Best narrowboat layout for Hire Boats?

Which narrowboat layout works for a holiday afloat, and what should you avoid?

What to look for when hiring a narrowboat, and what to avoid
Some luxury narrowboats offer hot tubs, but is the English countryside ready to share your loofah?

Narrowboats at first glance, belong to one of only three types: traditional, semi-trad or cruiser stern. But once you’ve ignored length – and I’m not falling for that cheap joke – and wide beams (there’s another), you have to decide which inside setup will suit your crew.

It’s a cruise, NOT a Cruise Ship

But what really matters?
Let me begin by suggesting that if the al fresco jacuzzi catches your eye, you get a room! No-one wants to see THAT outside the Trent and Mersey’s little known Las Vegas arm. But an actual bath onboard, albeit a short one, comes in handy if you’re travelling with small children who aren’t shower-ready.

And the location of the bathroom itself is important.

Yes, if it’s your own boat and there’s just the two of you, then a walk-through bathroom has its merits. It makes use of the whole width of the boat giving you extra space in which to luxuriate.
But it becomes more of an IN-convenience if you’re cruising with Uncle Jim and last night was half-price vindaloo at the Crank and Windlass.

Another common oversight with the walk through bathroom is placing the toilet in full view unless the doors are closed. What ARE designers thinking sometimes?

A toilet needs its own cabin, and restricting passage in a busy boat when in use is just not on.

The Boatman’s Cabin

Two toilets are useful for larger crews.
As captain, I’ve found a toilet and washbasin right at the back of the boat most useful for those quick calls when staging for a lock. And if I’m doing maintenance on the engine when moored, I don’t want to be traipsing oil and grease through a bedroom cabin just to wash my hands.
But do you really need a second shower which just steals space from the rest of the accommodation?

Reverse layout kitchens can limit access to the stern deck when the  kitchen is busy - especially to young crew members
Consider the younger crew members climbing in and out of the boat and avoid reverse layout kitchens

Nor do I want to be cleaning up in the kitchen. Which brings me to the oh so popular reverse layouts: kitchens at the stern often place the eye-level grill at the captain’s ankles. This not only adds to the obstacle course between tiller and toilet but is just plain dangerous in my view.

Avoid Reverse layout kitchens

If I don’t have company up back, I at least expect to be furnished continuously with comestibles and usually rely on the younger skivvies, sorry, crew members to fetch and carry. In a confined space such as a narrowboat, I’d rather they didn’t have to constantly traverse the riskiest spot in any accommodation to achieve this.

As for those aft bedroom cabins, that lazy Sunday chatter between captain and the ship-mate who doesn’t do mornings sounds idyllic except for those frequent inclement interruptions.
And the cosy bedroom soon becomes a meat locker with the hatch open outside of high-summer.

Forward bedroom cabins are lovely for your own boat as they lend themselves to privacy.
Forward bedroom cabins lend themselves to privacy. How does that work for a group holiday?

The reverse layout that places a bedroom right at the front of the boat is a nice private retreat on your own boat. It gives you exclusive access to the well deck for quiet breakfasts or afternoon tea. But on a shared holiday boat it becomes a high traffic area.

Don’t get me wrong, space between bedroom cabins provides privacy which can be much desired after a day spent with a group at relatively close quarters.
It means young children can go to bed early. A bathroom between bedrooms is an ideal sound barrier, and answered most of the questions a Swedish couple had on the subject, the details of which I’ll gloss over for my predominantly British readership.

My preferred hire boat layout

So what is my ideal layout for a hire boat?
A second toilet and washbasin at the stern followed by a double cabin, together they serve as my ‘boatman’s accommodation’.

Next is the main bathroom, which includes a hip bath for our aging aching muscles, followed by the second bedroom which makes a nighttime suite for my guests. Leaving the public areas of kitchen and saloon up front with open access to the well deck.

The keen-of-eye will spot that this isn’t exactly narrowboat KODRAN’s layout, but it’s as near as can be – all credit to his designers, JD Boat Services at Gailey Wharf. He’s one of the family and like the rest of the children, imperfect but loved all the same!

And finally, storage space is really important: the English weather is variable as we discovered on our maiden vacation afloat and to travel prepared means multiple clothing options. Also, where is the luggage going to go? You can check out our clever solutions here.

And which of the three basic boat types?

Cruiser of course. A holiday on the canal is about sharing time with friends and family. Yes the crew have their duties at locks, on lookout and in the galley, but drinks with the captain is the highlight of ANY holiday afloat.

A cruiser stern is essential for holidaying afloat – with loads of space for the motley crew!

If this has whetted your appetite for a cruise of your own, you can find all the Booking Details here.  You can find more tips on our Home Page and FAQs. Our blog about an easy 4 day pub-crawl we did on Kodran last fall is here, or sit back and relax with our YouTube channel.