Boating Glossary

If you’re new to boating, there’s lots to learn, so we’ve compiled this boating glossary to help you with some of the unfamiliar terms you’ll come across. This is the first in our short series of glossaries, which covers the meaning of general boating terms and descriptions of different parts of a narrowboat.

Air draft – The height of the narrowboat, measured from the waterline to the highest fixed point on the boat.

Anode (also known as a sacrificial anode) – is a large piece of magnesium which is welded to the hull of the narrowboat. There is usually one at the front and one at the back. The anodes protect the hull from corrosion due to electrolysis.

Anser Pins – steel pins that are attached to the gunwales of a narrowboat near the stern. They are used for attaching straps so that two boats can be tightly connected when breasting up. This keeps the sterns together as well as stopping the pair from riding forwards and backwards against each other, if in transit. Anser pins can also be used for attaching tunnel hooks.

Antifouling – Specialist paint that is applied to the underwater parts of the hull to inhibit weed growth.

Base plate – The main structural plate forming the flat bottom of a canal boat. Also known as the bottom plate or sole plate.

Beam – the width measurement of a narrowboat at its widest point.

Bilge – a chamber running along the bottom of the hull where water collects. Narrowboat bilges are usually divided into three sections – one below the foredeck, one underneath the living space and one underneath the engine bay.

Bilge Pump – a pump used to remove water from the bilges.

Blacking – Specialist paint containing bitumen that is applied to the steel hull of a narrowboat to protect it and prevent it from rusting.

Boat licence – issued by the Canal & River Trust to enable you to use your boat on inland waterways in England and Wales.

Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) Certificate – this is to certify that an inland waterways boat meets specific safety requirements. It’s like an MOT for boats and is valid for four years.

Bow – The front of a boat.

Bow thruster – A small propeller or water-jet at the bow, which enables the narrowboat to be turned very slowly.

Breasting-up – two narrowboats positioned side by side and tied together. Originally this was when a narrowboat was used to tow and additional boat for cargo only (a butty).

Bulkhead – part of the structure of a narrowboat’s hull. It is a vertical wall within the hull and is often watertight.

Butty – an unpowered narrowboat, which is towed behind (or next to) another narrowboat. They were traditionally used to enable one boatsman to carry a larger cargo.

Cant frames – angled frames right at the front or back of the boat which form the sharp ends of the vessel’s hull.

Chine – an angle in the hull. For example, a narrowboat may have a single chine, where the hull wall meets the bottom plate. A sacrificial chine is an additional layer to protect the chine.

Cockpit – an open area, usually at the back (stern) of the boat, and used by the helm. Some narrowboats have centre cockpits.

Counter – a small deck at the back of a narrowboat, which forms a ledge over the propeller and shaft.

Cratch Board & Cover – A triangular board or frame, which supports a canvass cover over the well deck at the front of the boat.

Cruiser Stern – a style of deck at the back of a narrowboat, which is four to eight feet long and surrounded by a taff rail. It provides a sociable outside space for two or three people.

Draft – the amount of the hull that is below the water.

Dolly – a round bollard used for mooring.

Engine bay – the compartment that contains the engine

Foredeck – the higher level deck at the front (bow) of a narrowboat.

Fore well – the lower level deck at the bow of a narrowboat.

Freeboard – a measure of the distance between the waterline and the level of the deck on a narrowboat where water can enter the boat. Therefore, the larger the freeboard, the lower the likelihood of water entering the boat.

Galvanic isolator – a fitting to a boat’s electrical system designed to extend the service life of sacrificial anodes and reducing the effects of corrosion.

Gunwales – The top edge of the hull, or the top of the boat sides, where they join the cabin.

Hull – the main body of the boat.

Inverter – an electronic device for taking power stored in the battery bank and converting 12v DC to 240v AC.

Josher-style bow – A specific style of narrowboat bow, which has a pointed nose and a slight S-shaped sweep. It is named after Joshua Fellows of Fellows, Morton & Clayton Limited, historically one of the largest canal transportation companies, which operated from 1889 – 1947.

Pigeon box – a ventilation hole in the deck head, which is rectangular and has a hinged cover.

Pram canopy – a canopy that is fitted over the narrowboat’s counter to protect the helm from the elements. It is so-called because it has a folding framework that is easy to put up an down, similar to one on a traditional pram.

Port – the left-hand side when facing the front of the boat.

RCD – Recreational Craft Directive. European Union mandatory standards for the construction of new boats. The RCD certificate is valid for four years, after which boats must have a Boat Safety Certificate.

Rubbing strake – A moulding fitted to the outside of the hull, usually at deck level to protect the boat when the sides come into contact with other narrowboats or the sides of the canal.

Rudder nib – the extension to the rudder of a narrowboat, which is above the waterline.

Rudderstock – the top part of the rudder, which connects the rudder vane to the steering mechanism.

Rudderstock tube – the tube in the hull through which the rudderstock passes.

Scuppers – holes that allow water from the deck to drain into the canal or into the bilges.

Semi-traditional stern – a style of narrowboat design which is a hybrid of the traditional and cruiser types of stern. The engine bay is outside the cabin, the stern is enclosed by sides and there are often seats for two to three people.

Shoreline – An electric cable which connects to an onshore 240v electricity supply.

Single lever control – a hand lever that combines the functions of steering and throttle control.

Skeg – a steel horizontal bar which protrudes from the stern to carry the lower end of the rudder post and bearing. It also gives some protection to the propeller.

Skin tank – A steel tank that is welded to the interior of the hull. It forms part of the engine cooling system. Coolant flows through the tank and is cooled by contact with exterior hull plating.

Soap holes – small storage compartments with oval letter-box openings in a traditional cabin.

Starboard – the left-hand side of the narrowboat when facing towards the front (or bow)

Stern – The back of the narrowboat, also known as the aft part of the boat.

Superstructure – parts of the narrowboat that project above the deck.

Swan’s neck – The S-shaped steel bar that connects the rudder post and the tiller bar.

Swim – the underwater part of the back of the hull that goes to a point to allow a cleaner flow of water over the propeller.

Tiller bar (or tiller extension) – fits on the swan’s neck of a motor boat to give extra leverage.

Transom – the back part of the boat above the water level. It is usually rounded on narrowboats and is where the helm stands.

Traditional style – a type of narrowboat design that derives from the original use of narrowboats for transporting goods. It has a short rear deck area (two to three feet long), which allows for more space inside the cabin.

Tumblehome – the amount a cabin side slopes inwards (to give more bridge clearance).

Uxter Plate – the steel plate at the bottom of a narrowboat’s stern counter deck, where it projects over the propeller and rudder.

Waterline – the line on the boat’s hull where it floats, therefore it is the level with the surface of the water.

Weedhatch – a hatch with a watertight lid in the counter of a narrowboat that gives access to the propeller for cleaning.

Well deck – the floor of a well or cockpit.

Windlass (also known as a lock key) – a cranked handle for opening and closing lock paddles.

We hope that you’ve found this boating glossary to be a useful reference source. In future glossaries, we’ll focus on the interior of a narrowboat and parts of the engine.

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