All you need to know about canal boating

At Chiltern Canal Boat Holidays, we offer self drive boating breaks on our unique 50ft narrowboat. At the start of your holiday, we'll give you a hands on tutorial to show you everything you need to know about handling the boat safely during your trip. 

Before you start your canal boat holiday, we'll send you a copy of our Handbook giving you lots of information about what to expect when you arrive, instructions for operating the boat, information about onboard facilities, as well as some helpful tips on 'Canal Etiquette'. We ask all our holidaymakers to read this before arriving so you know what to expect on your holiday, but a copy will also be available on the boat during your trip.

When you arrive, our team will take you through a introductory session to make sure you are comfortable with how to drive and operate the narrowboat. This will last approximately 1 - 1.5 hours and covers the following:

  • Tour of the boat and on-board facilities
  • How to operate the boat safely, including casting off, cruising and mooring
  • Hands on tutorial on how to work the locks
  • Cruising route and facilities
  • Safety & Emergency Procedures
Family summer holiday on narrowboat

Working the locks and bridges

As a self drive holiday, you have the freedom to explore the Grand Union canal and the Chiltern Hills at your own pace and in your own way. The area is obviously known for it hills, and as such, there are a number of locks on the first stretch of canal to Cowroast and then more as you travel northwards through Marsworth and on to Leighton Buzzard. This section of the canal also includes a few swing bridges, including one directly outside the marina. Therefore, you and your crew need to be prepared for a little bit of work during your holiday, but take it from us, it's all part of the fun!

We'll provide you with all the equipment and information you need to work the locks and bridges throughout your stay.

Alternatively, contact us directly about hosting you a piloted cruise, so you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the view.


Visitor moorings stretch far and wide across the south section of the Grand Union canal. Pick a secluded spot on a quiet stretch between country villages, or pull into a Marina to meet some other narrowboaters. 

Visitor moorings on the main canal are free to use, and generally allow stays for between 2 to 14 days. Information signs are available along the route and will give you the details you need about a particular location. Otherwise, it's important to ensure you stop in a location that allows you to moor safely, without being an obstruction for other boaters. We'll give you some advice on this before you set off.

If you do decide to stay at a marina, the marina will charge you extra for that mooring. Prices can vary considerably depending on the facilities available and the season. In peak season, we always recommend calling ahead to the marina to check availability as popular spots can get booked up very quickly.

Check out the 'Boater's Handbook' video linked below. Produced by the Canal and River Trust, this handy guide shows you all the things you need to know about becoming skipper on your hire boat!

Also, check out our Frequently Asked Questions page.