals in places. Children enjoy taking a turn at steering the boat, and many enjoy fishing in the canal.

The guide books available from our bases give lots of background information on what to do on or near the water.

Return to 'First time afloat index'

Do I need to know anything about boats?


Absolutely not!

Whilst it can be a daunting task travelling down the waterways for the first time, it isn't difficult and in order that you feel comfortable you need to be with a company who takes your enjoyment and safety seriously.

The National Guide to Hire Boat Handover is available to hire boat operators to help promote safe enjoyment of the inland waterways. The logo can be a useful tool for you to look for when selecting your chosen holiday company. Click here for details.

You will find that all Drifters members are currently in the scheme and have undergone an audited process to insure their instruction and handover process to customers includes all the information you will need to be sure you will know how to handle the boat and facilities aboard safely so you enjoy your boating adventure to the full.

The scheme draws together good practice from practical experience of the best hire boat operators in the UK.

All of our personnel are accredited by BM (British Marine) for Hire Boat Instruction & Handover Procedures, so you will be in safe hands!


Return to 'First time afloat index'


Great British Boating Holidays


Check availability and find your perfect holiday.

Read more

 Canal boating holidays with Drifters

Canal boat and narrowboat boating holidays.

Read more

 Hire a canal boat for the day with Drifters

Day hire boats. Self-drive boats for hire by the day.

Read more

All your questions about boating holidays answered

Read more