A Guide to Canal & Narrowboat Terminology

If you've never been on a canal boat holiday before, there are lots of words that can make it all sound a little bit confusing. And if you have a seasoned boater on board who insists on using their entire nautical glossary, it can almost seem like they are talking a different language!

So, to help simplify things for those who are newer to life on the water, we've rounded up a simple glossary of the lingo used to describe different parts of a narrowboat and other common canal terminology that you may come across on your narrowboat holiday.

Holiday barge cruising through countryside in the Chiltern Hills

Narrowboat Exterior

  • Bow = The front of the boat.
  • Stern = The rear of the boat.
  • Hull = The bottom part of the boat that sits within the water.
  • Gunwale = The top edge of the hull where it joins the cabin.
  • Fender = A plastic or foam cushion that is hung on the exterior of the boat to protect the boat from damage when rubbing against the bank, lock walls or other boats.
  • Centre Line = The rope tied on to the middle of the boat's roof.
  • Mooring Lines = Ropes at the front and back of the boat used to secure it when moored.


  • Galley = The kitchen.
  • Saloon = The lounge area.
  • Cabin = Generally a bedroom, but can also be used to describe any other enclosed interior space.
Narrowboat Layout

Driving Equipment & Controls

  • Rudder = A flat piece of metal that is underwater at the rear of the boat, and controls the direction of movement.
  • Propeller = Powered by the engine, this device has rotating blades that move the boat forwards and backwards.
  • Gear lever = Lever used to change the boat between forward, reverse and neutral gears.
  • Tiller = A large handle at the rear of the boat, used by the driver to steer left and right (the tiller is connected to, and moves, the rudder).
  • Tiller Pin = A pin on the tiller, that when removed, allows the tiller to be removed for security.
  • Weed Hatch = A watertight lid that when removed, allows access to the propeller to remove any obstructions.
  • Stern Gland = a mechanism that stops water from entering the boat where the propeller passes through the hull.


  • Lock = A structure in the canal that allows boats to move up or down between different sections of the waterway. Read more about locks and how to operate them on our 'Beginner's Guide to Canal Boating' page.
  • Lock Gates = Large wooden gates that block each end of a lock.
  • Paddles = These are mechanisms that open and close the vents which allow water to flow in or out of a lock.
  • Windlass = A piece of equipment, also know as a lock key, that is used to open or close the paddles.
  • Cill = A concrete platform at the base of the top lock gates.
  • Lock Landing = A dedicated area just before and after a lock where the boat can be moored whilst preparing/closing up the lock.
Lady opening the lower gate paddles on a canal lock
Small luxury canal boat moored surrounded by orange leaves in autumn

Other Common Canal Terminology

  • The Cut = Another name for the canal, originating from the fact that the canals has to be 'cut out' of the landscape when being built.
  • Pound = the section of canal between two locks.
  • Junction = A place where 2 or more canals meet.
  • Mooring = The process of parking the canal boat.
  • Berth = A space, generally in a marina, where the boat is parked (moored).
  • Towpath = A public footpath that runs along the side of the canal.
  • Mooring Pin = A long stake that is secured in the ground, which the boat is then tied to when mooring.
  • Swing Bridge = A bridge that can be pivoted so that it does not cross the canal and allows boats to pass.
  • Wake = The waves created by a moving boat.
  • Winding Hole = A wider section of the canal where boats can turn around.
  • Water Point = A tap on the side of the canal that boaters can use to refill the boats water tank.
  • Elsan Point = A facility where toilet waste can be disposed of.
  • Refuse point = A facility where boaters can dispose of their rubbish.
  • Gongoozler = A person who enjoys watching boats on the canals, especially round locks.

Want to know more about narrowboating? Check out our handy guide below.

    Read the Beginner's Guide to Narrowboating