narrowboat canal boat glossary terms for beginners

Some jargon busting Narrowboat and Canal Boat terminology for newbies and beginners when shopping for your perfect liveaboard Narrowboat for sale.

So you have the dream.
You have the money (or at least a plan to get it!)
You've made your Liveaboard Narrowboat wishlist.
You've picked your Marina.

But you don't have the foggiest what all these terms like draft,  Chandlery,  Trad, Semi-trad, Anode, Stem, and Aft mean and don't want to sound like a total clueless newbie the first time you go Narrowboat shopping.

I did and with a head full of bright blonde hair it was a little confidence crushing.

So today I'm sharing some essential newbie Narrowboat jargon busters with you so you can focus on enjoying the search for your new home on the canal without all that confusing terminology.


This sounds like a new species of tropical bug but just like in Chemistry at school, actually refers to small magnesium plates that are welded to the boat just under the waterline. These prevent corrosion of the metal hull of the boat and work by taking the brunt of naturally occurring electrolysis in the water.  

narrowboat canal boat glossary anodes
PHOTO CREDIT: +Whilton Marina Ltd Watch the video by clicking here

Draft and Air Draft 

I got these 2 way confused, which now I think about it was pretty dumb. Air draft is the height of the boat from the waterline (in the air! d'oh!). Draft is the amount of hull under the water. 


This is the width of the boat at it's widest point. Hence Widebeam, Narrow Widebeam etc. This is usually measured in feet.

Stern, Aft and Bow 

The Stern or Aft is the back of the vessel and the bow is the front. The very foremost part of the bow is called the Stem

Traditional Stern 

This style of narrowboat has a short back deck, when you steer you are right on the water. They take up only around 2 to 3 feet of the entire length so you have more room for liveaboard luxuries. 

traditional trad stern narrowboat canal boat glossary
PHOTO CREDIT: Jongleur100

Semi-traditional Stern 

This stern gives you a little more space on the back deck, but looks like more like a Trad than a cruiser. 

semi-trad traditional stern narrowboat canal boat

Cruiser Stern

The Cruiser stern is my favourite as you get 4-8ft of deck meaning a few people (or just me!) can sit out there and enjoy the open air whilst crusing or moored up

cruiser stern narrowboat canal boat glossary


See those rails on the Cruiser stern, they are called cants.

Reverse layout

In a reverse layout, the Galley (kitchen area)  is at the back of the boat and the bedroom at the front. I like this style as it means you can easily make a cuppa whilst cruising, also your galley floor is likely to be waterproof so if you are cruising in the wet with the doors open, it's not going to ruin your lovely wood flooring. See the plans below by my new boat-builder-crush Pendle Narrowboats.

reverse layout canal boat narrow boat plans


This is the rounded part at the back where the steerer stands and steers with the tiller.

12v/24v to 230v/240v inverters

Ok this is an area that falls in Mr B's expertise being a gadget/tech junkie but in lay mans terms, to run normal household appliances you buy in stores on a Narrowboat you will need an inverter to convert the direct current from the boats battery into alternating current for using appliances such as fridges, tvs, microwaves etc. 


The saloon area of a Narrowboat is your main living area, like the lounge in a house.


Not what I expected 'bulkheads' to be, these are the wooden panels or walls inside the boat that separate your living space into rooms. 

canal boat narrow boat interior kitchen bulkheads

BSC Safety Certificate, Canal + River Trust Licence, and Environment Agency Licence

I will be covering these in more depth with a later post but you need to be legal! The BSC Safety Certificate is like the MOT on your car but done every 4 years and the licences are like your driving licence without the test. Head on over to +Whilton Marina Ltd for more info by clicking here.

Cassette toilet 

This is a basic chemical toilet which you can empty yourself at the Pumpout Stations along the canal or river system.

Macerating Toilet 

This toilet mashes up all the waste into a slushy slurry ready for pumping out of your Holding tank. 

Holding Tank and Eslan 

This is the poop tank basically. You will want to make sure you have a nice fully functioning Holding Tank. They can be pumped out at Pumpout Stations or by mobile Pumpout services. Eslan Disposal is of the same nature - if you go camping you will have already seen these signs on campsites for caravans.


This is the number of people the Narrowboat sleeps - but NOT how many 'bedrooms'. As with any small space and compact living solution, many sofas or dining room areas are multi-purpose meaning can also sleep a person when not in use during the day.

I hope this brief overview of Narrowbaot glossary terms and terminology helps you on your first trip to the Marina shopping for your perfect liveaboard.

Once you have these nailed head over to +Whilton Marina Ltd by clicking here or Braunston Marina by clicking here and see their full comprehensive lists of all Boating lingo.