By / 14th March, 2021 / Blog, Holiday Ideas, Trip Tips / No Comments

I Want to Rent A Blue Otter Narrowboat – What Do I Need to Know?

So you think you want to hire out a self-drive narrowboat? If you’re reading this, you’ve probably either booked your first canal boat holiday, or you’re about to book one of our bespoke Blue Otter Boats and need a little reassurance you are going to enjoy your time on board as much as everyone says you will!

No previous experience is required. We provide full training on arrival and go with you for the first few hours until you feel comfortable to go it alone.

We’ve listed some of the main pointers to think about when you plan a narrowboat holiday for the first time.


Every good journey starts with a vague plan.  We’ve seen guests arrive with a detailed itinerary mapped out to the minute on a spreadsheet and we’ve welcomed guests who haven’t really thought about it at all until they step onboard for the first time. You don’t have to have a plan, but it does help if you have an inclination of east or west before you set off.  For example, from our base in Skipton, if the aim is to go east towards Saltaire and Leeds, you need to plan your arrival at Bingley Five Rise Locks around the lock-keepers operating times.

These plans will help you figure out where to moor overnight, whether you stop somewhere on the way out or of the way back. We provide navigation maps on board for whichever canal will be cruising along, and the boat owner will be able to share tips for both direction. Cruising at 4mph means the goal of slowing down is about as instant as it gets, as well as estimating how far you want to go on your canal boat holiday, or if you just want to go with the flow and decided day-by-day.

Top tip #1: remember to turn around half-way through your holiday, because it will take you the same amount of time to return to base!

How Easy are the Boats to Drive?

If this is the first time you’ll be taking your hands to the tiller…Don’t panic!  Piloting a boat employs exactly the same principles as a piloting a plane, (so the airplane pilots we’ve had on board tell us!) , its all in the rudder and, thankfully, much smaller.

Our Blue Otter Wootton Wawen boat is 10ft longer than Blue Otter Skipton (50ft), which can make tight bends in the canal interesting for the first time boater, but that’s part of the adventure and trust us, it’s really difficult to do anything wrong.

We are more than happy to give you a crash course…. ok, perhaps not a crash course, but we’ll insist on showing you the ropes of how to pilot a boat when you pick it up. This includes how to steer, how to navigate through bridges, how to go through locks, mooring-up and, the all important 3-point turning around in so-called winding holes.  We’ll spend the first few hours with you, until you feel at ease and comfortable to go it alone. We invest that time at the beginning of your holiday, so that you can truly relax and enjoy your time on board with us. Blue Otter Boats want boating to be as pleasureable as possible for you.

Six top tips for piloting a narrowboat for the first time are:

  1. You steer from the stern, with an axel in the centre, and push the tiller in the opposite direction from that in which you want to go. So right to go left, and left to go right.
  2. There is no brake. To slow down you have to put the boat in reverse and account for the fact that the boat will not stop straightaway. The boats weigh around 15 tonne, hence the reaction comes with a slight time delay.
  3. Keep right please! When meeting other on-coming boats, pass port-to-port. That doesn’t mean you exchange a tipple of port, but that the port (left) sides of the boats pass, i.e. keep to the right-hand side of the canal and you’ll be fine.
  4. Watch your speed!  It sounds silly when you can only go slow but, even at 4mph you can create a wake that disturbs the habitat nesting on the canal banks. And when you pass moored boats, you need to be in the lowest tick-over gear possible. If not, the boat dwellers will soon tell you off for rocking their boat! You’re on holiday, remember…it’s all about slowing down and enjoying the view!
  5. Remember that some of the items on the boat might be loose – you don’t want cupboards to come open and all your porridge oats to spill out! So don’t leave any cups and plates on the kitchen tops, and avoid sudden bumps into the canal bank; the boat is made of steel and will survive, the mugs might not!
  6. Toot your horn!  Before you cruise around a bend, or under a tight bridge where can’t see through the other side, make sure you a) let oncoming boats know you’re coming through b) are ready to go into reverse to slow down if you meet a boat!


What Should I Take With Me?

Packing for any holiday is a tough job! Packing for a narrow boat holiday should be easier, because you need less items, but deciding what to leave out is the tricky part.

Over the years we’ve seen guests arrive with suitcase after suitcase…after suitcase. And then the grocery boxes start to be unloaded…box after box…after box…followed by the drinks crates. Our advice is to pack as little and light as possible. You really do have to decide between shoes and sacrifice two jackets for the sake of an extra pair of trousers because there is limited storage space and a bulky suitcase will take up a lot of room.

The best idea is to pre-pack in a soft holdall, and that bag will easily fold away when you unpack everything into your home on the water. We send you on your way with biscuits, tea, coffee, milk, some suprise snacks and the essentials for washing up and cleaning.  Due to the Covid-19 safety precautions, we’ve had to remove our games and books, so you will need to bring those with you. There is a TV on board, but reception demands on your mooring spot, and the stations will need retuning with every new mooring location.

What are the Extra Costs?

At Blue Otter Boats, we’re an open book on costs and we don’t sneak in hidden extras.  When you hire a narrowboat, costs can be broken down like this:

  • The actual hire cost.  The costs of each boat are clearly displayed when you select your dates on the individual boat page with our booking agent, Hoseasons;
  • It’s cheaper in Spring and Autumn, so consider these times if you’re on a budget;
  • Boat Accident Insurance – fully included; for personal injury cover, we recommend you take out insurance before coming onboard
  • Additional day-time pilots – no extra cost; Some guests arrange for friends to join them for a day, especially when there are lots of bridges and locks to navigate, where an extra pair of hands and feet are a welcome addition. You also get to show off just how profficient you are in boat-handling!
  • Onboard inclusions – Each boat has bedding and towels for the week. If in doubt, check out our What’s on Board page.
  • Refundable security deposit – £150.  This will be required in a sealed envelope and left with the boat owners just before you leave  trip and returned when you bring the boat back, provided of course nothing has been damaged.
  • Fuel – you will pick up the boat with a full tank and this should last you for 2 weeks.  A typical refuel might cost between £50 – £80 to fill to the brim, which you will only need to do if renting the boat for longer than 2 weeks.
  • Toilet pump-out – the toilets on our boats are fitted with a macerator and a pump-out system. The key thing to remember is that this is not a normal plumping, and while robust, it’s also delicate. Basically, besides toilet paper, the macerator can only handle anything that your own body could process. That means no wetwipes, sanitory towels or other items that your body couldn’t process either. Blocking the system will be a messy and expensive repair that we ask our guests to pick up the costs for. You will pick up the boat with an empty tank, and unless cruising for longer than a week, you won’t need to worry about it. Should the tank require emptying during your holiday, pull up at the next marina and ask for a “pump out”. They’ll do it for you and it will cost approximately £16-£20.

Interiors for Blue Otter Wootton Wawen 60ft narrowboat

  • What Happens If There’s An Emergency?

    Our boats are insured fully comprehensively and Blue Otter Boats is a gold member of River Canal Rescue – the AA equivalent of the aqua highways – and this includes breakdown cover.  So you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in the middle of nowhere trying to thumb a lift to the next marina! You will also have a number for the boat owner who will do everything they can to assist you from the other end of the phone too.

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