My Narrowboat is Listing, What Should I Do?

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Welcome back to Canal Boat UK! Today we are talking about narrowboats and the problem of listing. Noticed your narrowboat leaning to one side a bit too much for your liking? Wondered why this may be happening? If that’s you, please read on!

What is Narrowboat Listing?

I am going to go to the wealth of knowledge otherwise known as Wikipedia for a definition of listing…

The angle of list is the degree to which a vessel heels (leans or tilts) to either port or starboard at equilibrium—with no external forces acting upon it. Listing is caused by the off-centerline distribution of weight aboard due to uneven loading or to flooding.


So basically it is about how your narrowboat sits in the water and the angle of tilt that results. For something that is supposed to float, it is quite worrying when you see your narrowboat listing excessively and you don’t know why. Hopefully, this article will help you get to the bottom of it. It may turn out to be nothing to worry about.

Listing is also something you should look into if you are buying a narrowboat and find that it is listing more than you would expect. You might uncover a serious problem that will cost a chunk of money to fix!

What Can Cause Narrowboat Listing?

When your narrowboat is empty, it should be pretty much perfectly balanced. I would worry if you have a perfectly empty boat that is listing! Everything you place inside your boat could then cause it to list, if not balanced well.

The main one for a narrowboat is furniture. If you have all your heavy furniture on one side of the boat, then it will probably list in the direction of this furniture.

Think about the different liquid holding tanks on your boat too. Liquids such as fuel and water can weigh more than you may think! So map out where the fuel tank, water tank and waste water tank (if you have a pump out toilet) are and what effect you think these might have on your boat when full. When a canal boat is built, the builder will think about balance carefully, but this can be changed if a boat owner decides to upgrade one of the tanks or take away a waste water tank along the way.

The most serious cause of listing would be water in the bilges. The bilges are the lowest part of your boat, and if water starts collecting there, you may start seeing listing. You usually have bilge pumps to pump water out of the bilges, so in most cases water shouldn’t build up there too much.

When Should I Worry about Narrowboat Listing?

The first thing to say is that a side-to-side listing is way more dangerous than a front-to-back tilt. A side to side listing is more likely to make the boat unstable, whereas front to back would have to be pretty bad to have any serious effect.

A small amount of listing is nothing to worry about, but who wants to live aboard a boat with heavy listing? It could affect your control over the boat as well as making it easier for water to make it onboard. It is also uncomfortable to live in a permanently tilting cabin 🙂 If you are even slightly worried about these things, you should try to re-balance your boat.

How to Solve Narrowboat Listing?

Now you have some idea what might be causing your boat to list. Now let’s think about possible solutions.

Inspect Bilges

You should check your bilges for water on a regular basis, as a buildup of water here could prove terminal if left for too long. When solving listing, this should be the first place you look.

If you do find water in your bilges, you then need to think about where it may have come from. Is it a result of leaky domestic plumbing, a buildup of condensation, or if you are really unlucky a leaking hull!! Every boaters worst nightmare! Hopefully, any problem you find is easily solved 🙂


If you suspect that your furniture and heavy appliances are making your boat list heavily, you could think about how you could reorganise this furniture to rectify the problem. A rebalancing of furniture, if you will. This may seem like a pain to do, but it is much easier than the next option….


When building a boat, ballast is a quick and simple way to balance a boat. Ballast is simply a weight that you can position in your boat to balance it better.

The problem is, once the floors are in and a boat fully furnished, rebalancing a boat with ballast can be a real pain in the you know what. As ballast is usually positioned below floors, you would need to cut some kind of access hatches in your floor in order to add or take away ballast. This can be as difficult as it sounds.

Empty Tanks

If you think that listing is being caused by your various tanks, the best thing to do would be to try to empty all of the tanks and see how your boat sits in the water whilst everything is empty. You could then start filling up each tank one by one so you can start seeing how each one changes your boat’s balance. If it turns out to be serious, you could see if it is possible to move a tank, or change out your pump out toilet to get rid of the waste tank etc.

If you get stuck with any of what we have talked about here, seek out a narrowboat professional. There are some really great people that work in marinas all over the canal network that would be more than happy to cast their experienced eyes over the problem.

If you have experienced your own issues with listing on your narrowboat or canal boat, we would love to hear about these in the comments section below.

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