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What length narrowboat should I buy?

I'm looking to buy a new narrowboat. I'd like it to be as long as possible, but I understand that some canals have shorter locks. What's the maximum length I can buy and still be able to cruise all the system?

Asked by: Frequently Asked Question  | 1.18pm, Friday 11 April
Tags: buying length

WW says:

You're right that some locks are shorter than others. Disregarding a couple of minor examples in East Anglia, the big issue is the Yorkshire waterways - several of which have locks of around 57ft, or 62ft in the case of the Leeds & Liverpool. A 57ft boat will go almost anywhere, and adding a couple more feet will not restrict your cruising grounds – but will mean you have to take care in the shortest locks.

By positioning the boat diagonally, 59ft and even 60ft craft can readily navigate the locks on the Calder & Hebble, the crucial through-route. This is the most versatile solution. This map shows where you can go in a 60ft boat: red means 'take care', thin green 'too short', and dashed blue 'not accessible'.

62ft rules out much of Yorkshire and the Pennines, but is worth considering if you still want to cross the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Here's where you can go at 62ft: note the thin green lines.

At 70ft, you lose the L&L, and any journey between Yorkshire and the south requires a difficult tidal passage around Trent Falls… but you do get maximum space. As you can see from the map, 70ft severely restricts Pennine cruising.

Though it has occasionally been suggested that the slightly restricted cruising area makes longer boats hard to resell, there is little firm evidence for this, especially as the majority of new (and therefore higher-priced) boats have been within the 57ft–62ft range for several years now. So, when choosing a boat, go for the size that suits you and your intended cruising.

We ran a full article on the subject in our September 2007 issue.

Richard Fairhurst  | 2.37PM, Friday 11 April

Readers say:

I can confirm that a 60 footer can cruise the Calder and Hebble Canal as I did it in 2003. It is easier to go uphill as the bow projects over the cill in most locks giving you those few extra inches. You will have to go diagonal in a lot of the locks and obvioulsy cannot share with another boat. Be prepared to jiggle about in the lock and at times you WILL have to remove front and rear fenders. The same thing applies to the Huddersfield Broad Canal enabling you to do a 'ring'

Mike Moorse  | 11.40PM, Tuesday 15 April

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