Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Boat Systems:Construction

Narrow boats are 6 feet 10 inches wide and designed to fit the narrow canals of the United Kingdom. Boat builders tend to specialize in creating either the steel shell or fitting out the interior.

Some shell makers will supply a 'Sailaway'. This will have the windows, doors, floor and engine installed.

Builders that do the fit out will purchase the shell and employ engineers and carpenters to produce the finished boat. They can offer a standard layout or a 'bespoke' layout to your own design.


Narrowboats are usually constructed using steel plate welded together. Each builder will have their own trade mark features. It is possible to identify the builder of a boat just as it is the maker of a car by its style. The usual thickness of the base is 10mm, the lower sides 6 mm, the upper sides 4 mm and the roof 3 mm.


The stern or back end of a narrow boat can be of several different styles and is usually 8 feet long.


This is based on the original working boat where the living accommodation occupied as little as 8 feet at the back of the boat. The engine was beyond a bulkhead and the cargo was beyond that. Most working boats were 70 feet long. The driver had a very small deck to stand on so was often alone. By sliding forward the hatchway the helmsman can gain more space and some protection from the elements.

Many old original working boats have had the cargo section converted to living accommodation. Some new boats are built following strictly to this design. While others appear the same outside but have the engine at the back and the accommodation follows. The engine is comfortably accessed from within the boat.


Similar in appearance to the 'Trad' except that the accommodation hatch is further forward. The space above the engine is open. There is more standing room so the crew or passengers can be with the skipper. Usually some seating with storage can be made either side with some protection from the elements. Access to the engine bay is restricted by the steel storage compartments. The batteries are particularly difficult to maintain.

Cruiser Stern:

The full length of decking above the engine is open to the elements. Passengers and crew have plenty of room to move about on the rear deck. Access to the engine compartment is extremely open.


This is space for not only the vital engine but also the batteries, diesel boiler and weed hatch There will be a greaser for the prop shaft which needs screwing down regularly.

The bilge should be made to prevent engine sump oil mixing with the water naturally coming in from the prop shaft. It is only this water that should be pumped out using a 'bilge pump'. Oily or contaminated water must not be pumped over board as that can cause a serious environmental hazard.


This is used to store the plank, pole and flower pots. A center rope attachment is recommended to assist mooring and locking. A hand rail along both sides is an essential safety feature, as is a wide gunwale for standing on when walking along the outside of the boat. A number of air vents for ventilation is required and some boats have sky lights and pigeon boxes!


The length of this is variable depending upon the owners requirements. A 70 foot boat would have 54 feet of usable living space but cruising will be limited. A 57 foot boat will be able to cruise the entire canal system but the accommodation would then be 41 feet. This is because the bow and stern take up about 16 feet.

This would be comfortable for two or four people but dependent on the occupation time. The boat builder will cut holes in the side for windows and or port holes to your specific requirements. Be sure to check that they are correct before proceding.

The usual well tried layout from back to front is as follows:-

Cabin 8 feet long, Bathroom 8 feet long, Galley 8 feet long, Saloon 16 feet long. (Approximate lengths). Longer accommodation would allow more generous dimensions.

A short Utility space at the back could contain a washing machine, coat hooks above a radiator, a cupboard for electric's and mooring equipment.

Insulation of some sort is vital inside a steel shell. The most efficient is spray foam and the least efficient is polystyrene. If you intend living on board during the winter months then I would recommend spray foam.


The bow or front end usually takes up about 8 feet. This is where water and gas is usually stored. The water tank is under the front well deck while the gas bottles are usually up front in the bow hole. Two standard 13kg bottles will fit in with their bottom set just above the waterline. A hole in the side of the boat is required to vent gas out in the event of a leak. Unfortunately this is inclined to let water into the gas locker when creating a bow wave.

Both gas bottles can be connected through an automatic valve. This makes it difficult to know when one bottle is empty so when the gas goes out you could have two empty bottles! I would recommend leaving the unused bottle turned off till needed.

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