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Where can I Navigate to with a wide beam?
There are many concerns that owning a wide beam barge will offer a very restrictive navigation range in the UK (compared to narrowboating). Without doubt the biggest draw back of a wide beam craft is the 'present' restriction of UK navigation. However, when analysing the current UK waterways plans, the biggest 'present' restriction, is the missing link between the North and South wide beam canal network, until recently there were a number of plans in the pipeline which would have rectified this within the next 5 years. Then with a 20m barge the UK inland navigational range (including rivers) would be very significant, indeed not much different to that of a narrowboat unable to navigate lower tidal rivers (eg R.Thames between London and the R.Medway). However many of these plans have been shelved, and those still active have been delayed by lack on funds. Hopefully at least one of the schemes will be brought to fruition within the next 10 years. But even without the North - South link, there is the possibility to cross the Channel, to the Continental canals and rivers. With this possibility the general navigational scope of a wide beam far exceed that of a narrowboat, providing a 'new' broad beam boat is designed and built to RCD category 'C' requirements, which many are (narrowboats are cat 'D').
But where can I currently navigate in the
with a wide beam craft?. This is a very good question and one that is difficult to fully ascertain, and varies depending on the size of wide beam craft, especially beam and air draft under arched bridges (the wider the boat the less air draft available!), and drafts which can vary after a river has been in flood. UK
There is a wide beam network in the North of England, and one in the South, plus the North East Fenland waterways (and Norfolk Broads) but they are not connected, yet (only by 6’-10” narrow canals). If you include rivers (like the
Thames) then probably around three quarters of all the navigable waterways are suitable for broad beam boats (a broad beam boat is generally designated as a boat wider then 7 feet). UK
Details of current wide beam canals and rivers in the
have been collated and listed below. Because wide beam data is not of major significance to most canal users, (who happen to be narrowboat owners) many data sources differ slightly from each other. I do not think anybody has a 100% up to date wide beam data list, but I think the data below is probably better than most available. If you know of any errors or omissions please let me know and I will update the data on the web site. Using the data I have put together a map, making it easier to visibly see where you can cruise wide beam, without having to be an expert on river and canal geography. This map follows the data list. UK
South Waterways Network Length ft Width ft Draft ft Air Draft Locks Miles Comments Avon River (Stratford) 70ft 13'-6" 4ft 8'-9" 17 43 . Chelmer & Blackwater (Essex) 60ft 16'-0" 2'-9" 6'-6" 13 14 Not connected to main network. Access via coast
Gloucester & Sharpness 135ft 21ft 6ft 24ft 2 30 . Grand Union (London-Braunston)
72ft 14ft 3'-6" 7-6 102 109 Notice required through Braunston tunnel Grand Union (Braunston-Birmingham)
72ft 12-6 3-6 6-6 57 41 12'-6" at bridge 23
Grand Union (Slough Branch)
no locks 14ft 3-6 7-6 0 5 . Kennet & Avon Canal
70ft 13-10 3-6 7-6 106 96 Nicholsons state 70ftx12ft between Newbury & Bath Lee, River 85ft 15-9 6-9 7-10* 34 40 *6ft 10ins air draft bridges near Hertford
....Stort River 85ft 13ft 4ft 6-9 Medway (Allington Lock - Maidstone)
180ft 20ft 6-6 10-6 10 42 *Draught only 4ft above Hampstead Lock
Medway (Maidstone - Tonbridge)
80ft 18-6 5-6* 8-6 Regents 72ft 14-0 4-6 9ft 11 21 Islington & Maida Hill Tunnels reported 6ft 10ins
Severn, River 90ft 19ft 6ft 20ft 4 38 . Thames , River 109ft* 14ft* 3ft* 7-6 44 168 Greater on lower reaches Wey & Godalming
72ft 13-6 2-6 6ft 16 20 Draft reported <3ft 6ins Weybridge-Guildford
72-6 13-6 3-6 7-6 29 32 Fleet to Greywell 5ft
North Waterways Network
Length ft Width ft Draft ft Air Draft Locks Miles Comments Aire & Calder 142ft 17-8 7-6 11-9 17 42 . Bridgewater Canal 70ft 14-9 4ft 8-6 3 40 Preston Brook tunnel reported low
Calder & Hebble Nav.
14-2 3-6 9ft 39 21 . Fossdyke Canal & R Witham Nav (Torksey-Boston)
75ft 15-3 5ft 9ft 4 48 . Huddersfield Broad Canal
57'-6" 14-2 2-9 9-6 9 4 . Lancaster Canal 70ft 14ft 7.5ft 0 42 Leeds & Liverpool Canal (Incl Branches)
62ft 14ft 3-9 8ft 91 140 Gannow & Foulridge tunnels reported low
Ouse, River Yorkshire
57'-6" 15ft 4ft 10ft 4 68 . Rochdale (Sowerby Bridge-Todmorden)
72ft 13-6 4ft 9ft 100 34 updated Some cruising sections are very narrow, only allowing vessels up to 8'-4" beam to pass safely, but plans are in place to increased this to 14ft over next few years. Selby Canal
78-6 16-6 4ft 8ft 5 24 . Sheffield & S-York. (Keadby-S'field)
61-6 15-6 6ft 10ft 28 49 . Shropshire Union (to Nantwich) 72ft
8ft 17 26 9'-8" restriction via Manchester Ship Canal R.Soar & G'Union Leicester Section 72ft 13ft 3-6 7-6 42 43 . Trent, River
81ft 14-6 3-3 8ft 11 95 . North East Waterways Network
Length ft Width ft Draft ft Air Draft Locks Miles Connected to the North Network via the Wash
Middle Level: Navigation 80ft 11-6 3-6 7ft 7 80 . Nene, River 80ft 20ft 4ft 6-9 38 90 Northampton to Wash Ouse, River Great 70ft 10-6 3ft 9ft 16 75 General dimensions Welland & Glen
98ft 13ft 3-4 5-9 2 47 Off the Wash Witham Navigable Drains
72ft 18ft 3-6 8ft . . via Antons Gowt Lock. Otherwise 60ftx11ft
Length Width Draft Air Draft Locks Miles Comments
Norfolk Broads Network
Only accessible via East coast
75ft 16ft 5ft 7ft 2 100 Down stream of Norwich, Potter Higham, Wroxham and Beecles (and none of the river Ant) can be navigated by barges with an air draft of 10' 10". Which is a huge amount of the Broads. Forth & Clyde & Union Canal (Scotland)
70ft 12-6 3-6 9ft . . . Ireland Canals
60ft 13ft . . 100+ 300+ .
A total of around 1,500 miles, plus numerous other rivers and small canals, fairly equally split between north and south. Note; River dimensions given often refer to upstream sections, downstream locks & bridges are often larger, so even if you have a larger boat than the sizes given above, you may be able to navigate part way.
However, if you wish to navigate all of these canals, you are limited to a barge 57'-6" long by 10'-6" wide with an air draft of 5'-9". But if you analyse all of the data you will likely conclude that a barge 60ft x 12'-6" x 6'-6" air draft will be able to cover most of the canals.
Greater than 60ft (18m) and you will not be able to transverse from East to West on the Northern section (Liverpool & Liverpool Canal), which would mean that when the North – South link finally opens, you will not be able to get to the North West (Manchester) area from the South.
Most 'new build' barges under 80 feet long will be able to navigate nearly all the Continental Canals. Most of the French and
waterways were built to accommodate a vessel up to 38.5m long by 5.05m wide, with a draft of 1.8m and air draft of 3.5m. However Brittany Belgium Waterwaysare restricted to 25m x 4.6m. Some of the waterways have an air draft limitation of 2.7m and draft of 1m. If considering cruising some of the continental rivers (eg the Rhinein Germany), a more powerful than standard engine will likely be required.
From the above data it can be concluded that a 60ft x 12'6" barge is the ideal maximum size. Any larger and you compromise on UK cruising (eg the East-West Northern link – the Leeds and
Liverpoolcanal), any smaller and you compromise on internal living space.
Created 7th October 2002 - Last updated 29 October 2010