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Insurance for your UK boat holiday

A boating holiday might sound relaxing, but make sure you’ve got the right insurance to give you peace of mind for your trip on the waterways.

Derri Dunn
Derri Dunn
Updated 28 April 2021  | 5 mins read

Do I need insurance for boating holidays in the UK?

Legally, you don’t need to take out travel insurance to cover a boat you’re renting for a holiday, but it can give you some useful extra protection.

The boat and its fixtures and fittings will be insured by the hire company and the insurance will also include third party cover in case you cause any injury or damage while boating.

You’ll still be expected to take reasonable care and some will ask you to pay a refundable security deposit.

To protect your deposit you might be able to take out a damage waiver, which is a payment you make to protect your deposit. It means you’ll get your deposit back even if you do accidentally damage the boat.

If you own your own boat, you’ll need to take out at least third-party boat insurance if you use it on the UK’s inland waterways.

Top tips for canal boating 

  • Keep to the right when there’s another boat oncoming. Otherwise, it’s safest to cruise in the middle of the canal, where it’s deepest
  • You steer a narrowboat by pushing the tiller right to go left and vice versa. Be patient – there’s a delay in the boat gently moving in the direction you want
  • Put the engine in reverse to stop
  • Take it easy and slow down when passing moored boats or approaching obstacles like locks
  • You can warn other boats at tunnels or blind bends using your horn

Travel insurance for boat holidays

Although the boat rental company will have insurance to protect its boat and fulfil its legal obligations, it won’t protect you, your holiday or your possessions.

It’s a good idea to take out a UK travel insurance policy if you’ve booked a boat holiday to cover you for cancellations and loss or theft of luggage.

While it’s true you don’t need the medical cover offered by travel insurance, thanks to the NHS, cancellation cover could be very useful. Hiring a boat can easily cost as much as a trip abroad and travel insurance could compensate you if you need to cancel your trip because of:

  • Illness
  • Bereavement
  • Jury service
  • A major incident with your home like a fire or flood

Travel insurance can also cover your luggage and possessions for loss, damage and theft.

If you’re taking expensive items with you, make sure you have enough cover for their value with your travel insurance and check that the single article limit is high enough for your most valuable possession.

If you’re bringing tablets, phones and other gadgets, you might need to take out additional gadget cover with your travel insurance. Take note: it’s very easy for a mobile phone to slip from a pocket and into the canal while jumping on and off board.

Some boat holiday operators will be able to offer you optional insurance with your boat hire which covers you for personal injury and theft. Make sure you check how this compares to a separate travel insurance policy to decide which offers better value for you.

Home insurance for boat holidays

You might have some cover for the personal property you take with you on the boat if you have cover for possessions out and about on your home contents insurance

It’s usually sold as an optional extra on your home insurance, so check what cover you have and whether it’s enough for your trip.

Make a day of it

You could hire a boat for the day before committing to a longer break. It’ll let you get to know the controls or you could arrange it for a family get-together or a sedate stag party or hen do.

Do I need a boat licence to drive a canal boat? 

You don’t need a licence in the same way as you need a driving licence for a car when you hire a boat for a holiday.

You might hear about a ‘boat licence’, but that’s something that’s only needed by the boat’s owner and you don’t need to do any sort of test to get it (although boat owners will need valid insurance and a 'boat safety certificate' - a sort of boat MOT - to get a licence). 

What does the boat hire charge include? 

Hiring a narrowboat can seem expensive, but you get quite a lot for your money. Think of the cost as comparable to a hotel stay, because the boat is your accommodation as well as your transport.

Your hire fee includes:

  • All the fixtures, fittings and equipment you need for your holiday
  • Your accommodation
  • Third party insurance and cover for the boat (but check the excess)
  • Fuel for moving the boat and for cooking
  • Some initial instruction in how to pilot the boat and what to do at locks

Where can you cruise? 

There are thousands of miles of rivers and canals in the UK so it’s a great way to take a holiday that gives you a different perspective, without going abroad.

Just be aware that narrowboats can be widebeam or narrowbeam. Narrowbeam boats can travel on wide canals or rivers but the reverse isn’t true. If you’re in a widebeam boat you’ll need to plan your trip more carefully.

Here’s some of the most popular routes to try:

  • Kennet and Avon Canal
    There are plenty of canal boat hire places on the Kennet and Avon and it’s easy to see why. The route from Bristol to the Thames takes you across the width of the country, through rolling Wiltshire farmland and Caen Hill’s flight of 29 locks.
  • Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
    An ‘unconnected’ canal near the Welsh border. Few locks and nowhere really to go makes this a relaxed route through the Brecon Beacons National Park
  • Warwickshire Ring 
    If you’ve hired for two weeks or longer and you want an ambitious route, the Warwickshire Ring takes you on a circular, 104-mile cruise through the best of the rural Midlands. With 121 locks, including the 21-lock Hatton Flight, you’ll need a fit crew for this one.
  • Regent’s Canal and Lee Navigation
    You might associate narrowboating with rural idyll, but this route lets you combine it with a city break in the capital. There are some free 24-hour moorings along the route, right in the heart of London, but they can get busy. Be prepared to arrive early, or book one online for a small fee.
  • Forth and Clyde Canal and Union Canal 
    The roomy Forth and Clyde gives you the option of hiring a wide-beam boat to take in the best of Scotland, from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Between the two cities, the canals’ 40 locks are concentrated at the Glasgow end, leaving you a 30-mile lock-free stretch to Edinburgh once the hard graft’s done.
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