Narrowboat VS Barge: What’s the Difference?

Canal Boat UK is supported by its readers. If you buy something with our links, we may earn a commission.

A while back I did a whole speel (I mean an article)talking about the differences between some common boats found on the UK’s inland canals. But there is another pretty common boat that wasn’t mentioned in that article that will be addressed today…. the barge. But what is a barge and how do they differ from your typical narrowboat? Let’s find out together….

What Defines a Narrowboat VS a Barge

A narrowboat is a type of boat that is specifically designed for the inland canals, this being the very reason they are narrow. Whereas a barge can be used in a wider range of maritime applications. They are both flat-bottomed boats, so are not exactly great on open waters (i.e. the ocean).

Both have a rich history as cargo carrying vessels. It is just that the narrowboat has left its cargo carrying days mostly behind it and is now more known as a place for people to live. Barge butties (meaning they are not powered) are often still used all over the world to carry cargo. Just go to London and watch the Thames for a while, and you will see what I mean.

A lot of people try to define a barge and narrowboat by the size of its beam (the width of the boat basically), but it can be a bit more nuanced than this.

Most technical minded people would say that a narrowboat is a flat-bottomed canal going boat that has a beam of 7 feet or less, and a barge is anything over 7 foot in width. Simple, right? But there are some boats that would be classified as a barge under this rule but in real life are not referred to in this way. The main example I can use is the widebeam, technically it is a barge but most people refer to it as a widebeam and group it more with narrowboats.

Can you live on a barge?

You will see quite a few barges on the UK canals, more often than not converted Dutch Barges (that are usually wooden and originally sail bound vessels). Living on one of these barges would be very similar to living on a widebeam boat. You would have more space, but the number of canals you can go through would be limited due to the width of a barge. And a widebeam is usually built originally as a live-aboard boat, whereas a barge is typically converted from its original cargo carrying use. So you need to make sure that the conversion was done well and by a professional. I have seen too many conversions done by enthusiastic DIY’ers that have ended up with more than a few rough edges 🙂

Is a canal boat the same as a narrowboat?

When people say canal boat, they are literally referring to any boat or vessel than can commonly be found on the UK canal system. It could be a narrowboat, a wide beam, a GRP cruiser (also known as a cabin cruiser) or even a barge. So you will find the term narrowboat and canal boat interchanged regularly.

Leave a Comment